Georg Philipp Telemann

gigatos | June 13, 2022


Georg Philipp Telemann († June 25, 1767 in Hamburg) was a German composer of the Baroque era. He significantly shaped the musical world of the first half of the 18th century through new impulses, both in composition and in musical outlook.

Georg Philipp Telemann spent his youth in Hildesheim from 1697. Here he received support that had a decisive influence on his musical development. During the four school years at the Gymnasium Andreanum, he learned to play several instruments and it was here that he composed the Singing and Sounding Geography. Afterwards he received numerous commissions for further compositions.

Later he learned music largely through self-study. He had his first major compositional successes while studying law in Leipzig, where he founded an amateur orchestra, conducted opera performances, and rose to become music director of the then university church. After brief appointments at the courts of Sorau and Eisenach, Telemann was appointed municipal music director and kapellmeister of two churches in Frankfurt am Main in 1712; in addition, he began self-publishing works. From 1721 he occupied one of the most prestigious musical posts in Germany as Cantor Johannei and Director Musices of the city of Hamburg, and a little later he took over the direction of the opera. Here, too, he continued to maintain contacts with foreign courts and organized regular public concerts for the city”s upper classes. With an eight-month stay in Paris in 1737

Telemann”s musical legacy is extraordinarily extensive and encompasses all the musical genres common in his time. Typical of Telemann are vocal melodies, imaginatively used timbres, and, especially in his later works, unusual harmonic effects. The instrumental works are often strongly influenced by French and Italian, occasionally also folkloristic Polish influences. In the course of the changed cultural-historical ideal, Telemann”s oeuvre was viewed critically in the 19th century. Systematic research of the complete works did not begin until the second half of the 20th century and continues because of its great scope.

Childhood and youth

Telemann came from an educated family; his father and a number of other ancestors had studied theology. Apart from Telemann”s paternal great-grandfather, who was a cantor for a time, however, none of his family had any direct connection to music. His father, Pastor Heinrich Telemann, died on January 17, 1685, only 39 years old. His mother, Johanna Maria Haltmeier, was also born in a pastor”s house and was four years older than her husband. Of the six children, only the youngest son, Georg Philipp, and Heinrich Matthias Telemann, born in 1672, reached adulthood. This brother died in 1746 as an Evangelical Lutheran pastor in Wormstedt near Apolda.

Georg Philipp attended the Gymnasium der Altstadt (today: Domgymnasium Magdeburg) and the school at Magdeburg Cathedral under the rector Christian Müller, where he received instruction in Latin, rhetoric, dialectics and German poetry. Especially in Latin and Greek, the young student Telemann showed good performance. His comprehensive general education is evidenced, for example, by the German, French and Latin verses he wrote himself, which he reproduced in his later autobiography. In addition, Telemann mastered the Italian and English languages well into old age.

Since public concerts were still unknown in Magdeburg at that time, the secular music performed in the school complemented the church music. In particular, the old city school, which had concertante musical instruments and held regular performances, was of great importance for the city”s musical cultivation. In the smaller private schools that Telemann attended, he also learned various instruments such as the violin, recorder, cyther and clavier through self-study. He showed considerable musical talent and at the age of ten began to compose his first pieces – often secretly and on borrowed instruments. He owed his first solid musical experiences to his cantor Benedikt Christiani. After only a few weeks of singing lessons, Telemann, then ten years old, was able to substitute for the cantor, who preferred composing to teaching, in the upper classes. Apart from two weeks of instruction in piano playing, he received no other music instruction. His zeal was dampened by his mother, widowed since 1685, who disapproved of his involvement with music because she considered the musical profession inferior.

At the age of only twelve, Telemann composed his first opera, Sigismundus, to a libretto by Christian Heinrich Postel. In order to dissuade Georg Philipp from pursuing a musical career, his mother and relatives confiscated all his instruments and sent him to school in Zellerfeld in late 1693 or early 1694. She probably did not know that the superintendent there, Caspar Calvör, was intensively involved with music in his writings and promoted Telemann. Calvör had attended the University of Helmstedt with Telemann”s father. He encouraged Telemann to take up music again, but also not to neglect school. Telemann composed motets for the church choir almost weekly. In addition, he also wrote arias and occasional music, which he submitted to the town piper.

In 1697 Telemann became a student at the Gymnasium Andreanum in Hildesheim. Under the guidance of the director Johann Christoph Losius, he perfected his musical education and learned – again largely as an autodidact – the organ, violin, viola da gamba, transverse flute, oboe, shawm, double bass and bass trombone. In addition, he composed vocal works for the school theater. He received further commissions to compose for the services of the St. Godehardi Monastery from the Jesuit church music director of the city, Father Crispus.

Telemann was also influenced by musical life in Hanover and Braunschweig-Wolfenbüttel, where he came into contact with French and Italian instrumental music. The experiences gained at this time were to shape large parts of his later work. He also became acquainted with the Italian-influenced styles of Rosenmüller, Corelli, Caldara and Steffani during clandestine music lessons.

Study years in Leipzig

In 1701 Telemann finished his school education and enrolled at the University of Leipzig. Under pressure from his mother, he took it upon himself to study law as he had intended and to no longer concern himself with music. At least this is what he asserted in his autobiography; nevertheless, the choice of Leipzig, which was considered the bourgeois metropolis of modern music, does not seem to have been accidental. Already on his way to Leipzig, Telemann stopped in Halle to meet the then sixteen-year-old George Frideric Handel. With him he established a friendship that was to last his entire life. Telemann wrote that he initially concealed his musical ambitions from his fellow students. Allegedly, however, Telemann”s music-loving roommate found a composition among the latter”s hand luggage thanks to a (probably fictitious) coincidence, and he had it performed the following Sunday in St. Thomas Church. As a result, Telemann was commissioned by the mayor to compose two cantatas per month for the church.

Only one year after entering the university, he founded a 40-piece amateur orchestra (Collegium musicum) for the musical students, which also gave public concerts, and which performed in the newly consecrated New Church. Unlike similar student institutions of this kind, the Collegium remained in existence after Telemann”s departure and continued under his name. Under the direction of Johann Sebastian Bach, from 1729 to 1739, the “Telemannian” Collegium Musicum performed concerts of works by Bach and other contemporary composers at Café Zimmermann, which had a great influence on the musical life of the city.

In the same year Telemann conducted performances of the opera house, in which many members of the Collegium also took part, and of which he remained the main composer until its closure. He played the basso continuo for the performances and occasionally sang. Irritated by Telemann”s growing reputation, the official city music director Johann Kuhnau accused him of having exerted too great an influence on sacred music with his secular works and refused to allow his choristers to participate in the opera performances. In 1704, after a successful application, Telemann was hired as music director by the Paulinerkirche, then the city”s university church. However, he gave up the associated organist position to students.

Telemann made two trips from Leipzig to Berlin. In 1704 he received an offer from Count Erdmann II von Promnitz to succeed Wolfgang Caspar Printz as Kapellmeister at the court of Sorau in Lower Lusatia – why he attracted the count”s attention is unknown. As a result, the city, which appreciated the new style of composition, offered Telemann the Thomaskantorat and Kuhnau”s succession. It is possible that the tensions that arose between Kuhnau and Telemann induced the latter to leave Leipzig at an early stage.

Sorau and Eisenach

In June 1705 Telemann began his work in Sorau. The count was a great admirer of French music and saw in Telemann a worthy successor to the Versailles school of music, which had been influenced by Lully and Campra, some of whose compositions he brought back with him on a trip to France and which Telemann now studied. In Sorau, Telemann met Erdmann Neumeister, whose texts he later set to music and whom he was to meet again in Hamburg. On trips to Krakow and Pleß, he learned to appreciate Polish and Moravian folklore, as it was probably performed in inns and at public events.

In 1706 Telemann left Sorau, which was threatened by the invasion of the Swedish army, and went to Eisenach, presumably on a recommendation from Count Promnitz, who was related to the Saxon ducal families. There, in December 1708, he became concertmaster and cantor at the court of Duke Johann Wilhelm and founded an orchestra. He often made music together with Pantaleon Hebenstreit. Telemann also met the music theorist and organist Wolfgang Caspar Printz, as well as Johann Bernhard and Johann Sebastian Bach. In Eisenach he composed concerts for various instrumentations, about 60 to 70 cantatas as well as serenades, church music and “operettas” for festive occasions. He usually wrote the text for these himself. In addition, there were about four or five years of cantatas for church services. As a baritone, he participated in the performance of his own cantatas.

In October 1709, Telemann married Amalie Luise Juliane Eberlin, a lady-in-waiting to the Countess of Promnitz. Shortly before, he had been appointed secretary by the duke – a high honor at that time. Telemann”s wife, a daughter of the composer Daniel Eberlin, died of childbed fever already in January 1711 during the birth of their first daughter.

Frankfurt on the Main

Perhaps because he was looking for new challenges, perhaps to be independent of the nobility, Telemann applied for a job in Frankfurt am Main. There, in February 1712, he was appointed municipal music director and Kapellmeister of the Barfüßer Church, and a little later also of the Katharinenkirche. He completed the cantatas he had begun in Eisenach and composed five more. He was also responsible for teaching some private pupils. As in Leipzig, Telemann was not content with these duties in Frankfurt. In 1713, he took over the organization of the weekly concerts as well as various administrative tasks of the distinguished Stubengesellschaft Zum Frauenstein in Haus Braunfels on Liebfrauenberg, where he himself also lived. In addition, the Eisenach court appointed Telemann as Kapellmeister “von Haus aus”, so that he kept his title, but delivered cantatas and occasional music only to the court and to the churches. This happened until 1731.

During his time in Frankfurt, in addition to cantatas, Telemann composed oratorios, orchestral and chamber music, much of which was published, as well as music for political ceremonies and wedding serenades. However, he found no opportunity to publish operas, although he continued to write for the Leipzig Opera.

In 1714, Telemann married the 16-year-old Maria Catharina Textor (1697-1775), the daughter of a council coroner. From the following year he self-published his first printed works. On a trip to Gotha in 1716, Telemann was offered a position as Kapellmeister by Duke Friedrich. The Duke not only promised him to keep his job as Kapellmeister for the Eisenach court, but also induced the Duke of Saxe-Weimar to promise Telemann another Kapellmeister position. In a sense, this would have made Telemann the chief kapellmeister of all Saxon-Thuringian courts.

A letter addressed to the Frankfurt Council, in which Telemann issued an ultimatum regarding his salary in polite terms, demonstrates his diplomatic skills. He remained in Frankfurt and obtained a salary increase of 100 gulden. Together with his income from the Frauenstein Society and fees for occasional compositions, Telemann”s annual income amounted to 1,600 florins, making him one of the best paid in Frankfurt.

During a visit to Dresden in 1719, he again met Handel and dedicated a collection of violin concertos to the violin virtuoso Pisendel. Telemann continued to write works for Frankfurt every three years until 1757, after he had left the city.

Early days in Hamburg

In 1721 Telemann accepted the offer to succeed Joachim Gerstenbüttel as Cantor Johannei and Director Musices of the city of Hamburg. Presumably Barthold Heinrich Brockes and Erdmann Neumeister suggested his name. Telemann, however, had been associated with the Hanseatic city before, as he had already been involved in one or two operas for the opera house at the Gänsemarkt. As the city”s musical director, Telemann worked at the five large Lutheran city churches, among others – with the exception of the cathedral, for which Johann Mattheson was responsible. Telemann”s solemn inauguration took place on October 16. It was only here, with the possibility of composing and performing works of all forms, that his main creative phase, which lasted 46 years, began. The obvious translation of Telemann”s official title as “cantor” is misleading in that the actual cantorial work at the Johanneum was limited to occasional festive cantatas and the musical arrangement of other school actus.

In his new post, Telemann committed himself to composing two cantatas a week and one Passion a year, although in later years he drew on earlier works for his cantatas. In addition, he composed numerous pieces of music for private and public occasions, such as memorial days and weddings. The office of Cantoris Johannei was also connected with an activity as music teacher of the Johanneum; however, Telemann did not fulfill his obligations for extra-musical instruction himself. In addition, he rebuilt the Collegium musicum, which had already been founded by Matthias Weckmann in 1660, but had since ceased to give concerts. He sold the tickets personally.

Even in his new hometown, Telemann did not initially break off his connections with Thuringia. He served the Duke of Saxony-Eisenach as an agent from 1725 and reported news from Hamburg to the Eisenach court. It was not until 1730 that he relinquished the position to the physician Christian Ernst Endter.

Telemann, however, had more trouble in the Hanseatic city than he had expected. The council printer refused Telemann a share of the proceeds from the sale of the cantata and Passion text booklets. Telemann would not emerge victorious from the ensuing protracted legal dispute until 1757. In addition, the college of senior citizens complained when Telemann wanted to perform some cantatas in a noble inn (meaning the tree house in the Hamburg harbor) in 1722. Together with the insufficient pay and his too small apartment, these incidents moved him to apply for the position as Thomaskantor in Leipzig after Kuhnau”s death. Among the six applicants, he was unanimously elected, whereupon he submitted a letter of resignation on September 3, 1722, which, in contrast to his letter to the Frankfurt Council, appears to be quite serious. Since the Hamburg Council now increased his salary by 400 Lübisch marks, Telemann declined the position as Thomaskantor a little later and remained in Hamburg. His total annual income thus amounted to about 4,000 Marks Lübisch.

New start in Hamburg

Only now did Telemann”s activities in Hamburg flourish in all areas. In the same year, he took over the direction of the opera for an annual salary of 300 talers. He continued in this position until the house was closed in 1738. Of the approximately 25 opera works written during this period, most are lost. In 1723 Telemann took on an additional position as Kapellmeister for the court of the Margrave of Bayreuth. There he delivered instrumental music from time to time as well as one opera annually. Telemann”s concert performances usually took place in the Drillhaus, the drill hall of the Hamburg Citizen”s Guard, and were reserved for the higher classes due to the high price of admission. Telemann provided almost exclusively his own compositions for his performances – apart from those in the opera house.

In 1728, Telemann, together with Johann Valentin Görner, founded the first German music journal, which also included composition contributions by various musicians. The faithful music master was intended to promote music making at home and appeared bi-weekly. In addition to Telemann and Görner, eleven other contemporary musicians, including Keiser, Bonporti, and Zelenka, contributed compositions to the journal. Other collected works for teaching purposes followed.

In twelve years, Telemann”s wife Maria Catharina gave birth to nine children, two of whom died. With almost permanent pregnancy, she had to support a growing household of up to twelve people, including Georg Philipp Telemann”s daughter from his first marriage and three other people (presumably a maid, a tutor, and a student of Telemann”s), as well as Telemann himself. Ten years after the birth of their last child, the couple separated after Telemann discovered that his wife had lost 5,000 Reichstaler (15,000 Lübisch marks) in gambling. It is believed that the divorce was pronounced because of Maria Catharina”s adultery. She went back to Frankfurt in 1735, while in Hamburg it was rumored that she had died. Without Telemann”s knowledge, some Hamburg citizens had a fundraising campaign organized to save him from bankruptcy. The fact that Telemann nevertheless managed to satisfy his most pressing creditors mainly out of his own pocket, and that he afforded himself several spa stays in Bad Pyrmont – apparently granted by the city – proves that he was a man of means.

Trip to Paris and late years

Following a long-held wish, Telemann visited Paris in the fall of 1737 at the invitation of a group of musicians there (Forqueray, Guignon, and Blavet). In Hamburg, he was represented by Johann Adolf Scheibe. With the Paris performances of his works, Telemann finally achieved international fame – he was the first German composer to be allowed to present himself in the public concerts of the Concert Spirituel. Seven of his works had already been available in Paris as pirated editions, then the king granted him a 20-year exclusive right to publish his works.

Telemann returned in May 1738. His reputation had also grown in Germany as a result of his successes in Paris. In 1739, he was admitted to the Correspondierende Societät der musicalischen Wissenschaften, founded by Lorenz Mizler, which dealt with questions of music theory.

In a newspaper advertisement published in October 1740, Telemann offered the printing plates of 44 self-published works for sale, as he now wanted to concentrate on the publication of instructional writings. Comparatively few compositions survive from the following 15 years. Telemann increasingly employed unusual instrumental combinations and novel harmonic effects. Outside of his duties, he devoted himself to collecting rare flowers.

From the period after 1755, three large oratorios and other sacred and secular works have survived. Telemann”s eyesight deteriorated visibly, and he also suffered from leg ailments. More and more often he called on his grandson Georg Michael, who was also composing, to help him with his writing. Telemann”s humor and innovativeness did not suffer from his fatigue. He composed his last work, a St. Mark Passion, in 1767. On June 25, at the age of 86, Telemann died as a result of pneumonia. He was buried in the cemetery of the St. Johannis monastery, where today the Rathausmarkt is located. There, a memorial plaque to the left of the entrance to the town hall commemorates him. His successor in office was his godson, Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach.

More details have come down to us about Telemann”s life and work than about many of his contemporary colleagues. In addition to about 100 letters, poems, prefaces, and various articles by the composer have survived. The most important textual sources, however, are – despite their errors – his three autobiographies, which he wrote at the request of the music scholars Mattheson (1718 and 1740) and Johann Gottfried Walther (1729). The periods of his life in Sorau and Eisenach, as well as after the publication of the last autobiography, are hardly described in the textual sources originating from Telemann himself, but can be roughly reconstructed from indirect references in other documents.


Several contemporary musicians – including Telemann”s pupil Johann Christoph Graupner, Johann Georg Pisendel and Johann David Heinichen – picked up elements of Telemann”s work. Other composers, such as Gottfried Heinrich Stölzel, soon emulated them. Other students from the Hamburg period to whom Telemann taught “stylistics” rather than instrumental craft include Jacob Wilhelm Lustig, Johann Hövet, Christoph Nichelmann, Jacob Schuback, Johann Christoph Schmügel, Caspar Daniel Krohn, and Georg Michael Telemann. Telemann”s Polish influences inspired Carl Heinrich Graun to imitate him; Johann Friedrich Agricola learned from Telemann”s works at a young age. Johann Friedrich Fasch, Johann Joachim Quantz, and Johann Bernhard Bach also specifically mentioned Telemann as a model for some of their works. From comments in his own hand, with which he provided Telemann”s manuscripts, it is clear that Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach studied and performed quite a few of his compositions. Telemann”s lively friendship with Handel was expressed not only in the fact that Telemann performed several of Handel”s stage works – sometimes with his own interludes – in Hamburg, but also in the fact that Handel often used themes from Telemann in his own compositions in later years. Johann Sebastian Bach made copies of several of Telemann”s cantatas and introduced his son Wilhelm Friedemann to his music in a little piano book created for him. The music book created by Leopold Mozart for Wolfgang Amadeus contains eleven minuets and a piano fantasy by Telemann. The piano style of both Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach and Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart is sometimes reminiscent of Telemann”s writing.

In addition to his achievements as a composer, Telemann had an influence on civic attitudes toward music. Telemann was the founder of a dynamic Hamburg concert life by facilitating regular public performances outside any aristocratic or ecclesiastical framework.


With over 3600 recorded works, Telemann is one of the most prolific composers in music history. This large volume is partly due to his fluent working method and partly to a very long creative period of 75 years. An impression of Telemann”s working method was given by Friedrich Wilhelm Marpurg, who reported that during his time as Kapellmeister at the Eisenach court, Telemann was given only three hours to compose a cantata because of the imminent arrival of a high visitor. The court poet wrote the text, and Telemann simultaneously wrote the score, usually finishing the line before the poet. After a little over an hour, the piece was finished.

Telemann”s legacy encompasses all genres prevalent in his time. However, many compositions have been lost. Only a few works have survived from Telemann”s early period; most of the surviving pieces fall into the Frankfurt and Hamburg periods. The work is listed in the Telemann-Werke-Verzeichnis (TWV, 1984-1999) by Martin Ruhnke, which includes the Telemann-Vokalwerke-Verzeichnis (TVWV, 1982-1983) by Werner Menke.

Telemann demonstrated flexibility by composing according to both the changing fashions of his time and the music of various nations. In his main creative phase, he turned to the empfindsamer style, which in terms of art history belongs to the Rococo rather than the Baroque and built a bridge to the Viennese Classical period; he often combined this gallant style with contrapuntal elements.

At the center of Telemann”s creative principle is a melodic ideal grounded in song. He himself emphasized the fundamental importance of this compositional element several times; Mattheson also characterized Telemann during his lifetime as a composer of beautiful melodies.

In harmony, Telemann ventured into areas of sound that were unusual for his time. He made deliberate use of chromaticism and enharmonicism, and often employed backs, unusual (augmented and diminished) intervals, and altered chords. In his later work, the expressive dissonances are particularly prominent. The functional use of major

Unlike many of his colleagues, Telemann did not play any musical instrument virtuously, but was familiar with a variety and mastered all of the common ones. The insight he thus gained into the different effects of various timbres explains his treatment of instrumentation as an indispensable compositional element. Telemann probably valued the transverse flute and oboe most, especially the oboe d”amore. Rarely, however, did Telemann use the violoncello outside of its continuo function. Occasionally, as in an aria of the St. Luke Passion of 1744, he prescribed scordatura. Telemann showed no interest in compositions with particularly difficult or fast instrumental playing; he also wrote instructional works of deliberately low technical difficulty.

In addition to the musical realization of moods of the soul, which was widespread in the Baroque and above all in the sensitive style, Telemann often engaged in meticulously elaborated tone painting. In vocal works, he used painted figures, coloratura, and repeated words to underscore passages of text. In both secular and sacred vocal works, Telemann attached great importance to declamation and musical word interpretation, especially in recitatives.

Since the literary currents of the Age of Enlightenment influenced Telemann”s intellectual orientation, poetry is of particular importance in his musical output. The texts for the vocal works were partly prepared by himself, partly they came from the most famous German writers of his time, including Brockes, Hagedorn, König, Klopstock, Neumeister and others. Telemann gave his expectations of suitable texts as well as their inner structure to the text poets. Occasionally he made subsequent changes to the libretti according to his ideas.

In order to indicate the character of a piece of music precisely, but probably also because of his affiliation with the poets” association Teutschübende Gesellschaft, Telemann – already 100 years before Robert Schumann – advocated the use of German performance and expression terms (e.g. “liebreich,” “unschuldig,” or “verwegen”), although he did not find imitators for this.

Telemann”s instrumental music includes about 1,000 (of which 126 are extant) orchestral suites as well as symphonies, concertos, violin solos, sonatas, duets, trio sonatas, quartets, piano and organ music.

The instrumental works often show strong influences of different national styles; occasionally this style is called “mixed taste”. Some pieces are written entirely in the Italian or French style. The latter exerted a particularly strong influence on Telemann and is found in lively fugal movements, dance suites, and French overtures. The tone painting is also partly of French origin.

Telemann was also the first German composer to integrate elements of Polish folk music on a large scale. In contrast to other composers such as Heinrich Albert, he did not limit himself to familiar elements and dance forms, but shaped both orchestral and chamber music with Slavic melody and rhythm. The latter is expressed, for example, in syncopations and frequent tempo changes. At times, though less frequently, Telemann incorporated folkloric elements of other peoples, such as Spanish, into his works.

Telemann contributed to the emancipation of certain instruments. Thus he wrote the first significant solo concerto for viola and used this instrument for the first time in the context of chamber music. Unusual for the time was a composition (Concert à neuf parties) in which two double basses were used. He also composed – without naming it so – the first string quartet. At the same time as and independently of Johann Sebastian Bach, Telemann developed a type of sonata in which the harpsichord was no longer a continuo but a solo instrument. In his Nouveaux Quatuors, Telemann for the first time in music history allowed the violoncello to perform on an equal footing with other instruments. His instrumental works often feature an unusual leading of the melody parts; in some pieces, for example, he also provided for a cello or bassoon played two octaves lower as an alternative for the recorder.

In some instrumental works, humor expressed in tone painting plays a major role. The final movement ” L”Espérance du Mississippi ” of the overture La Bourse, for example, with its ups and downs, alludes to the crash at the Paris stock exchange in 1720. Another example is offered by the concerto Die Relinge, which musically transposes the love play of a pair of frogs.

Among Telemann”s most popular instrumental works today are those published in the Faithful Music Master and in the Essercizii Musici (1739

Telemann”s 1,750 church cantatas represent almost half of his entire estate. In addition, he wrote 16 masses, 23 psalm settings, over 40 passions, 6 oratorios, as well as motets and other sacred works.

Telemann”s cantatas break away from the older type, which set only chorales and unaltered biblical passages. Earlier than Johann Sebastian Bach and to a completely different extent, Telemann adhered to the form developed by Erdmann Neumeister, in which an introductory Bible verse (dictum) or chorale is followed by recitatives, arias, and possibly ariosi, and usually culminates in a final chorale or the repetition of the opening chorale. As a rule Telemann wrote solo arias, duets comparatively rarely; of solo recitals and quartets there are only isolated examples.

In addition to four-part choruses, there are also examples of three- or five-part choruses, rarely double choruses. As in instrumental music, Telemann prefers fugal sections to fully worked fugues. However, the permutation fugue is represented quite numerously.

Drama and detailed tone painting characterize Telemann”s oratorios. He uses a variety of expressive forms, such as repeated recitatives, frequent use of instruments to underscore moods and situations, and short concertante phrases. The choruses enter vehemently and confidently, occasionally in unison. The harmony is usually simpler, but more descriptive and further tailored to the situation at hand than in the older Baroque style.

Among Telemann”s most popular sacred works at the time, judging by verifiable performances and surviving source copies, were the Brockes Passion (1716), Selige Erwägen (1722), Tod Jesu (1755), Donner-Ode (1756), Das befreite Israel (1759), Der Tag des Gerichts (Written by Christian Wilhelm Alers) (1762), and Der Messias (1759). To meet the demands of the very numerous smaller churches as well as teaching purposes for home use, Telemann also published collections of cantatas in chamber music settings, such as Der harmonische Gottesdienst (continued 1731

Telemann also wrote numerous funeral music for high-ranking personalities of his time – such as for Augustus the Strong (Immortal Nachruhm Friederich Augusts, erroneously also Serenata eroica, 1733), George II of Great Britain (1760), the Roman-German emperors Charles VI (1740, lost), Charles VII (1745) and Francis I (1765, lost). (1765, lost), nine others for various Hamburg mayors (including the so-called Schwanengesang for Garlieb Sillem, 1733), two for the pastor-couple Elers, as well as the undated but perhaps best-known cantata Du aber, Daniel, gehe hin, and seven more, some of which, however, have survived only in fragments or in the libretto.

Telemann”s secular vocal works can be divided into operas, large-scale festive music for official affairs, privately commissioned cantatas, and cantatas in which he set dramatic, lyrical, or humorous texts (“odes,” “canons,” “songs”).

Most of the surviving operas turn to the comic genre. Romain Rolland described Telemann as the composer who helped the opéra comique to become more widespread in Germany.

In contrast to Handel, who limited himself almost exclusively to solo arias, Telemann made use of extremely varied stylistic devices in his operas. These include differently worked recitatives, da capo arias, dance motifs, singspiel-like arias, arie di bravura, and vocal ranges from bass to castrato. Telemann consistently depicted characters and situations with melodic, motivic, and instrumentation adapted to them; here, too, he made imaginative use of various picturesque figures.

Among the formerly most popular and now partly rediscovered of the approximately 50 operas are Der geduldige Sokrates (1720), Sieg der Schönheit oder Gensericus (1722), Der neumodische Liebhaber Damon (1724), Pimpinone or Die ungleiche Heirat (arias from one collection could be assigned to her a few years ago (2005?) and have since been performed and recorded.

The festive music includes the Hamburg Admiralty Music as well as the 12 Captains” Music, of which 9 have been preserved in their entirety and 3 in part. These works are characterized by musical splendor and particularly songful melodies.

Telemann”s last secular compositions display high drama and unusual harmonies; the cantatas Ino (1765) and Der May – Eine musicalische Idylle (c. 1761), but also the late sacred work Der Tod Jesu, are reminiscent of Christoph Willibald Gluck”s music for their extreme emotions. The secular cantata Trauer-Music eines kunsterfahrenen Canarienvogels (“Canary Cantata”) is among his best-known compositions. However, the so-called “Schulmeisterkantate” (“The Schoolmaster in the Singing School”), long thought to be a work by Telemann, was actually written by Christoph Ludwig Fehre.

In his songs, Telemann took up the work of Adam Krieger and developed it further in terms of text and melody. The melodies are kept simple and are often divided into irregular periods. Telemann”s songs represent the most important link between the song oeuvre of the 17th century and the Berlin school of song.

In his later creative phase, Telemann planned several treatises on music theory, including one on the recitative (1733) and a Theoretisch-practischen Tractat vom Componiren (1735). None of these writings has survived, so it must be assumed that they were either lost or discarded by Telemann.

In 1739 Telemann published a description of the Augenorgel, an instrument designed by the mathematician and Jesuit priest Louis-Bertrand Castel, which Telemann visited during his trip to Paris. Also surviving is a tuning system on which Telemann was still working a month before his death, and in which he was apparently inspired by the work of Johann Adolph Scheibe. This new system, presented in Mizler”s Musikalische Bibliothek, was the subject of a number of disputes within the Correspondierende Societät der musicalischen Wissenschaften (Corresponding Society of Musical Sciences), primarily because this description was not comprehensible from a music-theoretical point of view. Telemann had proposed to divide the octave into 55 microintervals of equal size. This division is relatively complicated with the associated mathematical problem. Only Georg Andreas Sorge succeeded in his writing Ausführliche und deutliche Anweisung zur Rational-Rechnung in describing Telemann”s system exactly on the basis of logarithms. In contrast to other contemporaries, Telemann had no interest in solving such questions, because the study of musical mathematics was rejected by the representatives of the Galant style, in contrast to the older musical thinking.

In the entire history of European art music, the reputation of hardly any recording artist has been subject to such radical change as that of Georg Philipp Telemann.

While Telemann enjoyed a great reputation during his lifetime, which radiated beyond national borders, the esteem in which he was held waned only a few years after his death. His recognition reached a low point during the Romantic period, when mere criticism of his work gave way to unfounded defamation that also affected his person. Musicologists of the 20th century, hesitant at first, gave more space to assessments based on work analysis and finally initiated a rediscovery of Telemann, accompanied by sporadic criticism.

Fame during lifetime

In addition to the prestigious posts and offers from court and city circles, sources from artistic and popular circles also attest to Telemann”s high, steadily growing reputation. While Telemann was already known far beyond the city limits in Frankfurt, his fame reached its peak in Hamburg. His unprecedented career was due not only to the fact that he promoted new, popular musical developments, but also to his business acumen and the impertinence he showed to people of higher rank.

That Telemann was a European celebrity is evident, for example, from the order lists for his Tafelmusik and his Nouveaux Quatuors, which include names from France, Italy, Denmark, Switzerland, Holland, Latvia, Spain, and Norway, as well as Handel (from England). Likewise, invitations and commissions for compositions from Denmark, England, the Baltic States and France prove his international reputation. As an offer from St. Petersburg to build a court orchestra in 1729 shows, the court of the Russian tsar was also interested in Telemann”s talent. For performance and study purposes, copies as well as pirated editions of Telemann”s most popular works were made everywhere.

Shortly after Telemann took up his post in Hamburg, Johann Mattheson, who regularly published as an “art judge”, reported that Telemann “has so far, as a result of his great skill and industriousness, been extremely concerned, and with very good progress, to give new life to sacred music as well as to private concerts; thus, one has also recently begun to experience almost the same happiness in the local operas”.

In addition to Telemann”s expressiveness and melodic ingenuity, his internationally influenced creativity was also appreciated. Johann Scheibe claimed that Johann Sebastian Bach”s works were “by no means of such emphasis, conviction and reasonable thought The reasonable fire of a Telemann has also made these foreign musical genres known and popular in Germany This skilful man has also very often made use of them to good effect in his church matters, and through him we have felt the beauty and grace of French music with no small pleasure”. Mizler, Agricola and Quantz also praised Telemann”s use of foreign influences.

During the Hamburg period of his life, after Handel had emigrated to England, Telemann was considered the best-known composer in the German-speaking world. His sacred music was held in particularly high esteem and found favor not only in the places where he worked, but also in many other churches in northern, central and southern Germany, and in some cases also abroad. The music critic Jakob Adlung wrote in 1758 that there was hardly a German church in which Telemann”s cantatas were not performed. Some church cantatas attributed to Johann Sebastian Bach in the Bachwerke-Verzeichnis have since been identified by researchers as works by Telemann, such as the cantata BWV 141 “Das ist je gewisslich wahr” and BWV 160 “Ich weiß dass mein Erlöser lebt”. – In a comparison with Bach, Friedrich Wilhelm Zachariä called Telemann the “father of sacred musical art”. After some unsuccessful initial resistance, the “theatrical” style of the church composer finally found general acclaim.

Among the aspects of Telemann”s oeuvre that were viewed critically was the musical realization of impressions of nature, which Mattheson disapproved of. Unlike the criticism of tone painting that began after Telemann”s death, Mattheson was primarily concerned with preserving music as a form of human expression from the description of “unmusical” nature. The unusual harmony was received differently, but was generally accepted as a means of underscoring expression. Partially censured was the comedy and lack of “shamefulness” (Mattheson) of Telemann”s operas, as well as the mixture of German and Italian texts that was common at the time.

Change in the conception of music

The esteem that prevailed during Telemann”s lifetime did not survive his death for long. Already a few years later, criticism of his work increased. The reason for this change lay in the transition from the Baroque to a time of Sturm und Drang and the beginning of Viennese Classicism with the accompanying change in fashion. The task of music no longer lay in “narration” but in the expression of subjective feelings. In addition, music”s ties to specific occasions were loosening; so-called occasional music was being supplanted by compositions made “for their own sake.”

On the one hand, the textual models of sacred music by Telemann and other church composers were viewed critically, for these too now had to subordinate themselves to the modern rules of poetry. On the other hand, Telemann”s particularly consistent transposition of textual ideas such as palpitations, raging pain, and the like into music was heavily criticized. Moreover, comic opera was regarded as a sign of an alleged decline in music.

Representative of the now prevailing, changed views on composition and poetry is the following statement by Gotthold Ephraim Lessing:

Further criticism from the musical sphere came from Sulzer, Kirnberger, Schulz and others. Telemann”s reputation dwindled rapidly, and other composers, such as Graun, who were said to have a more “tender” taste, came into vogue.

In 1770, the Hamburg professor of literature Christoph Daniel Ebeling expressed for the first time the later very frequently used inference that a lack of quality in the opus could be concluded from the enormous volume of Telemann”s work, attacking Telemann”s “harmful fertility” on the grounds that “Rarely does one have many masterpieces by polygraphs”.

Telemann”s secular and instrumental works were able to hold their own before the critics for some time, but soon the criticism spread to his entire output.

The composer and music critic Johann Friedrich Reichardt complained that Telemann”s tone painting was accompanied by complaisance:

An appreciation of the work in the awareness of a changed taste took place only sporadically. John Hawkins, for example, referred to Telemann in his work A General History of the Science and Practice of Music…, Volume the Fifth (Christian Friedrich Daniel Schubart also explicitly praised Telemann.

Ernst Ludwig Gerber has little good to say about Telemann in his well-known Musiklexikon (1792). He, too, criticized the too text-bound declamation of the “Polygraph”. Gerber was later frequently quoted in his assertion that the artist”s best creative period was between 1730 and 1750.

After his death, Telemann”s scores had passed into the possession of his grandson, who was later called to Riga and performed several works there. In the process, he often made what he felt to be indispensable arrangements – sometimes beyond recognition – in order to “save” his grandfather”s oeuvre. Nevertheless, the interest in Telemann was now almost historical; his works were only occasionally performed in the churches of Hamburg and in some concert halls. In Paris, last performances can be traced back to 1775. From about 1830 on, apart from a few performances, there was no knowledge of Telemann”s work based on personal listening experience.

Nevertheless, a few examples of personalities who showed interest in Telemann”s work have survived. For example, the writer Carl Weisflog mentioned in Phantasiestücke und Historien that he was impressed by an isolated performance of the Donner-Ode that took place in 1827.

Systematic defamation

Characteristic of the music-historical mentions of Telemann in the 19th century is the lack of well-founded analysis based on the works and the intensified continuation of criticisms already mentioned earlier. Especially Telemann”s sacred compositions were accused of lacking seriousness, which was apparently expected from a German composer. Carl von Winterfeld considered the text on which the works were based to be flat and pathetic, a “tiresome monotony”. Furthermore, he described Telemann”s work as “light and quickly thrown down,” the expression of the sacred vocal works as faulty and unworthy of the church:

In the meantime, Telemann”s scores had passed from Georg Michael into the possession of the music collector Georg Poelchau. In 1841, after Poelchau”s death, they were purchased by the “Musikalisches Archiv” at the “Königliche Bibliothek zu Berlin”, today”s Staatsbibliothek, where they were available for source research.

Up to the end of the 19th century, the words used to criticize Telemann steadily intensified; according to Ernst Otto Lindner, he “did not create artistic creations but factory wares. The criticism also transferred to his person; Lindner, for example, condemned Telemann as vain because of his autobiographies and the choice of his anagrammatic pseudonym Signor Melante. Further critical views were expressed by Eduard Bernsdorf, who described Telemann”s melodies as “very often stiff and dry”; again, many other music critics adopted this formulation.

The 19th century saw the emergence of a cult of genius, with lonely masters believed to be far ahead of the times being glorified; public favorites were viewed with skepticism. In the music world, Carl Hermann Bitter, Philipp Spitta and others initiated the Bach Renaissance in the course of their research. This also began a period of disparaging evaluation of many other composers, regardless of the fact that knowledge of only a small fraction of the complete works was acquired, if at all, and, moreover, no serious analyses of works were ever conducted. In the case of Telemann, musicologists oriented themselves primarily to the remarks of Ebeling and Gerber. Some Bach and Handel scholars intensified their criteria with regard to Telemann”s creative principles in order to clarify the qualitative difference to these composers:

The Bach biographer Albert Schweitzer could not believe that Bach seemingly uncritically copied entire cantatas from Telemann. In the course of his analysis of the cantata Ich weiß, dass mein Erlöser lebt (BWV 160), Spitta came to the following conclusion: “What Bach has made of it is a true gem of moving declamation and glorious melodic train.” Later it turned out that this cantata was composed by Telemann. Schweitzer made a similar misstep when, while contemplating the cantata Ich lebe, mein Herze, zu deinem Ergötzen (BWV 145), he was particularly impressed by the opening chorus “So du mit deinem Munde,” which was by Telemann.

Furthermore, Telemann was accused of conventionality from the 1870s on. Lindner wrote that Telemann, coming from the “old established school,” had never achieved actual independence; Hugo Riemann described him as “the archetype of an official German composer” who had little claim to revival.

In the late 19th century, Telemann”s reputation in music-historical circles reached an all-time low.


The first attempts at a more thorough examination of Telemann”s work took place at the beginning of the 20th century. Above all, the more intensive study of the source material led to a renewed, at first almost imperceptible change in Telemann”s reception.

Among the first musicologists to formulate a more unbiased assessment of Telemann”s works was Max Seiffert, who in 1899 took a descriptive rather than judgmental stance in analyzing some of his piano compositions. In 1902, Max Friedlaender praised Telemann, in whose songs full of “witty and piquant melodies” he showed himself to be a “peculiar, amiable, interesting composer who likes to emancipate himself from the mold of contemporary taste.” In this way, he asserted the exact opposite of the frequently expressed criticism of the “dry” melodies and the “template-ness”. On the other hand, he also noted a great disparity in his work. Arnold Schering”s judgment of Telemann”s instrumental concertos was as follows:

The foundation for the rediscovery of Telemann, however, was laid by the publications of Max Schneider and others. Schneider was the first to attack the practice of unfounded criticism of Telemann and to try to understand him in his own historicity. He published the oratorio Der Tag des Gerichts and the solo cantata Ino in the Denkmälern Deutscher Tonkunst in 1907. In his commentary on Telemann”s autobiographies, he pointed out the unprecedented change in Telemann”s understanding over the past centuries. Schneider criticized in particular the accusation of the “superficiality” of the work and “bogus investigations” made about it. He called for “”bon mots” and vague talk to be studiously avoided about a master who, for two ages, was reckoned by the whole educated world to be among the first in his art, and who has a right to find proper appreciation in the history of music.”

Subsequently, Romain Rolland and Max Seiffert published detailed work analyses and editions of Telemann”s works.

For the time being, however, these statements were not noticed by the general public.

Telemann today

It was not until after the Second World War that work began on the methodical study of Telemann”s complete works. In the course of the now more frequently appearing works on the composer, the music-historical assessment also changed. In 1952, Hans Joachim Moser stated:

In 1953, the Gesellschaft für Musikforschung published the first volume of the Auswahlausgabe von Telemanns Werken. Since 1955 this project has been supported by the Musikgeschichtliche Kommission e.V..

In 1961, the working group “Georg Philipp Telemann” e.V. was founded in Magdeburg, which was mainly dedicated to research. It became a department of the Georg Philipp Telemann Music School in 1979 under the name Center for Telemann Care and Research, which in turn was renamed the Georg Philipp Telemann Conservatory in September 2000. In 1985, the Telemann Center became an independent institution.

Since 1962, the city of Magdeburg, together with the “Georg Philipp Telemann” working group, has organized the internationally acclaimed Telemann Festival every two years, with numerous events and conferences aimed equally at music lovers, musicians and researchers. In addition, the city annually awards the Georg Philipp Telemann Prize. In several cities, registered societies were formed that deal with both research and practice. These include the Telemann societies in Magdeburg, Frankfurt and Hamburg.

In addition to editions of works and other publications, recordings and radio broadcasts soon came to the public”s attention. The first work by Telemann to be recorded on disc was a quartet from Tafelmusik, released in 1935 in the French series Anthologie sonore. Thanks to the success of the long-playing record in the 1960s, and in the wake of the discovery of the commercial potential of Baroque music, some 200 works by Telemann had been released on record by 1970, representing only a small portion of his total output. Even today, his instrumental music is the best recorded.

In May 1981, on the occasion of the 300th birthday, a special stamp was issued by the GDR Post Office from the series Important Personalities. The Deutsche Bundespost had already done the same in February.

In March 1990 the asteroid (4246) Telemann was named after him.

In 2011, a museum dedicated to the composer was opened in Hamburg by the Hamburger Telemann-Gesellschaft e.V.. The Hamburg museum is the first Telemann museum in the world. It serves to promote culture and education in Hamburg, and its tasks also include providing comprehensive knowledge about the Hamburg Director Musices, the cantor of the five main churches from 1721 to 1767 and director of the Hamburg Opera from 1722 to 1738. The Telemann Museum is located at Peterstraße 31 (in the so-called Composers” Quarter) and in the same building as the Johannes Brahms Society and Museum.

In 2013, the Telemann Foundation was established to provide permanent and exclusive support for the Hamburg Telemann Museum. The Garden House in the Klosterbergegarten in Magdeburg hosts the exhibition Listen, Telemann! on the life and work of Telemann.


  1. Georg Philipp Telemann
  2. Georg Philipp Telemann
Ads Blocker Image Powered by Code Help Pro

Ads Blocker Detected!!!

We have detected that you are using extensions to block ads. Please support us by disabling these ads blocker.