Telemann, Georg Philipp
George Philipp Telemann (March 14, 1681, Magdeburg, Brandenburg [Germany]—June 25, 1767, Hamburg) was a late Baroque German composer composed of religious and secular music. His church compositions ranged from small cantatas to large-scale works for soloists, choir, and orchestra. Telemann was the son of a Protestant minister who got a solid general education but no formal music training. Despite his early musical abilities, his family prevented him from pursuing a career as a professional musician, which was neither glamorous nor lucrative at the time. By self-teaching, he composed and played a wide range of musical instruments, including the violin, recorder, oboe, viola da gamba, chalumeau, and clavier. He enrolled as a law student at the University of Leipzig in 1701, but musical activities soon overtook him and consumed him for the rest of his life.
Leipzig served as a launching pad for Telemann's musical career. Apart from his musical abilities, the young firebrand possessed exceptional capacity, diligence, and organizational skills, which the local authorities recognized. They asked him to help Johann Kuhnau, the organist at the Thomaskirche, by writing church cantatas for alternate Sundays. They also offered him a job as organist at the Neuenkirche, the university chapel. Telemann reorganized the collegium musicum, or student musical society, into an influential amateur orchestra that gave public concerts (at the time, a novelty). He also became the director of the Leipzig Opera, for which he also wrote. Telemann's subsequent roles were as kapellmeister (court orchestra conductor) in Sorau (now ary, Poland; 1705–08), and then as concertmaster (first violinist) and later kapellmeister in Eisenach (1708–12). He acquired the musical expertise, practical experience, and composting facility required when he assumed the musical directorships of Frankfurt am Main (1712–21) and Hamburg (1721–67) by playing, directing, teaching, and composing. He was the artistic director of two churches in Frankfurt and charge of the city's official music. He reorganized the students' collegium musicum and gave public concerts with the party, just as he did in Leipzig. Telemann began publishing pieces in Frankfurt, which made him famous not only in Germany but also internationally. He served as cantor at Hamburg's renowned humanistic school, the Johanneum, and was also a music teacher. As artistic director of Hamburg, he supplied music to the five major churches, was in charge of the Hamburg Opera, and served as cantor at Hamburg's renowned humanistic school, the Johanneum. He also directed a collegium musicum and gave public concerts in Hamburg. In 1729, he turned down an invitation to form a German orchestra at the Russian court. In 1722, he also turned down an offer from Leipzig city officials to succeed Kuhnau as organist of the Thomaskirche. This offered position, which authorities had promised him 17 years before in the event of Kuhnau's death, demonstrated the high regard in which even Telemann was held. (After Telemann's refusal, Johann Sebastian Bach was appointed.) In addition to his activities in Hamburg, he continued to supply music to the courts of Eisenach and Bayreuth and the town of Frankfurt and published his compositions. He was a master of the significant styles of the time—German, Italian, and French—and could compose in all of them with ease and fluency. He also absorbed influences from Polish and English music. He was as at home in the church as he was in opera and concerts. His music was melodically natural, harmonies were bold, the rhythm was buoyant, and the orchestration was exquisite. It was never short on content or variety, whether profound or funny, serious or light. Telemann's printed works include the popular collection Musique de table (published in 1733; containing three orchestral suites, three concerti, three quartets, three trios, and three sonatas); the first music periodical, Der getreue Music-Meister (1728–29; containing 70 compositions); and Der harmonische Gottesdienst (1725–26; 72 church works). Telemann never left Germany, except for a short visit to France (1737–38), where he was warmly welcomed. He had eight sons and three daughters from his two marriages. His first wife died in childbirth when he was young, and his second wife ran away with a Swedish soldier, leaving Telemann with a 3,000-taler debt. He was a prolific composer and a prolific writer; his two autobiographies, published in 1718 and 1739, are comparatively well known. After the death of his first wife, he published a long poem, and many of the words in his vocal compositions were written by him. Telemann's numerous prefaces to collections of his songs, which contain a wealth of practical advice on how to perform his (and his contemporaries') compositions, are particularly noteworthy. He was the godfather of Bach's son Carl Philipp Emanuel, who succeeded Telemann as Hamburg's musical director after Telemann's death at 86.