2019 Aug 18: Telemann

August 18, 2019 10:30

Sonata in G for Flute & Harpsichord    G. Telemann (1681-1767)
Susan Addington, Flute

"Oh God, In A Mysterious Way"

Improvisation

The German composer, Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767), belonged to a family that had long been connected with the Lutheran Church. His father was a clergyman, his mother the daughter of a clergyman, and his elder brother also took orders, a path that he too might have followed had it not been for his exceptional musical ability. As a child he showed considerable musical talent, mastering the violin, flute, zither and keyboard by the age of ten and composing an opera two years later to the consternation of his family who disapproved of music. However, such resistance served only to reinforce his determination to persevere in his studies. At his mother’s insistance he undertook the study of law at Leipzig University in 1701, starting with language and science, but he was already so capable a musician that within a year of his arrival he founded the student Collegium Musicum with which he gave public concerts (and which J.S. Bach was later to direct), wrote operatic works for the Leipzig Theater, and in 1703 became musical director of the Leipzig Opera and was appointed organist at the Neue Kirche in 1704.

Telemann did not stay long in Leipzig. In 1705 he accepted an appointment as Kapellmeister to the cosmopolitan court of Count Erdmann II. But Telemann’s tenure was cut short by the imminent prospect of invasion by the Swedish army, causing the Court to be hurriedly disbanded. But with his talent and enormous work ethic, he steadily climbed the musical ladder, ultimately landing in Hamburg where he remained for the rest of his life. He also founded a music publishing company, and a music magazine. A friend of Bach and Handel, he was godfather to Bach’s son Carl Philipp Emanuel, who succeeded as musical director of Hamburg upon Telemann’s death at the age of 86.

While Telemann’s career prospered, his personal life was troubled: his first wife died only 15 months after their marriage, shortly after the birth of their daughter. He remarried, and his wife Maria’s extracurricular activities — inspired by a highly public affair with a Swedish military officer in 1724 — began to circulate throughout Hamburg society. Local newspapers published detailed accounts of Maria’s romantic adventures, and Telemann was mercilessly mocked as the aging, senile and scorned husband. The composer, in turn, responded by composing a comic opera aptly named "The Domineering Chambermaid”, which recounts the timeless story of a young chambermaid who marries her old employer, and in due course completely dominates the relationship. Telemann’s ironic mirror of his own marital situation was highly successful. Unfortunately, Maria also had a liking for lavish jewelery and fancy dress, and a serious addiction to gambling. By 1735, Telemann was presented with a bill for more than 5000 thalers — more than his annual income — in a day when unpaid debt could land you in debtor’s prison. The citizens of Hamburg took up a collection to save Telemann from bankruptcy, and the composer sent his wife back to her relatives in Frankfurt.

P. S. When J.S. Bach was 35 his wife died, and he turned from his career as a composer and performer for aristocracy to devote himself to sacred music instead. Accordingly he applied for the position of Music Director of Leipzig — mostly responsible for directing the music at Leipzig’s four churches, with the occasional cantata for the Prince’s birthday, etc. Leipzig first offered the position to Telemann, who turned it down. Johann Christoph Graupner was their second choice and he also declined. J.S. Bach was their third choice. The council meeting minutes record councilman Abraham Christoph Plaz’s comment: "Since we cannot get the best, then we will have to settle for mediocre."

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