He is one of the most important Baroque composers and was also considered an exceptionally good businessman and very well connected – we are talking about Georg Philipp Telemann. It was not foreseeable that he would be of such importance, because music was not initially in his cradle: Born on 24 March 1681 in Magdeburg, Telemann came from a family of clergymen – only a distant relative worked as a cantor. After both his father and mother died early, Georg Philipp received his first education at school. There, at a small public school, he learned the violin, recorder, zither and piano autodidactically.
He showed great musical talent at a very young age and began composing his first pieces at the age of ten. At that time, even his mother still put obstacles in his way, as she – widowed at an early age – did not consider music to have a future. She even went so far as to lock away all his instruments in order to keep the boy from music. In 1694 he came to school in Zellerfeld – his mother hoped that the other environment would turn him away from music, but the opposite was the case: the superintendent there, Caspar Calvör, encouraged the boy to compose. Telemann composed motets for the church choir there almost weekly, as well as works for the town pipers. By transferring to the Gymnasium Andreanum in Hildesheim, Telemann was able to supplement his musical education and learned the organ, violin, viola da gamba, transverse flute, oboe, shawm, double bass and bass trombone. In addition, he wrote works for the school theatre. In secret music lessons, he was mainly concerned with the French and Italian instrumental music of his time.
After his school education, he gave in to his mother’s insistence and enrolled to study law in Leipzig. It was no coincidence that he chose one of the musical metropolises of the time as his place of study. On the way there, he stopped off in Halle, where he laid the foundation for a lifelong friendship with George Frideric Handel. And in Leipzig, after only one year, he founded the student Collegium musicum. His compositions were performed at almost all Leipzig churches and in 1704 he was appointed music director of the university church. Further appointments took him briefly to Sorau and Eisenach. His main appointment would eventually become Hamburg, where Telemann held the post of chief music director in 1721. His duties here included music at the city’s five churches, as well as teaching music at the local Latin school and providing music for various city festivals. Just one year after his arrival in Hamburg, he also took over the direction of the opera house, for which he also contributed numerous operas.
Telemann led the city’s musical life to great success, especially the public musical life, which was independent of court and church. In 1761, the first public concert hall was built, which was also popular with younger audiences. Telemann also founded the first German music journal in Hamburg. He left the city only sporadically for the rest of his life – after separating from his second wife, he set off on a long trip abroad. Later, he withdrew more and more, buying a garden on the outskirts of the city where he grew flowers. On 25 June 1767, Telemann died of pneumonia. With several thousand works of all genres, Georg Philipp Telemann is one of the most prolific composers in music history. And yet his works were initially forgotten for almost two hundred years until they were systematically rediscovered in the second half of the 20th century. Among the lesser-known Easter related works from his pen are his St. Luke’s Passion and his Easter cantatas, which were recorded by the Kölner Akademie to great acclaim from the public and the press.