What Do You Know About Georg Philipp Telemann?

Oct 1, 2017

We hear a lot about Baroque composers J.S. Bach and George Frideric Handel, but what about Georg Philipp Telemann? He was, after all, a German composer of the same era who was even more famous than Bach in his day.

This year marks 250 years since the sophisticated and multifaceted Telemann died. Perhaps it's time to explore the music of the entrepreneurial publisher, horticulturalist, poet, and author who left behind a huge trove of compositions before his death at age 86.

The Philadelphia Baroque Orchestra Tempeste di Mare is spearheading a festival of all things Telemann, including, of course, performances of his music. Telemann 360° runs from October 11th to 14th.  At the same time, Temple University’s Boyer College of Music and Dance and Telemann scholar Steven Zohn will host academics from Germany, the United States, Japan and Britain for a Telemann symposium, the first ever held in the United States.  Stay tuned for Telemann selections coming up this week on WRTI 90.1.

Radio script:

There's no question that he's one of the great musicians of the 18th century.

This fall is the time to discover a Baroque composer who could rightly be called a “Renaissance Man.” Who is it? WRTI’s Meridee Duddleston has more.  

[MUSIC: The “Harlequinade” movement from Telemann’s Overture (Suite) in D major for three oboes and strings (TWV 55:D15), and Telemann’s Grand Motet, “Deus, judicium tuum” (TWV: 7-7)]

Meridee Duddleston: He was a composer and musician who also wrote poetry, including a sonnet for J.S. Bach on his death. An avid gardener. A cosmopolitan man of the world; and Hamburg, Germany’s official music director when the port city was already a commercial hub.  

Steven Zohn: I would compare him to Handel in a way, but Handel didn’t have the kind of literary, intellectual interests…as far as we know.

MD: And his friend J.S. Bach?  

SZ: Bach was a little more provincial. He never left Germany. He didn’t go to the university.

MD: But the successful and celebrated Georg Telemann did. Music virtuosos invited him to Paris. Temple University professor Steven Zohn says he made a big splash, writing instrumental and choral pieces although not all survived.

SZ: But what has survived is the Grand Motet that he wrote for the Concert Spirituel, this professional concert society, and he says proudly that it was performed by nearly 100 people twice over three days. So I think this was a kind of an honor that I think no other German had at the time in Paris.  

MD: The United States was decades away from breaking with Britain when the indefatigable Telemann mixed Italian, French, and German influences in over 3000 compositions, half of which were lost. Was Telemann a great composer with a capitol “G”?

SZ: No one could write that much music and hit it out of the park every time. But he did it often enough that there’s no question that he’s one of the great musicians of the 18th century and I think that his reputation in the 18th century was fully justified.

MD: And the volume of his work contains gems that can keep us busy for years.