Georg Philipp Telemann

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) left behind a vast body of work com­posed over a very long lifetime. His revival is only fairly recent because he, like most Baroque composers, vanished from view in the 19th century. In his day he was the undoubted star of the show, but still seems to be under-appreciated, and is still struggling to get out from under the Bach jugger­naut as if he really was some musical hack.

No history of 18th century music can possibly cover absolutely every com­poser who might be of note, but no history should be without some men­tion of Telemann, and not just an occasional sentence.

But what are the criteria for including a composer in a history of music? Innovation? Popularity? Quantity of work? Influence? Musical educator? Creativity?

As far as I’m aware, Telemann wasn’t an innovator, but he didn’t become stale, either. He seems to have kept up with musical fashion all his life, and didn’t hesitate to follow it. He was praised in his day, and on the basis of the quantity of his work, he deserves to be mentioned.

How influential was he? I don’t know. He was well known and popular. The fact that he vanished from sight only to be treated a minor stave-splotcher may say something about his influence, but most Baroque composers were forgotten. Unlike the Bach gang, there wasn’t a vast tribe of Telemanns to carry on the family tradition.

Telemann was an educator. Both Der Getreue Music-Meister and Essercizii Musici were intended to be pedagogical, but I don’t know if any of his other publications could be described in this way.

Although Telemann may have followed the trends, I think he could be described as creative. I don’t get the impression that he stole from himself (as Handel did), and as I said, he didn’t fall behind the times. Telemann’s work shows variety, and although it’s not all memorable, I suspect that it’s generally more memorable than many of the works of many of his contemporaries.

I wouldn’t want to see a Cult of Telemann in the same way that there’s a Cult of Bach, but it would be nice to see some variety in the pantheon of 18th-century composers.

I was listening to Roberto Loreggian play some of Telemann’s keyboard works, a part of his music of which I had no awareness until the second decade of the 21st century. As I was listening to the music, I noted two things. One was that the music, which seemed very chordal, was, I felt, better suited to the organ. The other was that Loreggian’s style of playing, which seemed a little too aggressive for my tastes. He wasn’t tickling the ivories inasmuch as he was beating them unconscious.

Telemann may have published various works during his lifetime, but unlike other composers, he never seems to have gone in for Op. 1, Op. 2, Op. etc. However, i now have 24 out of 39 instrumental works, including his violin sonatas of 1715, which was his first published work. I found that I have the whole of Essercizii Musici, but only a fairly small number of pieces from Der Getreue Music-Meister (mostly chamber music for one instrument and b.c.).

It can be difficult to find works by Telemann which don’t contain material I already own, which is why I have a comprehensive catalogue of works which I consult before buying anything. It is rare, but not impossible to find wholly new material.

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