About the album
GEORG PHILIPP TELEMANN (1681–1767) gained fame over much of Europe during the middle of his own life for his gallant and mixed style. In 1726, learnèd poet Christian Friedrich Weichmann (1698–1770) compared him to the greatest musicians in Venice, Rome, Paris and London (Poesie der Nieder-Sachsen, part 3) and he was to receive increasing acclaim over the next 10 years. In 1740, influential music writer Johann Mattheson asserted in his Grundlage einer Ehrenpforte that Telemann had even eclipsed the two pioneers of the era, Lully (French style) and Corelli (Italian style).
However, after his death in 1767 Telemann quickly faded into oblivion. With Viennese classical style in full bloom and soon to transform into early Romanticism, Telemann’s body of work was to become passé. The new artistic ideal was that of the sensitive genius. Later Baroque composers who had a penchant for short, gallant phrases, and who even allowed themselves to caricature nations and imitate nature and weather phenomena, no longer conformed to the musical zeitgeist. In fact, most Baroque music was past its use-by date, with only parts of Handel and Bach’s oeuvres remaining sacrosanct. Advocates of J.S Bach kept him relatively au courant by using the successful tactic of portraying him as a true genius, a scientist – a musical Isaac Newton. The still famous Telemann of 1750 seemed to see it coming when writing an obituary about his newly deceased friend Bach (in sonnet form), looking into the future and predicting that his name would never “go under”.
After World War II Telemann, and several other contemporaries such as Vivaldi, made a strong come-back and he is still recognised today as among the great talents of the 18th century. We know that he provided important impetus to the stylistic development of the early Age of Enlightenment. Norwegian music historian Harald Herresthal presents an updated view of Telemann in his 2007 book about classical music, Musikkens verden (The World of Music):
There is a lightness to Telemann’s writing, but this is not to say it is weak and insignificant music. The craftsmanship is characterised by solidity and great knowledge. With his incredible ability to absorb musical impulses, he became in many ways a stylistic chameleon. There was no other composer in Germany who, in the same way, could alternate between styles.
The motto “Singen ist das Fundament in Music in allen Dingen” (the first sentence in a small poem in a letter to Mattheson in 1718) aptly summarises Telemann’s fundamental principle of always adhering to the singable and melodious. In addition, he was partial to spicing it up with some cultivated folklore, most notably the “all Polacca” melodies.
Colourful instrumentation is a feature of Telemann’s oeuvre and this can especially be heard in his cantatas, operas and orchestral suites, or in his original configurations such as the Concertos for Four Violins without orchestra. Another typical feature of his work, and one which strongly appeals to musicians such as Caroline Eidsten Dahl, is his ability to compose idiomatically. This is hardly surprising, as according to his autobiographical texts, he played harpsichord, lute, violin and recorder during his childhood, and then later learned basic skills on the oboe, the transverse flute, the viola da gamba, double bass and the trombone.
As a composer, multi-instrumentalist, poet, correspondent, opera and church music director, he reached out to both scholars and to the public sphere. He ran his own publishing company in the period from 1715–40 and taught himself to engrave notes on copper plates. Telemann researchers estimate that he composed approximately 3600 works and he is well represented in all three categories in the 18th century: church, chamber and theatre music. Despite this huge output, he rarely reused his own material. This is rather unusual and is in stark contrast to his good friend Georg F. Handel, the master of recycling his own work. Handel was known to “steal” regularly, both from himself, and with permission granted, from his good friend Telemann.