When Telemann arrived in Hamburg in 1721, the city had approximately 75,000 residents. The extremely prosperous free and trading city was surrounded by imposing ramparts. On its bastions and at numerous city gates, the militia, led by vigilante captains, kept watch.
Thus, Hamburg was well prepared to face dangers from outside and was therefore spared the horrors of the Thirty Years' War. Despite this, the city was not spared from internal enemies such as the plague, which claimed over 10,000 lives in 1714.
Many of the streets of Hamburg's historic Old and New Town and their names still exist today. We also know where Telemann lived in Hamburg:
- Bey dem Herrenstall, 1721/22.
- Hinter St. Petri, from 1722
- Hohe Bleichen, at the end
In the 18th century, Hamburg belonged to the "Holy Roman Empire of the German Nation," characterized by its provincialism. Belonging to it were numerous – not to say countless – electorates, principalities, and counties. From Vienna, where the Habsburg Court was located, the empire was ruled by an emperor. Hamburg was also directly subordinate to him. Telemann had experienced five Habsburg emperors, including Leopold I. (until 1705), Joseph I (until 1711), Charles VI (until 1740). After the death of Charles VI, for whom he felt a special inner bond, Telemann composed the following church music:
„Gönne jammervollen Klagen“ (Grant wailing lamentations)
„Gott, man lobet dich in der Stille“ (God, You are praised in the stillness)
Joachim Johann Daniel Zimmermann wrote the lyrics.
For Telemann, the great catastrophes of his time were invariably an occasion to deal with them musically. When the Lisbon earthquake of 1755 shook the world with 100,000 deaths, Telemann composed his stirring "Donnerode." When the Seven Years' War (1757-1763) came to an end, Telemann created his "Friedensmusik" (Music of Peace) as well as the Christmas Oratorio "Die Hirten bey der Krippe" (The shepherds at the manger). Of course, Telemann was directly affected by the catastrophes of his beloved Hamburg: the music for the rededication of the St. Michael's Church in 1762 commemorates the fire of the church in 1750.
Telemann's professional life in Hamburg was linked to many buildings. First and foremost were the five main churches and the Johanneum, where he taught all his life. In addition, several concert halls and stages naturally played a role for Telemann as a composer and conductor. Many (first) performances of his works took place here. Unfortunately, these venues are no longer preserved today, but we know how they looked and where they stood. The distances that Telemann had to cover between these churches and houses were short and could all be reached in what is now Hamburg's city center.
Telemann was quite "busy": Besides management of the opera and teaching at the Johanneum, he had to compose a church cantata for every Sunday and holiday. In addition to this, Passion music had to be written every year. A cantata was also required of Telemann when a pastor or deacon took office. If a mayor died, his family could commission the funeral music from Telemann. As if that would not be enough, each year, the officers (captain) of the civil guard celebrated a banquet at the end of August. For this occasion, Telemann wrote the so-called “Kaptiänsmusiken” (Captain's Music) between 1723 and 1766. The Council also awaited Telemann's music in 1724 for its “Petri and Matthiae” banquet and exceptional occasions such as the centenary of the Admiralty and when high-ranking personalities came to visit.
The Free City
Hamburg had its own constitution, which was fundamentally revised in 1712. The supreme power of state and church was in the hands of the council and the citizenry. The council consisted of four mayors, 24 aldermen (senators), syndici, and secretaries. Deputies and colleges provided the administration of the town. Relevant authorities for Telemann were, for example, the “Kämmerei” (financial authority) and the “Scholarchat” (school authority). The citizenry was made up of "inherited" citizens. These were inhabitants of the five parishes who owned land (without a mortgage!). The citizenry also included the church colleges of the senior elders, the "Sechziger" (a collegium of sixty citizens who were associated with the council), and the "Hundertachtziger" (a similar collegium of one hundred and eighty citizens), to which each parish sent an equal number of representatives.
Telemann spent more than half of his life in Hamburg. From 1721 until he died in 1767, he contributed, as Director Musices, not merely to an excellent development of Hamburg's public concert life. As a composer of European standing, he also enhanced the reputation of the Hanseatic city as a cultural stronghold. Since 1958 the Hamburg Telemann Society (Hamburger Telemann-Gesellschaft) has aimed to rediscover the world of Georg Philipp Telemann in theory and practice and to keep Telemann's Hamburg alive. With this in mind, the museum at Peterstraße 39, founded by the Hamburger Telemann-Gesellschaft, sees itself as a site for the preservation of the social living environment of Telemann and his contemporaries.