"It wasn't I who sought the tones; the tones sought me", Georg Philipp Telemann once said about himself. He was rich in musical ideas. He created many compositions on his own accord and without any obligation through his offices. Apart from economic interests, one of his primary motives was to provide music lovers with performance material and valuable practical advice. For example, how might one be able to enhance the effect of a slow movement by adding appropriate ornamentation? Telemann's "Methodical Sonatas" are generally regarded as a musical study of ornamentation. There is no course of study that can bypass them. In the 17th and 18th centuries, private musical life often took place in a so-called "Collegium Musicum." In Hamburg, too, such an association of music lovers was formed under Telemann's direction. With its public performances, the Collegium Musicum made a significant contribution to the fact that there was an increasing tendency in Hamburg to establish a musical life outside of churches and courtly and representative events.
Musique De Table
In the early 18th century, the possession of sheet music was a luxury, the reproduction of which required a music engraver who transferred notes, clefs, and staves to copper plates. These then served as a print form. The demand for music editions increased in Telemann's time, both in aristocratic and civic circles. They appreciated cultivated entertainment, especially when the growing number of amateur musicians were able to participate themselves. Telemann took advantage of this and became a publisher of his compositions and enjoyed engraving music himself. To minimize the economic risk, he worked by subscription: he obtained binding orders in advance, produced only as many copies as necessary, and ensured that the production costs were covered. Telemann's "Tafelmusik" sold particularly well throughout Europe, a three-part collection comprising of a wide variety of instrumental combinations, from solo to trio and quartet to ensemble.
Absolutist rulers or bodies, as well as institutions of local self-government, always recognized the importance of music as representing power. Accordingly, they maintained court chapels and music directors. Telemann himself had profited in Eisenach and Sorau from the existence of such institutions and positions. Good court orchestras and virtuosos often stimulated Telemann's creative urge. The Dresden violin virtuoso Johann Georg Pisendel impressed Telemann so much that the two became friends, and that he composed a brilliant violin concerto for him. For the Darmstadt court orchestra and others, Telemann wrote several of the then-popular overture suites, sequences of court dances with a three-part introduction. In Hamburg, he continued his contributions to this genre, sometimes with a distinctive local color, as in his "Alster Overture" or the famous "Hamburger Ebb' und Fluth." Although Telemann said that he was not fond of concertos, he composed numerous solo and ensemble concertos, including one with the unusual instrumentation of a viola as a solo instrument.
In 1728 Telemann created the first music journal in Europe. He called it "Der getreue Musik-Meister ("The Faithful Music Master"). With this serial publication, Telemann addressed music lovers who used his compositions in their private homes to explore a wide variety of musical forms and who could measure and practice their skills on their instruments with them. Every two weeks, a new sequence appeared, which had previously been announced in the Hamburg daily newspapers. It contained "so many genres of musical pieces for singers as instrumentalists... hence the most diverse that may occur only in music, ranging from Italian, French, English, Polish, serious to lively and funny styles." In this manner, arias, harpsichord pieces, fugues, canons, and sonatas quickly became the favorite common property of the wealthy Hamburg populace. Music lovers eagerly awaited the latest episode to complete their favorite sonata.
Telemann himself said that church music was particularly important to him. On all Sundays and church holidays, people who were unable to afford to go to the opera or a concert, learn an expensive musical instrument, or purchase sheet music, were able to come into contact with music.
Telemann put a lot of effort into creating high-quality works for this genre. In doing so, he made full use of the possibilities allowed by the Hamburg church service regulations by performing music at three points during the service: before the sermon, after the sermon, and at the end.
Throughout his professional life, Telemann worked on the further development of church music and its performance. To set an example nationwide, he had several volumes, i.e., music for all Sundays and feast days of the church year from 1st Advent to Eternity Sunday, published in print. Today we still know of about 1,500 regular church music pieces by Telemann intended for church services.
The demands Telemann placed on himself permitted him little repetition. The only relief he allowed himself was, for example, to subsequently pass on a volume he had composed for Hamburg to Frankfurt. Frankfurt and Eisenach were still "supplied" by Telemann based on old agreements.
Since 1678 Hamburg had an opera house with a permanent ensemble, which was constantly played at. It was located on the Gänsemarkt (lit. Geese Market) and was financed by wealthy citizens and diplomats living in Hamburg. The house had seating for 2,000 spectators and was considered at the time to be the most important civic-urban theater in the German-speaking world.
It was not part of Telemann's official duties to take part in the opera. But as for most composers, this particular art form had a unique attraction for Telemann.
As “Kapellmeister” and composer, Telemann contributed to the last heyday of Hamburg's famous Gänsemarkt opera house before it had to be closed in 1739.
Telemann was interested in creating oratorios whose texts had a spiritual basis but interpreted the biblical story freely. This created more space for drama and emotional expression.
In this sense, the Hamburg councilman Barthold Hinrich Brockes had written a completely new text about the Passion story, which Telemann set to music in 1716. Following this model, he wrote and set to music his "Seliges Erwägens des bitterens Leidens und Sterbens Jesu" (Blessed contemplation of the bitter suffering and death of Jesus), which he first performed in Hamburg in 1722.
This Passion oratorio was to become the most frequently performed of Telemann's compositions during his lifetime and remained in the annual Hamburg Passion repertoire long after his death. Among the better-known oratorios is also "The Messiah," based on the first and tenth hymns of the Klopstock epic presented to the general public in 1759 in the Hamburg Drillhaus.
In 1761, the opening of a new concert hall in Hamburg once again inspired the now 80-year-old Telemann to new productivity. The results were highly dramatic and unconventional harmonic vocal-symphonic compositions such as "Ino" and “Der Tag des Gerichts" ("The Day of Judgement").