Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Dr. Bob Prescribes Georg Philipp Telemann: Concerti per molte stromenti 

Georg Philipp Telemann; hand-colored aquatint by Valentin Daniel Preisler, after a lost painting by Louis Michael Schneider, 1750
Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767); hand-colored aquatint by Valentin Daniel Preisler, after a lost painting by Louis Michael Schneider, 1750

In his lifetime, the composer Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) was considered the single greatest composer living and working in the German-speaking world. (Whereas his contemporary, Johann Sebastian Bach [1685-1750], was perceived as being a composer of third-rate importance, if that.)

By the late-nineteenth century, Telemann’s music had come to be considered by many “authorities” – when it was considered at all – to be the work of a fifth-rate talent, hardly better than a charlatan. By the mid-twentieth century, his work had been reappraised once again, and a more balanced and frankly more fair evaluation had been made, one we can live with today. A few quotes will establish nicely these “changing views” of Telemann’s music.

In the eighteenth century, Telemann’s music was universally admired, as the following quotes attest.

The famed German composer, singer, lexicographer, and music theorist Johann Mattheson (1681-1764) wrote this bit of doggerel in 1740:

“A Lully is renowned;
Corelli one may praise;
But Telemann alone
has above mere fame been raised.”

In 1754, the German writer and editor Friedrich Wilhelm Zachariae (1726-1777) opined:

“Yet who is this ancient, who with flowering pen, full of holy fire, the wond’ring temple charms? Telemann, none but thou, celestial music’s sire.”

The German composer, organist, singer, pedagogue, and writer on music Johann Friedrich Agricola (1720-1774) wrote in 1757:

“Most venerable Herr Kapellmeister! Time-honored Sage! True fame of our fatherland, who makes the neighboring nations blush for shame!”

Nice, right? But these were not opinions shared with those nineteenth-century arbiters of “good” music, who felt that Telemann’s prodigious compositional output was the sign of a weak and unoriginal musical mind.…

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