Born in 1681 in Magdeburg, Germany, George Philipp Telemann (like his great friend George Frideric Handel) evaded a career in law to become a preeminent musician and composer. As a child, Telemann showed considerable musical aptitude, composing his first opera at age 12 and teaching himself roughly a dozen instruments. While at Leipzig University, he wrote music for two of the city’s churches and founded the Collegium Musicum, which performed his music. After an abbreviated academic career, he became the director of Leipzig’s opera house and cantor of one of its churches.
Telemann held positions in several German cities, and his career in music reminds us of how interconnected the baroque world could be. His time as konzertmeister in Eisenach, Germany, overlapped with that of Johann Sebastian Bach. He was succeeded as kapellmeister at the court of Count Erdman Promnitz at Sorau (now Zory, Poland) by Carl Phillipp Emanual Bach, who was also his godson. Influenced by Steffani, Rosenmuller, Caldara, and J. S. Bach, Telemann, in turn, influenced his friend Handel, as well as a generation of successors. Telemann traveled widely, gaining exposure to French and Italian influences, which he incorporated into his music. After his time at Sorau, he became Director of Music in Frankfurt am Main, and later Kapellmeister of a church in the city, the Barfüsserkirche.
Telemann holds a place in the Guinness Book of World Records as being history’s most prolific composer. In addition to composing more than 1000 cantatas and 600 suites, he also created operas, passions, oratorios, and concertos for a variety of instruments. It has been suggested that he may have written more than 3000 pieces. Although many of his original scores were destroyed in World War II, some works once thought to be lost have been found in recent years.