Georg Philipp Telemann was born on 14 March 1681 in Magdeburg in the orthodoxally Luterian environment. He was the younger son of Heinrich Telemann and Maria Haltmeier. The ancestors of the composer descended from middle townspeople. Many of them studied at universities and were connected with the Church. Georg Philipp’s father came from the vicinity of Erfurt. He studied at the University of Helmstedt. Next, he became a priest in the parish church in Hakenborg, and later a deacon of the Heilig-Geist-Kirche church in Magdeburg. The composer’s mother was a daughter of the protestant clergyman from Regensburg. Music was not the basic activity in the Telemann family; only Heinrich Thering, the composer’s grandfather on the part of his father was – as a chanter in Halberstadt – a professional musician. Telemann himself claimed however that he had inherited his musical talent from his mother, whose nephew – Joachim Friedrich Haltmeier – worked as a chanter in Verden, and his son – Carl Johann Friedrich – held the post of an organist in Hannover.
Years of education
After the death of their father the elder brother of Georg Philipp, Heinrich Matthias, was sent by their mother to study at the faculty of theology. After graduation he became a clergyman whereas Georg Philipp studied, among other subjects, religion, Latin and Greek in Altstadtisches Gymnasium and in Domschule in Magdeburg. Young Telemann was also really interested in the German poetry. This passion stayed with him for his whole life. At the age of ten he started to learn to sing. At the age of twelve he was exploring the secrets of playing the keyboard instruments and studying tablatures which consisted of a complicated letter notation and rhythmic codes. It only lasted for two weeks.
Formally, after fourteen days, Telemann finished his musical education. In fact, he was a brilliant self-taught person. He himself studied how to play the flute, the violin and the zither. He learned composition through arduous rewriting of masterpieces of valued masters. The penetrating analysis of the transcribed materials pushed him to his first composing attempts. Quite soon he created his first arias, motets and instrumental pieces. The opera debut of Telemann took place when the composer wan only twelve years old. However, the performance of the opera Sigismundus to the libretto of Christoph Heinrich Postel finished with a catastrophe for the young creator. His mother, prompted by her ‘well-wishing’ friends who were concerned about Georg Philipp’s fate, forbade her son to undertake further composition attempts and she tried to interfere with the development of his interests in that area by confiscating his musical instruments. Telemann however did not feel that he had to be obedient to his concerned mother and continued to compose but… secretly. What is more, at nights he played borrowed instruments which he kept hidden in a secret place.
By the end of 1693, with the hope for a more lucrative future for Georg Philipp, his mother sent him to Zellerfeld, where he was supposed to study under the supervision of Caspar Calvoer. His interests, apart from theology, history and mathematics also covered… music. It was Calvoer who presented to the young Telemann relations between music and mathematics. In Zellerfeld Georg Philipp could, with no worries, study the realization of basso continuo as well as the art of composition. Almost for every Sunday he wrote a new motet, which later was presented by the church choir.
In 1697 Telemann moved to Hildesheim where he started studying in Gymnasium Andreanum. Both the rector Johann Christoph Losius and father Theodor Crispen, the superior of the Roman Catholic Church soon discovered Georg Philipp’s talent. Losius made the first orders for compositions for the school, and Crispen allowed the performance of the German cantatas in his church. Numerous visits to courts in Hannover and Braunschweig enabled Telemann to get to know the latest achievements of Italian and French masters. At the same time he was especially impressed not only by the Italian music of Arcangello Corelli and Antonio Caldara, but also by German composers, e.g. Johann Rosenmuller whose masterpieces also influenced the direction of development of his compositions, both vocal-instrumental ones as well as those purely instrumental.
In 1701, when traveling via Halle, Georg Philipp met a 16 years old at the time Georg Friedrich Händel, whom he described as ‘an important and great person’. It was the beginning of the long-lasting acquaintance of both composers. In the same year Telemann started studying law at university in Leipzig, at the same time trying to conceal his musical talents from other students. However, the secret was quite soon revealed – a friend with whom the composer shared the room found a study of one of the psalms in his… suitcase. After performing that composition at the Saint Thomas Church, Telemann received an order from the mayor of Leipzig concerning delivery every second week music pieces for the two most important churches – Thomaskirche and Nikolaikirche. At the same time the composer established Colegium musicum, which in a short time started an intensive concert activity both with the town notables and in Neukirche (New Church, at present Saint Matthew Church). In 1702 he took the post of the music director of the Opernhaus auf dem Bruhl opera house, sometimes he performed on the stage of the theater as a singer. In 1704 he became an organist and music director of Neukirche. Until 1699 this post was assigned for the music director of Thomaskirche church, thus taking the post by Telemann in an obvious way led to the conflict with an extremely ambitious Johann Kuhnau, who was not only the director of music in Thomaskirche, but was also responsible for the musicians of all churches in Leipzig. Kuhnau firmly, though with no results, opposed to the reduction of his competences as a chanter, which he theoretically found in the decree of the Town Council which allowed Telemann, who was younger than Kuhnau, to compose for Saint Thomas Church. He also criticized the penetration of the church music by elements characteristic for the opera. His prestige suffered very much from that situation.
Source: Filip Berkowicz / Gazeta Wyborcza The Library of Great Composers