Telemann’s Magnificat in C

Telemann composed his Magnificat in C around 1705, probably while he was still in Leipzig.

He had enrolled at Leipzig University to read Law, but was very active musically, becoming thoroughly embedded in the musical life of the city.  Indeed, he became so dominant a figure that he seriously trod on the toes of Johann Kuhnau, J.S. Bach’s predecessor at the Thomaskirche.

It was customary in Leipzig when performing the Magnificat as part of a service that congregational hymns would be inserted between movements.  In line with this tradition, in this performance there will be appropriate Christmas carols included for the audience to join in.

Contretemps with Kuhnau

Kuhnau was J.S.Bach’s very distinguished predecessor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig. He was enjoying a glittering career as composer, lawyer, novelist and general man of letters.  When he was 41 he was unanimously appointed Kantor at the Thomaskirche, but that was when things started to go downhill.

A young  Georg Telemann enrolled at the university, like Kuhnau, to study Law, but he, as did Kuhnau before him, became very active musically. He established a collegium musicum which was a rival to Kuhnau’s establishment and attracted Kuhnau’s musicians and some of his pupils. He even approached the mayor for permission to compose music for the Thomaskirche, utterly undermining Kuhnau. To rub in salt yet further, in 1703, when Kuhnau was suffering one of several periods of illness, the council asked Telemann to succeed him, should he die.

Kuhnau, in fact, lived for a further 21 years.

 

 

St.Thomas’s new Kantor

When Kuhnau died in June 1722 the Leipzig authorities needed to find a new Kantor for the Thomaschule. This was a prestigious post and there were six applicants. The obvious front-runner was Georg Philip Telemann,

G. F. Telemann

who was very highly regarded and already had connections with St. Thomas’s. He showed definite signs of accepting the post, but the Hamburg Senate tried to block his acceptance. Telemann argued that if they wanted him to remain in Hamburg they should raise his salary. This they duly did, and he duly stayed.

J.C.Graupner

So Leipzig looked to their
2nd choice, Christoph Graupner, who was Kappelmeister in Darmstadt and one of Kuhnau’s distinguished pupils. Graupner was keen to accept, until Darmstadt offered to increase his salary and improve his status – an offer he could not refuse.

This left them with the 3rd choice.

Councillor Platz observed, ‘As the best man cannot be got, we must make do with the mediocre’ – namely one J.S.Bach!

One of the duties of the position was that they should teach the boys Latin. All of the applicants refused to accept this, but the upshot was that Bach, as successful applicant, had to employ a Latin teacher and pay him out of his own salary.

 

Johann Kuhnau (1660 – 1722)

Johann Kuhnau (1660 – 1722) was Bach’s predecessor as Kantor at the Thomaskirche in Leipzig, something of a renaissance man, and at the time considered to be the equal of Handel and Telemann, – certainly superior to J.S.Bach. He published an important body of keyboard music (including the first keyboard sonata published by a German composer); but his cantatas were not published and are mostly lost – just a few have been found amongst Bach’s huge collection of cantatas. Uns ist ein Kind geboren is one such. It was indeed assumed in the 19th century to be by Bach himself – Cantata 142, but Bach scholars have long been questioning this.

He was born Johann Kuhn in 1660. His parents were Czech, but being protestants, they had fled to the mountains on the border of Germany to avoid the scourge of the Counter-Reformation.

At the age of 10 Johann went to Dresden to be educated, since he was an exceptionally clever child; he also had a fine voice. Dresden was the home of the court of the Elector of Saxony, Johann Georg II. In 1667, the Elector was offered the presidency of the Fruitbearing Society, which he accepted. The Fruitbearing Society’s main aim was to establish German as the official court language throughout the Holy Roman Empire (rather than French). The Elector also strove to make Dresden a major cultural centre & to this end brought distinguished artists, writers and musicians into his court. His activities as a patron left considerable debts for his descendants to deal with, but it was an environment greatly conducive to the education of young Johann Kuhn. In Dresden he received an education that included French and Italian, the languages of the court; and he sang, learned the organ and composed music much appreciated by the court Kantor, Vincenzo Albrici.

But in 1680 plague came to Dresden. Johann went home, but was soon back at school, this time in Zittau. He was head chorister in the choir of the Johanniskirche. Shortly after this, both the organist and Kantor of the church died, so at the age of 20 Johann Kuhn was asked to act in their stead for a year as organist, choir director and composer.

Two years later Johann became a Law student at Leipzig University. But he impressed the City Council with his musical talent and he became very active as a performer (presumably as a singer and organist?) and as a composer. Rather fashionably, he had at this time italianised his name to Cuno, but it was not long before that turned back into the German-sounding Kuhnau. At the age of 24 he was appointed organist at the Thomaskirche.

Alongside his musical employment, he studied law. By the time he was 29 he had married, was practising law, and was still organist at the Thomaskirche. During the next 10 years over and above his fame as an organist, he became proficient in Maths, Greek and Hebrew, translated French and Italian books into German, wrote a satiric novel, published his substantial and significant body of keyboard music and composed music for the church. In addition he had 8 children and a thriving legal practise.

When he was 41 he was unanimously appointed Kantor at the Thomaskirche, but that was when things started to go downhill. One Georg Telemann enroled at the university, also to study Law, but he, like Kuhnau before him, became very active musically. He established a collegium musicum which was a rival to Kuhnau’s establishment and attracted Kuhnau’s musicians and some of his pupils. He even approached the mayor for permission to compose music for the Thomaskirche, utterly undermining Kuhnau. To rub in salt yet further, in 1703, when Kuhnau was suffering one of several periods of illness, the council asked Telemann to succeed him, should he die.

Kuhnau, in fact, lived for a further 21 years, and although he became very dissatisfied with conditions at the Thomaskirche, he attracted many students who would become distinguished musicians themselves, such was the esteem he was held in by his fellow musicians. He was the last of the Thomaskantors who had something of the ‘renaissance man’ about him. It is easy to see that, at the time, Bach was seen as a less distinguished man – indeed he was in broader terms – he just happened to be one of the greatest musicians ever.

Kuhnau died in June 1722.

Click here to find out about the next Kantor at the Thomaskirche.

Leipzig Collegium Musicum

A Collegium Musicum was a music society.

With the burgeoning of bourgeois culture, particularly in prosperous and vibrant centres such as Leipzig, there began a slow shift away from music being made exclusively for The Court or The Church. Art music was becoming accessible to a much wider public. An example of this is the Music Hall in Dublin where Messiah received its first performance. Collegia musica were a vital part of this development.

Collegia musica brought musicians together to make music, and were often purely amateur in status. In Hamburg, Georg Philipp Telemann set up a collegium musicum in his own home.  It was Telemann who founded the Collegium Musicum in Leipzig, in 1702 (when he was also associated with St. Thomas’s for a time). This became the focal point for professional musicians, and it was an organisation of real standing within the city, informal and voluntary institution though it was. Bach’s becoming director of the Collegium does not seem to have brought him any financial rewards, but it did greatly widen his scope, compared to the restrictions placed on him by his ‘day-job’ at the Thomasschule.

 

Telemann 1681-1721

Georg Philip Telemann

was born in Magdeburg. Like his near contemporary Handel, his family actively discouraged him from making music and as a musician he was virtually self-taught.

G. F. Telemann

He was from a professional family, so he was sent to school; and it was at school his remarkable talent was recognised and he was given opportunities and support. From the age of 16 he made many visits to the courts of Hannover and Brunswick, and by this time he had learned to play the recorder, violin and keyboard instruments, plus the flute, oboe, chalumeau (an early form of the clarinet), viola da gamba, double bass and bass trombone. He would later add the cello to his list, but violin would be his 1st instrument.

Although when he was 20 he went to Leipzig to read Law, he quickly became embroiled in the music of the city, among other things getting commissions to write music for the two main churches. Four years later, after he had thoroughly made his mark in Leipzig , he was appointed Kapellmeister to Count Erdmann II of Promnitz in what is now Poland, and then went on to hold substantial posts in Eisenach and Frankfurt. But it was when he was 40 he landed a plum job in Hamburg where he remained (but for one hiccup) for his remaining 47 years.

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Telemann 1721-67

The plum job

His main positions were Kantor of the Johanneum Lateinschule and Musical Director of the five main churches of the city.

Hamburg Johanneum

He had been living in Hamburg for about 14 years when he wrote Allein Gott in die Höh sei Ehre , by which time he was securely embedded as a most prominent and influential figure in Hamburg society.

 

Gaensemarkt Theater

He was also director of the Gänsemarkt opera house, where he mounted performances of his own operas, and those of other composers, particularly Handel’s, to which he added some of his own numbers. He founded a collegium musicum in Hamburg, and also one in Leipzig. It was originally intended that the collegium would give one concert a week during the winter season, but the public demanded two. On top of this he published his own music, wrote poetry and was corresponding agent for the Eisenach court, collecting news from across northern Europe.

Apart from a natural workaholic tendency, some of his workload may have been driven by the need to service the massive gambling debts his 2nd wife incurred.

Telemann’s Allein Gott in die Hoeh sei Ehre

Telemann appears to have composed the cantata Allein Gott in die Höh sei Ehre (sung by the angels at Christ’s birth) in about 1735.

It was composed to be sung at Christmas in the principal Lutheran churches of Hamburg, one imagines with the congregation joining in, since it begins with the first verse of a popular German hymn (written by Nicolaus Decius and Martin Luther). It continues with a setting of verses on the significance of Christ’s birth. Who wrote these words is not clear but they could be by Telemann himself. The cantata concludes with a verse from another popular hymn.