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.

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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.