A letter from Johann Georg Pisendel (1687-1755) to Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) begins with these superlatives: “Hertz innigstgeliebtester Herr Bruder, Wahrer Herzens Freund!” (Dearest most loved Sir Brother, true friend of the heart!). This letter was written more than forty years after their encounter in cultural hotspot Leipzig around 1709 where Telemann founded the Collegium Musicum and where Pisendel brought the house down playing a concerto by Tomasso Albinoni. Having started as a choirboy, Pisendel studied singing with Pistocchi and violin with Giuseppe Torelli. In 1712, he accepted a place in the Dresden Court orchestra where he became concertmaster after fifteen years, a position he would hold for the rest of his life. With his master the Crown Prince, he traveled around Europe, enjoying the cultural climate in Berlin, France and Italy. He even got a nine-month leave to take lessons with Vivaldi in Venice!
Another letter from Pisendel ends with a list of plants, most of them exotic and originally from Africa and South America, which he sent to Telemann. From London, Georg Friederic Händel (1685-1759) sent Telemann boxes with plants, which he described as “Les meilleures de toute L’Angleterre”–the best of all of England. Händel’s father opposed the idea of his son becoming a musician (Georg Friedrich hid a small clavichord in the attic so his father could not hear him play), but his mother supported his aspirations. His friendship with Telemann dates from before 1703, when Händel moved to Hamburg. According to John Mainwaring’s 1760 biography of the composer, “It was resolved to send him thither on his own bottom, and chiefly with a view to improvement.” Though of course he would eventually find mush respect and recognition as a musician and composer, in those early years Händel found work as a violinist in the Hamburg opera orchestra, where Graupner was the harpsichordist (sic!). Within three years he left for Italy, invited by Ferdinando de’ Medici. Here Händel refined his skills: he arrived as a talented but rather crude composer, and he left a few years later showing full command of a generous and varied melodic style. He was then appointed Kapellmeister in Hannover, but left with a twelve-month leave to London, where he was to stay for the rest of his life, excluding a number of visits to the continent.
Johann Christoph Graupner (1683-1760) became a student at the Thomasschule in Leipzig in 1696, where he remained until 1706. Here he began what became a lifelong friendship with Telemann that mutually inspired both composers artistically. After three years as harpsichordist of the Hamburg Oper-am-Gänsemarkt, he was invited by Ernst Ludwig, Landgrave of Hessen-Darmstadt, to be vice-Kapellmeister. He eventually became Kapellmeister. In this role, he was responsible for the concerts at the court in Darmstadt, for which he composed an immense number of works. He also performed and copied scores of Telemann in a very neat hand, causing Graupner’s close friend and fellow composer Johann Mattheson to write: “His manuscript scores are so beautifully written, one might think they are engravings in copper.” As a result, the library in Darmstadt where Graupner’s collection is kept is one of the richest sources of Telemann’s manuscripts! Telemann kept in close contact with Graupner, performing his works with the “Frauenstein,” a musical society in Frankfurt-am-Main that performed weekly concerts. Graupner never left Darmstadt. When in 1723 he was offered the prestigious position of Thomaskantor in Leipzig, he declined, including instead with his refusal a warm letter of recommendation for Johann Sebastian Bach.
Telemann was actually the first to be offered the position of Thomaskantor when Johann Kuhnau died in 1722. When Telemann showed interest, the Hamburg City Council refused to grant his release. As a result, it was forced to raise his income considerably, and to withdraw the objections to Telemann’s association with the Hamburg opera, the only independent opera in eighteenth-century Germany. For Telemann, this meant involvement in an enormous number of activities. In addition to his responsibilities for the music in the five principal churches, there were public concerts, operas, and his editorial activities plus his work as a composer. Telemann composed more than 1,000 church cantatas, 46 Passions (one for each year he was in Hamburg), instrumental works like the three volumes of “Tafelmusik,” the “Paris Quartets,” more than 500 Ouvertures (orchestral suites), hundreds of Concerti for a great variety of instruments, and chamber music. “Der Getreue Musikmeister” (the faithful music master) was a music periodical Telemann edited every two weeks: the first movements of one sonata in one, the last movements in the next volume. To have the complete sonata one had to buy two volumes!
Telemann is one of history’s most prolific composers, despite a busy schedule that prompted his friends to often ask him where he found the time. In addition to being secretary to the British court, he corresponded continuously with business partners, musicians, and friends. And, of course, he had this beautiful garden outside the walls of Hamburg, with “the best of all England” to be tended.