HISTORY IS the most partial of the sciences. When it becomes enamored of a man, it loves him jealously; it will not even hear of others. Since the day when the greatness of Johann Sebastian Bach was admitted, all that was great in his lifetime has become less than nothing. The world has hardly been able to forgive Handel for the impertinence of having had as great a genius as Bach’s and a much greater success. The rest have fallen into dust; and there is no dust so dry as that of Telemann, whom posterity has forced to pay for the insolent victory which he won over Bach in his lifetime. This man, whose music was admired in every country in Europe from France to Russia, and whom Schubart called “the peer-less master,” whom the austere Mattheson declared to be the only musician who was above all praise, is today forgotten. No one attempts to make his acquaintance. He is judged by hear-say, by sayings which are attributed to him but whose meaning no one takes the trouble to understand. He has been immolated by the pious zeal of the Bach enthusiasts, such as Bitter, Wolfrum, or our friend Albert Schweitzer, who does not realize that Bach transcribed whole cantatas by Telemann with his own hand. It is possible not to realize this; but if one admires Bach, the mere fact that his opinion of Telemann was so high should give us food for reflection.
Georg Philipp Telemann was born at Madgeburg on March 14, 1681. He was the son and grandson of Lutheran pastors. He was not yet four years old when he lost his father. At an early age he displayed a remarkable facility in all subjects: Greek, Latin, music. The neighbors diverted themselves by listening to the little fellow, who played on the violin, the zither, and the flute. He had a great love of German poetryan exceptional characteristic in the German musicians of his time. While still quite youngone of the youngest students in the collegehe was chosen by the Cantor as his assistant in the teaching of singing. He took some lessons on the clavier but was lacking in patience; his master was an organist with a some-what archaic style. Little Telemann had no respect for the past. “The most joyful music,” he says, “was already running in my head. After a fortnight’s martyrdom I left my master, and since then I have learned nothing as regards music.” (He means, of course, that he learned nothing from a teacher, for he learned a great deal by himself, from books.)
He was not yet twelve years of age when he began to compose. The Cantor whom he assisted wrote music. The child did not fail to read his scores in secret; and he used to think how glorious it was to make up such beautiful things. He too began to write music, without confiding the fact to anyone; he had his compositions submitted to the Cantor under a pseudonym and had the joy of hearing them praisedand better still, sung in church and even in the streets. He grew bolder. An operatic libretto came his way; he set it to music. 0, Happiness! The opera was performed in a theater and the young author even filled one of the parts!
“Ah! but what a storm I drew upon my head with my opera!” he writes. “The enemies of music came in a host to see my mother and represented to her that I should become a charlatan, a tightrope walker, a mummer, a trainer of monkeys, etc. … if music were not prohibited! No sooner said than done; they took from me my notes, my instruments, and with them half my life.”
To punish him further he was sent to a distant school in the Harz mountains, at Zellerfeld. There he did extremely well in geometry. But the devil did not abandon his rights over him.
It happened that the master who was to have written a cantata for a popular fete in the mountains fell ill. The child profited by the opportunity. He wrote the composition and conducted the orchestra. He was thirteen years of age, and he was so small that a little bench had to be made for him, to lift him up, so that the members of the orchestra could see him. “The worthy mountaineers,” says Telemann, “touched by my appearance rather than my harmonies, carried me in triumph on their shoulders.” The headmaster of the school, flattered by his success, authorized Telemann to cultivate his music, declaring that after all this study was not inconsistent with that of geometry, and even that there was a relationship between the two sciences. The boy profited by this permission to neglect his geometry; he returned to the clavier and studied thorough-bass, whose rules he himself formulated and wrote down. “For,” he says, “I did not as yet know that there were books on the subject.”
When about seventeen years of age he proceeded to the gymnasium at Hildesheim, where he studied logic; and although he could not endure the Barbara Celarent, he acquitted him-self brilliantly. But above all he made great progress in his musical education. He was always composing. Not a day went by sine linea. He wrote church and instrumental music principally. His models were Steffani, Rosenmuller, Corelli, and Caldara. He acquired a taste for the style of the new German and Italian masters, “for their manner, full of invention, cantabile, and at the same time closely wrought.”
Their works confirmed his instinctive preference for expressive melody and his antipathy for the old contrapuntal style. A lucky chance favored him. He was not far distant from Han-over and Wolfenbüttel, whose famous chapels were centers of the new style. He went thither often. In Hanover he learned the French manner; at Wolfenbüttel the theatrical style of Venice. The two courts had excellent orchestras, and Telemann zealously investigated the character of the various instruments. “I should perhaps have become a more skillful instrumentalist,” he says, “if I had not felt such a burning eagerness to learn, in addition to the clavier, violin and flute, the oboe, the German flute, the reedpipe, the viol de gamba, etc. . . . down to the bass viol and the quint-posaune (bass trombone).” This is a modern characteristic; the composer does not seek to become a skilled performer on one instrument, as Bach and Handel on the organ and clavier, but to learn the resources of all the instruments. And Telemann insists on the necessity of this study for the composer.
At Hildesheim he wrote cantatas for the Catholic Church although he was a convinced Lutheran. He also set to music some dramatic essays by one of his professors, a species of comic opera in which the recitatives were spoken and the arias sung.
However, he was twenty years of age; and his mother (like Handers father) would not hear of his becoming a musician. Telemann (like Handel) did not rebel against the will of the family. In 1701 he went to Leipzig with the firm intention of studying law there. Why should it have befallen that he had to pass through Halle, where he very fittingly made the acquaintance of Handel, aged sixteen, who, although he was sup-posed to be following the lectures in the Faculty of Law, had contrived to get himself appointed organist and had acquired in the city a musical reputation .astonishing in one of his age? The two boys struck up a friendship. But they had to part. Telemann’s heart was heavy as he continued his journey. However, he adhered to his purpose and arrived in Leipzig. But the poor boy fell into temptation after temptation. He had hired a room in common with another student. The first thing he saw on entering was that musical instruments were hanging on all the walls, in every corner of the room. His companion was a melomaniac, and every day he inflicted upon Telemann the torture of playing to him; and Telemann heroically concealed the fact that he was a musician. The end was inevitable. One day Telemann could not refrain from showing one of his compositions, a psalm, to his roommate. (To tell the truth, he protests that his friend found the composition in his trunk.) The friend found nothing better to do than to divulge the secret. The psalm was played in St. Thomas’ Church. The burgomaster, en-raptured, sent for Telemann, gave him a present of money, and commissioned him to write a composition for the church every fortnight. This was too much. Telemann wrote to his mother that he could no longer hold out; he could do no more; he must write music. His mother sent him her blessing, and at last Telemann had the right to be a musician.
We see with what repugnance the German families of those days regarded the idea of allowing their sons to embrace the musical career; and it is curious that so many great musiciansSchutz, Handel, Kuhnau, Telemannshould have been obliged to begin by studying philosophy or law. However, this training does not seem to have done the composers any harm, and those of today whose culture (even in the case of the best educated) is so indifferent would do well to consider these examples, which prove that a general education may well be reconciled with musical knowledge and may even enrich it. Telemann, for his part, certainly owed to his literary cultivation one of the highest musical qualities-his modern feeling for poetry in mu-sic, whether interpreted by lyrical declamation or transposed into symphonic description.
During ,his stay at Leipzig Telemann found himself competing with Kuhnau, and although he professedor so he tells us the greatest respect for “the magnificent qualities” of “this extraordinary man,” he caused him a great deal of mortification. Kuhnau, who was in the prime of life, was indignant that a little law student should have been commissioned to write a fortnightly composition for St. Thomas’, of which church he was Cantor. It was indeed somewhat uncivil to Kuhnau; and this fact shows how far the new style responded to the general taste, since at the mere sight of a single short composition the preference was given to an unqualified student over a celebrated master. And this was not all. In 1704 Telemann was selected as organist and Kapellmeister to the Neue Kirche (since then the Matthaikirche) with the proviso “that he might at need conduct the choir of St. Thomas’ Church also, and thus there would be available a capable person when a change was made.” For this read “when Herr Kuhnau died;” for he was weak and in indifferent health; the authorities were anticipating his deathwhich, however, he contrived to postpone until 1722. It will be understood that Kuhnau found the whole proceeding in bad taste. To exasperate him more completely, Telemann succeeded in obtaining the directorship of the opera, although this was, as a general rule, irreconcilable with the post of organist. And all the students flocked to him, attracted at once by his youthful fame, by the lure of the theater, and by gain. They deserted Kuhnau, who complained bitterly. In a letter of December 9, 1704, he protested that “in consequence of the appointment of a new organist who is to produce the operas henceforth, the students, who have hitherto joined the church choir gratuitously and have been partly trained by me, now that they can be sure of earning something in the opera are leaving the choir to assist the `operiste: ” But his protest was in vain and Telemann won the day.
Thus at the very beginning of his career Telemann defeated the glorious Kuhnau, before outshining Bach. So powerful was the tide of the new musical fashion!
For that matter, Telemann knew how to profit by his luck and how to enable others to profit by it. There was nothing of the intriguer about him; and we cannot even say that it was ambition that urged him to accept all the posts which he se-cured during his long career; it was an extraordinary activity and a feverish need of exercising it. At Leipzig he worked assiduously, taking Kuhnau for his model in the matter of fugues and perfecting himself in melody by working in collaboration with Handel. At the same time he founded at Leipzig, in con-junction with the students, a Collegium Musicum, which gave concerts that were a prelude, as it were, to the great periodical public concerts in which he was to take the initiative later in Hamburg.
In 1705 he was called to Serail, between Frankfort-on-Oder and Breslau, as Kapellmeister to a wealthy nobleman, Graf Erdmann von Promnitz. The little princely court was extremely brilliant. The Graf had recently returned from France and was a lover of French music, Telemann proceeded to write French overtures; he read, pen in hand, the works of “Luny, Campra, and other good artists “I applied myself almost entirely to this style, so that in two years I wrote as many as two hundred overtures.”
With the French style, Telemann learned the Polish style while at Sorau. The court sometimes repaired for a few months to a residence of the Count’s in Upper Silesia, at Plesse or in Cracow. There Telemann became acquainted “with the Polish and Hanak music in all its true and barbaric beauty. It was played in certain hostelries by four instruments: a very shrill violin, a Polish bagpipe, a quint-posaunue (bass trombone) and a regal (small organ). In larger assemblies there was no regal, but the other instruments were reinforced. I have heard as many as thirty-six bagpipes and eight violins together. No one could conceive what extraordinary fantasies the pipers or the violinists invent when they are improvising while the dancers are resting. Anyone who took notes might in a week obtain a store of ideas that would last him for the rest of his life. In short, there is a great deal that is good in this music if one knows how to profit by it.. I found this of service to me later on, even in the case of many serious compositions. . . . I have written long concertos and trios in this style, which I then gave an Italian dress, making adagio alternate with allegro.”
Here, then, we see popular music beginning frankly to permeate the scholarly style. German music recruits itself by steeping itself in the music of the races which surround the German frontier; it is about to borrow from them something of their natural spontaneity, their freshness of invention, and to them it will in time owe a renewed youth.
From Sorau Telemann proceeded to the court at Eisenach, where he again found himself in a musical environment permeated by French influences. The Kapellmeister was a virtuoso of European celebrity, Pantaleon Hebenstreit, the inventor of an instrument called by his name of Pantaleon or Pantalona sort of improved dulcimer, a forerunner of .our modern piano. Pantaleon, who had won the applause of Louis XIV, had an unusual skill in composition in the French style; and the Eisenach orchestra was “installed as far as possible in the French manner.” Telemann even claims “that it surpassed the orchestra of the Paris Opera.” Here he completed his French education. As a matter of fact, there was in Telemann’s life a great deal more of French musical trainingand Polish and Italian, but above all Frenchthan of German. Telemann wrote, at Eisenach, a quantity of concertos in the French style and a consider-able number of sonatas (with from two to nine parts), trios, serenades, and cantatas with Italian or German words, in which he gave a great deal of importance to the accompanying music. Above all he valued his religious music.
It was at Eisenach, where Johann Bernhard Bach was organist, that Telemann entered into relations with Johann Sebastian Bach, and in 1714 he was godfather to one of his sons, Karl Philipp Emanuel. He ,was also on friendly terms with the pastor-poet Neumeister, protagonist of the religious cantata in operatic style, and one of J. S. Bach’s favorite librettists. Eventually that happened at Eisenach which profoundly influenced his character. He lost, early in 1711, his young wife, whom he had married at Sorau at the end of 1709.
He was appointed Kapellmeister of several churches in Frankfort. He also accepted the curious post of intendant to a society of Frankfort noblemen which assembled in the palace of Frauenstein; here he had to busy himself with matters quite other than musical; he superintended the finances, provided for banquets, maintained a Tabakskollegium, etc. This was quite in accordance with the customs of the age: Telemann was not lowering himself in accepting the position; far from that, he thereby became a member of the most distinguished circle in the city,. and he founded there in 1713 a great Collegium Musicum, which met in the Frauenstein Palace every Thursday, from Michaelmas to Easter, for purposes of amusement and to contribute to the improvement of music. These concerts were not private; strangers were invited to them. Telemann undertook to provide the music for them: sonatas for solo violin with harpsichord; chamber music; trios for violin, oboe or flute and bassoon or bass viol; five oratorios on the life of David; several Passions, one of which, based on Brocke’s famous poem and performed in April 1716 in the Hauptkirche at Frankfort, was a great musical event; an incalculable number of occasional pieces; twenty “nuptial serenades.”
This was, then, the period of the wars against Louis XIV, and peace was very near. Telemann wrote a cantata for the peace (March 3, 1715). He also wrote one for the emperor’s victories at Semlin and Peterwardein, and one for the peace of Passarowitz (1718), to say nothing of princely birthdays.
In 1721 he left Frankfort for Hamburg where he was appointed Kapellmeister and Cantor at the Johanneum. The nomadic musician was at length to form a lasting connection, a post which he retained until his death nearly half a century later. Then in 1723 he was on the point of migrating again’ to act as successor to Kuhnau, who had at last died at Leipzig. Telemann had been chosen unanimously, but Hamburg, rather than lose him, accepted all the conditions that he imposed. A little later, in 1729, he had some idea of going to Russia, where it had been proposed he should found a German “chapel.” “But the amenities of Hamburg and my intentions of settling down quietly at last,” he says, “triumphed over my curiosity.”
“Settling down quietly But for Telemann quietness was a relative term. He was entrusted with the direction of the musical education given at the gymnasium and the Johanneum (singing and history of music, lectures being given almost daily). He had to provide music for the five principal churches in Hamburg, not counting the cathedral, the Dom, where Mattheson ruled. He was musical director of the Hamburg Opera, which had greatly declined but was put on its feet again in 1722. The post was no sinecure. The cliques which favored the various singers were almost as violent as at the London Opera House under Handel; and the battles of the pen were no less scurrilous. They did not spare Telemann, who saw his conjugal misfortunes unveiled, and his wife’s inclination for Swedish officers. His musical invention does not seem to have suffered thereby, for a whole series of operas, comic and otherwise, dates from this period, and all are sparkling with invention and good humor.
But this was by no means enough for him; as soon as he had arrived in Hamburg, he had founded a Collegium Musicum and public concerts. Despite the city elders, who wanted to forbid the Cantor to allow his music to be played in a public tavern and to produce therein operas and comedies and other “entertainments inciting to luxury,” he persisted and had his way. The concerts which he founded continued until our own days. At first they were held in the barracks of the town guard twice a week on Mondays and Thursdays at four o’clock. The price of admission was one florin, eight groschen. At these concerts Telemann produced all those works of his, sacred or profane, public or private, which had already been performed elsewhere, not to speak of works especially written for the concerts: psalms, oratorios, cantatas, and instrumental pieces. He rarely conducted music other than his own, These concerts, attended by the elite of the city and closely followed by the critics, were conducted with care and punctuality and flourished ‘exceedingly. In 1761 a fine hall was opened for them, comfortable and well warmed.
Nor was this all: in 1728 he founded the first musical journal published in Germany. He retained his title of Kapellmeister of Saxony; he provided Eisenach with the usual Tafelmusik and with compositions for the court festivals. He had undertaken, on leaving Frankfort, to send back certain sacred compositions every three years in exchange for the freedom of the city which had been conferred upon him. He had been Kapellmeister of Bayreuth since 1726 and sent there a yearly opera and instrumental music. Lastly, music being insufficient to appease his thirst for activity, he accepted the post of correspondent to the Eisenach court, writing letters containing news of all that happened in the north. When he was ill, he dictated to his son.
Who will reckon up the total sum of his work? In twenty years alone (roughly from 1720 to 1740) he producedit is his own rough estimate–twelve complete cycles of sacred music for all the Sundays and feast days of the year; nineteen Passions whose poems too were often from his pen; twenty operas and comic operas; twenty oratorios, forty serenades, six hundred overtures, trios, concertos, clavier pieces, etc.; seven hundred airs, etc., etc.
This fabulous activity was interrupted by only one journey, which was the dream of his whole life. It was to Paris. More than once he had been invited there by the Parisian virtuosos who admired his works. He arrived in Paris at Michaelmas, 1737, and remained for eight months. Blavet, Guignon, the younger Forcroy, and Edouard played his quartets “in an admirable manner,” he tells us. “These performances impressed the court and the city and quickly won for me an almost universal favor, which was enhanced by a perfect courtesy.” He profited by it to have these quartets and six sonatas engraved. On March 25, 1738 the Concert Spirituel gave his seventy-first psalm with five voices and orchestra. He wrote in Paris a French cantata, Polypheme, and a comic symphony based on a popular song, Pere Barnabas. “And I departed,” he says, “fully satisfied, in the hope of returning.”
He remained faithful to Paris, and Paris remained faithful to him. His music continued to be engraved in France and to be performed at the Concert Spirituel. Telemann, on his side, spoke with enthusiasm of his visit and fought the cause of French music in Germany. The Hamburgische Berichte von gelehrten Sachen says in 1737: “Herr Telemann will greatly oblige the connoisseurs of music if, as he promises, he will de-scribe the present condition of music in Paris as he came to know it by his own experience, and if he will in this way seek to make French music, which he has done so much to bring to fashion, even more highly valued in Germany than it is.” Telemann began to carry out this design. In a preface dated 1742 he announces that he has already put on paper “a good part” of the account of his visit and that only the lack of time has hitherto prevented him from completing it. It is all the more desirable to publish it, he says, in that he hopes to dispose “to some extent of the prejudices which are here and there entertained against French music.” Unfortunately it is not known what has become of these notes.
In his old age this excellent man divided his heart between two passions: music and flowers. Letters of his are extant dating from 1742 in which he asks for flowers; he is, he says, “insatiable where hyacinths and tulips are concerned, greedy for ranunculi, and especially for anemones.” He suffered in his old age from weakness of the legs and failing sight. But his musical activity and his good humor were never impaired. On the score of some airs written in 1762 he wrote some verses:
“With an ink too thick, with foul pens, with bad sight, in gloomy weather, under a dim lamp I have composed these pages. Do not scold me for it!”
His ablest musical compositions date from the last years of his life when he was more than eighty years of age. In 1767, the year of his death, he published yet another theoretical work and wrote a Passion. He died in Hamburg on June 25, 1767, overburdened with years and with glory. He was more than eighty-six years of age.
Let us sum up this long career and seek to determine its principal outlines. Whatever our opinion of the quality of his work, it is impossible not to be struck by its phenomenal quantity and the prodigious vitality of a man who, from his tenth to his eighty-sixth year, wrote music with indefatigable joy and enthusiasm without prejudice to a hundred other occupations.
From first to last this vitality remained fresh and enthusiastic. What is so unusual in Telemann is that at no moment of his life did he begin to grow old and conservative; he was always advancing with youth. We have seen that at the very beginning of his career he was attracted by the new artthe art of melodyand did not conceal his antipathy for “fossils.”
In 1718 he quotes, as expressing his own ideas, these sorry French verses:
“Ne les élève pas (les anciens) clans un ouvrage saint, Au rang ou clans ce temps les auteurs ont atteint. Plus féconde aujourd’hui, la musique divine
D’un art laborieux étale la doctrine,
Dont on voit chaque jour s’accroitre les progrès.”
These lines express his attitude. He is a modern in the great quarrel between the ancients and the moderns, and he believes in progress. “One must never say to art: Thou shalt go no further. One is always going further, and one should always go further.” “If there is no longer anything new to be found in melody,” he writes to the timorous Graun, “it must be sought in harmony.”
Graun, the arch-conservative, is alarmed:
“To seek fresh combinations in harmony is, to my mind, to seek new letters in a language. Our modern professors are rather abolishing a few.”
“Yes,” writes Telemann, “they tell me that one must not go too far. And I reply that one must go to the very depths if one would deserve the name of a true master. This is what I wished to justify in my system of Intervals, and for this I expect not reproaches, but rather a gratias, at least in the future.”
This audacious innovator amazed even his fellow-innovators, such as Scheibe. Scheibe, in the preface to his Treatise on Intervals (1739), says that his acquaintance with Telemann at Hamburg convinced him still more completely of the truth of his system. “For,” he writes, “I found in this great man’s composition frequent intervals of an unaccustomed character which I had for a long time included in my series of intervals, but which I myself did not yet believe to be practicable, neverhaving met with them in the work of other composers. . All the intervals which occur in my system were employed by Telemann in the most graceful manner, and in a fashion so expressive, so moving, so exactly appropriate to the degree of emotion that it is impossible to find any fault with them short of finding fault with Nature herself.”
Another department of music in which he was an enthusiastic innovator was Tonmalerei, or musical description. In this he acquired a worldwide reputation even while he offended the prejudices of his countrymen, for the Germans had little liking for this descriptive music, the taste for which came from France; but the most austere critics could not resist the power of certain of these pictures. Max Schneider discovered in a work of Lessing’s the following opinion of Karl Philipp Emmanuel Bach:
“Herr Bach, who has succeeded Telemann at Hamburg, was his intimate friend; however, I have heard him criticize him impartially,, . . `Telemann,’ he used to say, `is a great painter; he has given striking proofs of this above all in one of his Jahrgange (cycles of sacred music for all the feast days of the year) which is known here under the name of Der Zellische (the Zelle cycle). Among other things he played for me an air in which he expressed the amazement and terror caused by the apparition of a spirit; even without the words, which were wretched, one immediately understood what the music sought to express. But Telemann often exceeded his aims. He was guilty of bad taste in depicting subjects which music should not de-scribe. Graun, on the contrary, had far too delicate a taste to fall into this error; as a result of the reserve with which he treated this subject, he rarely or never wrote descriptive music, but as a rule contented himself with an agreeable melody.”
I am about to show the reader some of the paths which Telemann opened to German music.
In the theater, to begin with, even those who were most unjust to him recognized his gifts as a humorist. He seems to have been the principal initiator of German comic opera. No doubt we find comic touches here and there in Keiser; it was a theatrical custom in Hamburg that a clown, a comic servant, should figure in all the productions, even in the musical tragedies; and to this character were given comic lieder with a simple accompaniment (often in unison) or none. Handel himself obeyed this tradition in his Almira, performed at Hamburg. There is also a rumor of a Singspiel by Keiser dating back to 1710, en-titled Leipzig Fair, and other performances of the same nature were given at that time. But the comic style was not really sanctioned in German music until Telemann’s works were written; the only opera bouffe of Keiser’s which has come down to us, Jodelet (1726), is subsequent to Telemann’s works and is certainly inspired by them. Telemann had the comic spirit, He began by writing, in accordance with the taste of the time, little comic lieder for the clown in opera, But this was not enough for him. He had a waggish tendency, as Herr Ottzenn has noted, to show the comic side of a figure or a situation in which the librettist had seen nothing that was not serious. And he was extremely skillful in delineating comic characters. His first opera, performed in Hamburg, The Patient Socrates ( Der geduldige Sokrates) contains some capital scenes. The subject is the story of Socrates’ domestic misfortunes. Considering that one bad wife was not enough, the librettist had generously allowed him two, who quarrel on the stage while Socrates has to appease them. The duet of the scolds in the second act is amusing and would still please an audience today.
The comic movement took definite shape more especially after 1724 as far as Hamburg is concerned. The opera was be-ginning to grow tedious, and attempts were made to import from Italy the comic intermezzi which were then in, their first novelty. Comic French ballets were mingled with these. At the carnival of 1724 some passages from Campra’s L’Europe galante were performed in Hamburg, and some from Lully’s Pourceaugnac. Telemann wrote some comic dances in the French manner, and in the following year he produced an intermezzo in the Italian manner: Pimpinone oder die ungleiche Heirat (Pimpinone, or the Ill-assorted Marriage) , whose subject is precisely the same as that of La Serva Padrona, which was written four years later. The style of the music also is closely akin to that of Pergolesi. Who is the common model? Surely an Italian; perhaps Leonardo Vinci, whose first comic operas date from 1720. In any case, we have here a curious example of the rapidity with which subjects and styles migrated from one end of Europe to the other, and of Telemann’s skill in assimilating foreign genius.
The German text of this prophetic counterpart of La Serva Padrona is by Praetorius. There are only two charactersPimpinone and Vespettaand three scenes. There is no orchestral prelude. At the rise of the curtain Vespetta sings a delightful little aria in which she enumerates her qualities as chamber-maid. The music, full of humor, is of a purely Neapolitan style; Pergolesian before Pergolesi. It has all the nervous vivacity of Neapolitan music, the little broken movements, the sudden halts, the fits and starts, the bantering responses of the orchestra, which emphasize or contradict the list of Vespetta’s virtues:
“Son da bene, son sincera, non ambisco, no pretendo….”
Pimpinone appears. Vespetta, in a German aria, begins to wheedle the old man; in the middle of her song three breves a parte express his satisfaction. A duet in which the two characters employ the same motive ends the first scene or inter-mezzo. In the second, Vespetta begs forgiveness for a trifling fault, and she sets about it in such a way that she is praised.
Finally she brings Pimpinone to the point of proposing that she shall become Pimpinona. But she needs a great deal of persuasion. In the third intermezzo she has become the mistress. Pergolesi did not go so far as this, and thus he showed his tact; for the story becomes less amusing. But the Hamburg public would not have been contented without a vigorous use of the stick. So Vespetta rules, leaving Pimpinone not the least vestige of liberty. He appears alone, lamenting his misfortune. He describes a conversation between his wife and a gossip of hers, imitating the two voices, and then a dispute between himself and his wife, in which he has not the last word. Vespetta appears, and there is a fresh dispute. In a final duet Pimpinone, beaten by his wife, whimpers while Vespetta bursts into shouts of laughter. This is one of the first examples of the duet in which the two characters are delineated in an individual manner, which is comic by reason of their very unlikeness. Handel, great though he was as a theatrical composer, never really attempted this new form of art.
Telemann’s comic style is still, of course, too Italian; he has yet to assimilate it more closely to German thought and speech, to combine it with the little lieder, full of good-natured buffoonery which he sometimes employs. But, after all, the first step has been taken. And the nimble, sparkling style of Vinci or Pergolesi will never be forgotten by German music; its animation will stimulate the too solemn gaiety of the great Bach’s fellow-countrymen. Not only will it contribute to the formation of the German Singspiel; it will even brighten with its laughter the new symphonic style of Mannheim and Vienna.
I must pass over Telemann’s other comic intermezzi: La Capricciosa, Les Amours de Vespetti (the second part of Pimpinone), etc. I shall merely mention, in passing, a Don Quixote (1735) which contains some charming airs and well-drawn characters.
But we have here only one aspect of Telemann’s theatrical talents; the other maskthat of tragedyhas been unduly overlooked. Even the one historian who has made a study of his operasHerr Curt Ottzenndoes not sufficiently’ insist upon this aspect of his art. When his feverish craving to write allows him to reflect upon what he is doing, Telemann is capable of anything, even of being profound. Not only do his operas contain beautiful serious arias but which is more unusualbeautiful choruses. One, in the third act of Sokrates (1721), representing the feast of Adonis, is amazingly modern in style. The orchestra includes three clarini sordinati (deep-toned muffled trumpets), two oboes, which play a plaintive melody in long-drawn notes, two violins, a viol, and the saxhorn senza cembalo, Its sonority is extremely fine. “Telemann really obtained the fusion of the various sonorous groups,” which until then had hardly been attempted. The piece is rich with serene emotion which has already the neo-antique purity of Gluck. It might be a chorus from Alceste, and the harmony is full of expression.
We find also in Telemann a romantic note, a poetical feeling for Nature which is not unknown in Handel but which is perhaps more refined in Telemannwhen he really does his best for his sensitiveness is of a more modern type. Thus, the “nightingale aria” sung by Mirtilla in Damon (1729) stands out amid the innumerable “nightingale arias” of the period by reason of its subtle impressionism.
Telemann’s operas are not sufficient to judge him. Those which have been preserved until our day, eight in number including La Serenata and Don Quichott der Löwenritter-were all written at Hamburg within a period of no great length, between 1721 and 1729. In the fifty years that followed Telemann greatly developed his powers, and we should be unjust to him if we did not estimate his capacity by the works of the latter half or even the close of his life, for only in these does he give his full measure.
In default of operas we have, as far as this period is concerned, oratorios and dramatic cantatas. Those published by Herr Max Schneider in the Denkmaler der TonkunstDer Tag des Gerichts (The Day of Judgment) and Inaare almost as interesting to study, with regard to the history of the musical drama, as the operas of Rameau and Gluck.
The poem of the Day of Judgment”ein Singgedicht volt starker Bewegungen” (a libretto full of strenuous action )was written by an ex-pupil of Telemann’s at the Hamburg Gymnasium, Pastor Ahler. He was a free pastor, by no means a pietist. At the opening of this work the faithful are awaiting the arrival of the Christ; the unbelievers are deriding them, like good eighteenth-century philosophers, in the name of science and reason. After a prefatory “Meditation,” rather weak and abstract, the cataclysm commences. The waves rise; the stars shine; the planets falter and fall; the angel appears, and the trumpet sounds. Behold the Christ! He calls His faithful to Him, and their chorus sings His praises; He hurls into the abyss the sinners, who howl aloud. The fourth part describes the joys of the blessed. From the second part to the fourth the work consists of a mighty crescendo, and we may say that the third and fourth parts are really one whole closely bound together without interruption. “After the second `Meditation’ there is no longer a pause between the sections; the music flows on, a single current to the end. Even the airs da capo, frequently employed at the outset, disappear or are no longer employed except in a very sober fashion at moments when the drama is not opposed to them.”
Recitatives, airs, chorales, and choruses are compounded, interpenetrating one another, so that their values are made apparent by contrast, doubling their dramatic effect. Telemann applied himself with a joyful heart to a subject that afforded him opportunity for such sumptuous descriptions: the crepitations and tumultuous surgings of the violins in the chorus which opens the second part: Es rauscht, so rasseln stark rollende Wagen, with its dramatic, almost Beethovian climax; the recital of the prodigious events foretelling the end of the world, the flames bursting from the earth, the impetuous cohorts of the clouds, the shattering of the harmony of the spheres, the moon forsaking her orbit, the rising ocean, and lastly the trumpet of the judgment. The most impressive of all these choruses is that of the sinners hurled into hell, with its syncopation of terror and the rumbling of the orchestra. There is no lack of charming airs, above all in the last portion, but they are less original than the accompanied recitatives with descriptive passages in the orchestra. This is the style of Handel or Johann Sebastian Bach, liberated from the strictness of contrapuntal writing. The new art of melody is sometimes found combined with a severity of form which to Telemann’s thinking was already archaic. For him the importance of the composition did not reside in its form but in the descriptive scenes and dramatic choruses.
The cantata Ino constitutes a much greater advance upon the path of musical drama. The poem by Ramler, who contributed to the resurrection of the German lied, is a master-piece. It was published in 1765. Several composers set it to music: among others, J. C. F. Bach of Buckeburg, Kirnberger, and the Abbe Vogler. Even a modern musician would find it an excellent subject for a cantata; the reader may remember the legend of Ino, daughter of Cadmus and Harmonia, sister of Semele, and Dionysus’ foster-mother. She wedded the hero Athamas, who, when Juno destroyed his reason, killed one of his sons and sought to kill the other. Ino fled with the child and, still pursued, threw herself into the sea, which welcomed her; and there she became Leucothea, “the White,” white as the foam of the waves. Ramler’s poem shows Ino only, from the be-ginning to the end; it is an overwhelming part, for a continual expenditure of emotion is required. In the beginning she arrives running over the rocks overlooking the sea; she no longer has strength to fly but invokes the gods. She perceives Athamas and hears his shouts, and flings herself into the waves. A soft and peaceful symphony welcomes her. Ino expresses her astonishment. But her child has escaped from her arms; she believes him lost, calls him, and invokes death. She sees the chorus of the Tritons and the Nereids, who are upholding him. She describes her fantastic journey at the bottom of the sea; corals and pearls attach themselves to her tresses; the Tritons dance around her, saluting her goddess under the name of Leucothea. Suddenly Ino sees the ocean gods returning, running and raising their arms. Neptune arrives in his car, the golden trident in his hand, his horses snorting in terror. A hymn to the glory of God closes the cantata.
These magnificent Hellenic visions lent themselves to the plastic and poetical imagination of a musician. Telemann’s music is worthy of the poem. It is a marvelous thing that a man more than eighty years of age should have written a composition full of such freshness and passion. It belongs plainly to the category of musical dramas. While it is very likely that Gluck influenced Telemann’s Ino, it may well be that Ino in its turn taught Gluck many valuable lessons. Many of its pages will compare with the most famous dramatic recitatives of Alceste or Iphigénie en Aulide. With the very first bass one is flung into the thick of the action. A majestic, rather heavy energy, like that of Gluck, animates the first aria. The orchestral passages describing Ino’s terror, the arrival of Athamas, and Ino’s leap into the sea possess a picturesque power astonishing in that period. At the close we seem to see the waves opening to receive Ino, who sinks to the depths while the sea closes up once more. The serene symphony which depicts the untroubled kingdom of the ocean possesses a Handelian beauty. But nothing in this cantata, and, to my mind, nothing in the whole of Telemann’s work excels the scene of Ino’s despair when she believes that she has lost her son. These pages are worthy of Beethoven, while in the orchestral accompaniment there are some touches that remind one of Berlioz. The intensity and freedom of the emotional passages are unique. The man capable of writing such pages was a great musician and deserving of fame rather than the oblivion into which he has fallen today.
The rest of the composition contains nothing that rises to these heights although it is by no means lacking in beauty. As in The Day of Judgment, the beautiful passages mutually enhance one another either by concatenation or by contrast. The passionate lamentations of Ino are followed by an air in 9/8 time, which describes the dance of the Nereids round the child. Then follows the voyage across the waters, the buoyant waves that bear up “the divine travelers.” Some little dancers in “a pleasing style” introduce a brief period of repose in the midst of the song, “Meint ihr mich”a delightful aria with two flutes and muted violins, rather in the vocal and instrumental style of Hasse. A powerful instrumental recitative evokes the appearance of Neptune. Finally the composition ends with an aria in bravura which anticipates the Germanized style of Rossini as we find it during the first twenty years of the nineteenth century in Weber and even, to some extent, in Beethoven. During the entire course of this work there is not a single interruption of the music, not a single recitativo seeco. The music flows steadily onward and follows the movement of the poem. There are only two airs da capo, at the beginning and at the end.
When we read such compositions we are abashed at having so long been ignorant of Telemann, and at the same time we are annoyed with him for not employing his talent as he might have doneas he should have done. It makes us indignant to find platitudes and trivial nonsense side by side with passages of perfect beauty. If Telemann had been more careful of his genius, if he had not written so much, accepted so many tasks, his name would perhaps have left a deeper mark on history than that of Gluck; in any case he would have shared the latter’s fame. But here we perceive the moral justice of certain of the decrees of history; it is not enough to be a talented artist; it is not enough even to add application to talent (for who worked harder that Telemann?) ; there must be character. Gluck, with much less music than half a score of other German composers of the eighteenth centurythan Hasse, Graun, or Telemann, for exampleachieved where the others amassed material ( and he did not utilize even a tenth part of it). The fact is that he imposed a sovereign discipline upon his art and his genius. He was a man. The others were merely musicians. And this, even in music, is not enough,
There should be room for a study of Telemann’s place in the history of instrumental music. He was one of the champions in Germany of the “French overture.” ( This is the name given to the symphony in three movements as written by Lully, the first part being lento, the second vivamente, and the third lento, the vivamente movement having a freely fugued character while the slow movement of the beginning is usually reproduced at the end.) The “French overture” was introduced into Germany in 1679 (Steffan) and 1680 (Cousser) ; it reached its apogee in Telemann’s days during the first twenty years of the eighteenth century. We have seen that Telemann cultivated this instrumental form with predilection about 1704-1705 when he be-came acquainted, in the house of Graf von Promnitz at Sorau, with the works of Lully and Campra. He then wrote two hundred “French overtures” in two years. Again he employed this form of composition for certain of his Hamburg operas.
This does not deter Min from the occasional employment of the “Italian overture” (first vivamente, second lento, third vivamente). He called this form of composition a concerto, because he employed in it a first violin concertant. We have a rather delightful example in the overture to Damon (1729), whose style is analogous to that of Handel’s concerti grossi, which date from 1738-1739. It will be noted that the third part (vivace 3/8) is a da capo, of which the middle portion is in the minor key.
Telemann also wrote for his operas instrumental pieces in which French influences are perceptible—above all in the dances, which are sometimes sung.
Among the other orchestral forms which he attempted is the instrumental trio, the trio-sonata, as the Germans call it. It held an important place in music from the middle of the seventeenth to the middle of the eighteenth century and contributed largely to the development of the sonata form. Telemann de-voted himself to this form of composition more especially at Eisenach in 1708; he says that of all that he wrote nothing was so much appreciated as these sonatas. “I so contrived,” he says, “that the second part seemed to be the first, while the bass was a natural melody, forming with the other parts an appropriate harmony which developed with each note in such a way that it seemed as though it could not be otherwise. Many sought to persuade me that I had displayed the best of my powers in these compositions.” Hugo Riemann published one of these trios in his famous Collegium Musicum collection. This trio, in B major, extracted from Telemann’s Tafelmusik, is in four movements: first, affettuoso; second, vivace 3/8; third, grave; fourth, allegro 2/4. The second and fourth movements are in two parts with repetition. The first and second movements tend to link themselves together after the fashion of the grave and fugue of the French overture. The form is still that of the sonata with a single theme, beside which a secondary design is faintly beginning to show itself. We are still close to the point where the .sonata type emerges from the suite; but the themes are already modern in character. Many of them, above all the themes of the grave movement, are definitely Italian, one might say Pergolesian. By his tendency to individual expression in instrumental music, Telemann influenced Johann Friedrich Fasch of Zabst, but here the disciple greatly surpassed the master. Fasch, to whom Herr Riemann, greatly to his credit, has of late years drawn the attention of music lovers, was one of the ablest masters of the trio-sonata, and one of the initiators of the mod, em symphonic style. It will be seen, therefore, that in every province of musictheatrical, ecclesiastical, and instrumental Telemann stands at the source of the great modem movements.