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Georg Philipp Telemann - a Born Storyteller

Updated: Dec 28, 2023

In 2024 we look forward to the Olympic games, to be held this time in Paris. As athletes arrive from around the world, they will bring with them a great diversity of traditions and culture. One of the pieces which we will be playing this coming term is by a composer who drew upon many such national styles and genres of his time when writing his music. Georg Philipp Telemann (1681-1767) originally enrolled as a law student in Leipzig, but he quickly changed direction and was soon music director of the university church and running the opera house. He also founded a Collegium Musicum with 40 students for which he wrote many “Ouverture-Suites”.

Later in life Telemann was required to accompany his employer, Count Erdman von Promnitz around his estates, where he heard the exuberant bagpipe-and-fiddle filled world of Polish folk music, and enthused, “an observer could collect enough ideas in eight days to last a lifetime.” This coupled with the fact that he was a born storyteller enabled Telemann to compose more than 200 of these suites in his lifetime, and his output of compositions totalled more than the combined works of Bach and Handel. “I didn’t search for the notes, the notes searched for me”, he said.

The traditional French style overture which we will be playing is from his Ouverture Suite in B flat major TWV 55:B5 “Les Nations”. In the later movements of this suite, Telemann uses a range of dances for his playful encounters with different nations. After working on the overture, we may go on to explore some of these too!

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