Long-Term Relationships:
2 Bachs & Telemann
by Anne Hunter

Untitled designJ. S. Bach didn’t actually leave much information about his life. And virtually nothing that he did leave tells us much about his personality. He didn’t seem to have a fascinating, mysterious correspondent like Beethoven’s “Immortal Beloved.” He didn’t write lovable letters with funny pictures and dirty jokes like Mozart’s.

Most of what we know about Bach comes from his curriculum vitae, an inventory of his modest possessions, and his litany of complaints against his employers in Leipzig which suggests him to have been someone who spent half his life feeling unappreciated in his job. We don’t want to think it, but sometimes suspect that Bach might have been kind of a drag.

So 2 Bachs & Telemann, Tempesta di Mare’s upcoming program, should come as a relief. If birds of a feather stick together, it shows the grey old master hanging with the categorically un-grouchy Georg Philipp Telemann in a mutually supportive bro-relationship that lasted all his life and continued with his son after Bach’s death.

Telemann, about whom we know a little more than Bach—but not nearly enough—appears by all accounts to have been dashing, extroverted, entrepreneurial and indefatigable, the sunny, poppy Beatles to Bach’s rocking, moody Rolling Stones. For decades, he was probably Europe’s best-known composer and the guy, famously, whom those Leipzig town fathers really wanted for the job Bach sulked about all those years.

Bach and Telemann were close from the start.  Bach asked his friend to stand as godfather for his second child, Carl Philipp (after Telemann) Emanuel, born when Bach and Telemann were still young men of 29 and 33.  Telemann took his responsibility seriously.  When J. S. Bach died in 1750, Telemann wrote him a touching eulogy attesting to his high regard and personal fondness:

“…Departed Bach!…The candle of your fame ne’er low will burn…”

while also providing a shout-out for his son, C. P. E., employed at the time in Frederick the Great’s court in Prussia:

“…But what shall cause your true worth to be judged aright
Berlin to us now in a worthy son is showing.”

Telemann survived Bach by almost 20 years during which he continued to mentor C. P. E. Bach and promote him as his own successor to the powerful post of music director of the city of Hamburg.  C. P. E. held that position until his death.  In the new musical age of his generation, he was held in generally higher esteem than his father, numbering among his enormous fans Haydn and Mozart (no dirty jokes, though).

The Bach/Telemann/Bach relationship has fascinated Richard Stone and Gwyn Roberts, Tempesta’s co-directors, for years. 2 Bachs & Telemann gives them the opportunity to present the three very different masters outside of the hackneyed stereotype of “Bach,” “not quite Bach,” and “lesser Bach.” They’ve chosen a program of beautiful music that allows audiences a chance to discover the distinctive voice of each against the backdrop of their strong, lifelong respect.


Anne Schuster Hunter, writer and art historian, teaches creative writing at Temple University Center City

Telemann’s “Sonnet on the Late Cappelmeister Bach,” 1751, from Wolff, David and Mendel, The New Bach Reader.

Get tickets…