Although singling out a scant ten works from Telemann’s voluminous output for special recognition might seem a fool’s errand, the following list, organized in roughly chronological order, by Telemann expert Steven Zohn, offers a good sampling of the composer’s music in a variety of musical genres, and for different times, places, and audiences.
1. Du aber, Daniel, gehe hin, TVWV 4:17
This early sacred cantata, evidently written for a funeral while Telemann was still in his 20s, reveals the influence of the seventeenth-century sacred concerto and is noteworthy for its rhetorical vividness. The soprano aria, scored for the colorful combination of recorder, oboe, violas da gamba in unison, and strings, is especially inspired.
2. Brockes-Passion, TVWV 5:1
Telemann composed his setting of Barthold Heinrich Brockes’ famous passion libretto in Frankfurt, where it was performed in 1716 with the participation of the Darmstadt court orchestra. The richly scored music is more theatrically conceived than the later passion settings by J.S. Bach.
3. Overture-suite in A minor for recorder and strings, TWV 55:a2
This well known work features the recorder as a soloist in the opening French overture and in the following series of dance movements, creating a kind of suite-concerto hybrid that Telemann may have originated while at Frankfurt.
4. Der geduldige Socrates, TVWV 21:9
Telemann composed this opera in Frankfurt for the Hamburg Opera in 1721, just months before he was offered the position of music director of the latter city. Its effective mixture of comic and serious characters and situations qualifies the work as a landmark in the history of German opera.
5. Fantasias for unaccompanied flute (Hamburg, 1731), TWV 40:2–13
Perhaps it’s cheating to include a published set of twelve works, but these brief fantasias show the composer at his epigrammatic best and collectively represent one of the peaks in the flute literature. Who else besides Telemann would dare to write fugues, a passacaglia, and a French overture for unaccompanied flute?
6. Concerto in E major for flute, oboe d’amore, viola d’amore and strings, TWV 53:E1
Among Telemann’s mature concertos (probably written during the 1730s), this one features one of the most unusual groups of soloists and reveals a masterful control of instrumental color and musical form.
7. Quartet in E minor from the Nouveaux quatuors en six suites (Paris, 1738), TWV 43:e4
Telemann published these six quartets while visiting Paris, where they were premiered by a group of local virtuosos. Representing the apex of the quartet for three melody instruments and continuo, they feature a sophisticated handling of musical texture and a fresh-sounding blend of French and Italian stylistic elements. The E minor quartet is the last of the set and concludes with a profound chaconne.
8. Deus judicium tuum regi da, TVWV 7:7
Telemann composed this French grand motet in March 1738 for Paris’ Concert Spirituel series, which was held in the central pavilion of the Tuilleries palace. It is an ideal distillation of the composer’s talent for idiomatic, expressive writing, whether for solo voices, chorus, or instruments.
9. Der Tag des Gerichts, TVWV 6:8
Telemann composed his last oratorio in 1762, at the age of 81. It is of the ‘lyric’ type, in which there is little dramatic action and the mostly allegorical characters express their sentiments about the subject matter. Divided into four ‘contemplations’, the last two of which portray The Last Judgement and Heaven, the story is illustrated with thrilling choruses and harmonically adventurous arias and accompanied recitatives.
10. Ino, TVWV 20:41
This secular cantata for soprano and orchestra, composed by the octogenarian Telemann around 1765, includes a sequence of dramatically powerful accompanied recitatives and arias that virtually redefined the genre. The work’s progressive, ‘early classical’ idiom is a stunning achievement for a composer who began his career in the 1690s.
This playlist was curated by Steven Zohn, Laura Carnell Professor of Music History at Temple University. He is the author of The Telemann Compendium, the first guide to research on Georg Philipp Telemann in any language published by Boydell Press in 2020.
To read another blog post by Steven Zohn on Telemann’s life and music click here.