Music to Mein Ears

There exists a stereotype about the German people which suggests that they are a stoically unromantic race. That the collective desire for perfection and precision overrides any sentimental inklings or tendencies they may be harbouring. This is, of course, a nonsense.

To suggest that an entire race is somehow genetically predisposed to behaving in one way is to make a rather sweeping and boorish generalisation. Germans are indeed proud to strive for perfection but they are a culturally rich nation; a nation of poets, artists and musicians.

Far from being an unromantic country, Germany has produced some of the most beautiful works of art and the most talented people in world history.

One of Germany’s exceptional exports is that of music and more specifically composers. Beethoven, Brahms, Wagner, Strauss, Bach and Mendelssohn are some of the most renowned composers of all time whose legacy has shaped modern music.

One of the leading characters of Baroque music was a man from Magdeburg who is often over shadowed by his friend J.S Bach. Georg Philipp Telemann (1681 – 1767) was a prolific composer who created over 3000 works. He was, quite amazingly, self taught as a musician and by the tender age of just twelve had written his first opera. He could play a variety of instruments including the violin, oboe, double bass and the flute. His father died when he was very young leaving his mother to raise him but she was not a fan of his musical aspirations forcing him to practice in secret. At her behest he studied law in Leipzig however music was his passion and he was soon asked to compose pieces for the mayor of Leipzig.

His law studies helped him set up some of the first exclusive publication rights for composers which expounded that music was the intellectual property of the writer. His work in this area has benefited composers ever since.

He was influenced by music from France, Poland and Italy. He wrote haunting music for the church as well as secular pieces. Works such as his ‘Fantasies for Violin’ display his love of Polish folk music and are written by Telemann for a violinist as accomplished as he was. The music dances along making it easy to see why he was such an influence on the son of Bach for whom he was Godfather. The pair were good friends although it is Bach who is considered to be the greater composer.

Johann Sebastian Bach (1685-1750) was born in Eisenach. He was a musical genius and gained a place at an incredibly prestigious school. Financially he did well from an early time beginning as an organist and going on to write the ‘cantata Gott ist mein König’ which paid extremely well. He never wrote an opera however he did write in every other baroque group from cantatas to sonatas.

Bach composed one of the most recognisable baroque pieces ever written – ‘Toccata in d minor’. The rousing piece, it has been suggested , is the musical description of a storm although this is impossible to prove. What is true is that Toccata is a beautiful piece of music written by a superb German composer.

Music runs through the veins of the German nation which is noticeable by the importance German’s place upon classical music festivals and concerts held across the country each year.

In Leipzig ,where Telemann and Bach met, the Bach festival or Bachfest is held in celebration of these great German musical influencers and exports.

As fellow German composer Wagner once said of music -‘Musik ist die Sprache der Leidenschaft ‘. Indeed Germans are both passionate and proud of the music produced by these extraordinary composers.

Next time we will look at the lives and legacies of more great German composers and musicians.

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