Telemann’s father died when he was four years old, but his mother persevered and was able to raise Georg and his two siblings by herself. His affinity for music was apparent from a young age, and Telemann let nothing stop him. He taught himself to play the violin, viola di gamba, double bass, flute, trombone, oboe, and piano, and wrote his very own opera at the age of twelve!
Telemann’s mother was extremely religious, and those around her thought that a career in music would be similar to running away and joining the circus. She was convinced by her peers to pressure her son into studying law, but Georg’s first love was music. He chanced to meet his namesake in Halle: another Georg! This Georg was Georg Friederich Handel, at the time only sixteen years old. This meeting lit the flame in his heart anew, and Telemann began feverishly composing cantatas for a church in Leipzig, Germany. He later wrote four operas for the Leipzig Opera before moving to Poland in 1705.
Telemann’s personal life was chaotic and tragic. He married Amalie Eberin in 1709, but she passed away delivering their child before they had been married even a year. His second wife, Maria Katharina Textor, had a horrible habit of gambling. It was so well known that a collection was taken up by Hamburg citizens in order to assist the couple in escaping financial ruin. Eventually Maria tired of her husband and ran off with a military man from Sweden. Poor Telemann!
Incredibly, Telemann composed a massive body of work during his lifetime, including 1,700 cantatas! He also lived a longer life than many composers (to the ripe old age of 87). I guess he didn’t let his love life get him down!