Born in an upper-middle-class family, Telemann was a german baroque composer, multi-instrumentalist and almost completely self-taught in music. Although many of the family members worked for the church, only a few distant relatives were musicians. Though he showed great musical gifts from an early age, he was discouraged by his familly from becoming a professional musician. In opposition to his mother's wishes, Telemann continued to study in secrecy until she later allowed him to train under the highly respected Kantor Benedict Christiani, at the Old City School.
Having been self taught, he was capable of playing the flute, violin, viola da gamba, oboe, trombone, double bass and several keyboard instruments. At the age of 12 he composed his first opera, Sigismundus. In the late 1693 or early 1694 his mother sent him to a school in Zellerfeld, hoping that her son would chose a different career. However, the superintendent of this school, Caspar Calvoer, recognized his talents and even introduced him to musical theory. In 1697 Telemann left for Hildesheim, where he was admitted to the famous Gymnasium Andreanum. Here as well, his talents were recognized and in demand: the rector himself commissioned music from Telemann.
Among his early influences are composers such as Antonio Caldara, Arcangelor Corelli and Johann Rosenmuller. He used to frequently travel to courts at Hanover and Brunswick so that he could hear and study the latest musical styles. In 1701 he enrolled at the University of Leipzig as a law student, but a change meeting in Halle with 16-year-old Georg Friedrich Handel appears to have drawn him back to music. Telemann quickly became a local celebrity after he began writing cantatas for a church in Leipzig. In 1702 he was named director of the Leipzig Opera, and over the next three years he wrote four operas specifically for this company.
During this time at Leipzig, he was continually influenced by the music of Handel and Johann Kuhnau (Kantor of the Thomaskirche and city director of music in Leipzig) from whom he learned about counterpoint by studying his works. His next appointment was at Sorau as court kapellmeister (conductor of the court orchestra - 1705-1708) then as concertmaster (first violinist) and later, at Eisenach (1708-1712) as konzertmeister in charge of singers, thus began one of the most productive periods in Telemann's life. During his stay at Eisenach, he composed numerous instrumental pieces (sonatas and concertos) and sacred works, which included four or five complete annual cycles of church cantatas, 50 German and Italian cantatas, and some 20 serenatas.
The Frankfurt period (1712-1721) seemed to be as prosperous as the one spent at Eisenach. Receiving the role as kapellmeister, his duties were similar tot hose he had in Leipzig. He provided various music for two churches, the Barfüsserkirche and the Katharinenkirche as well as for civic ceremonies; he also revived the city's collegium musicum.
In 1721 Telemann was awarded by the Hamburg officials with the positions of Kantor of the Johanneum and musical director of 5 of the city's main churches. That same year, his opera Der geduldige Socrates was performed in Hamburg. In Hamburg, too, he directed a collegium musicum and presented public concerts. His time in Hamburg was even more productive than his time in Eisenach. A master of the principal styles of his time (German, Italian and French), he composed with ease and fluency equally as well for the church as for opera and concerts. His music was natural in melody, bold in harmonies, buoyant in rhythm and beautifully orchestrated. He produced both serious and comic works, many of which have been lost, or survive only as excerpts published in Der getreue Musikmeister.
From 1740 to 1755, Telemann focused less and less on composition, directing his attentions to the study of music theory. He had wrote many oratorios in the mid 1750s, including Donnerode (1756), Das befreite Israel (1759), and Die Auferstehung und Himmelfährt Jesu (1760).
Georg Philipp Telemann was considered the most important German composer of his day and his reputation outlasted him for some time, but ultimately it was unable to withstand the shadowy cast by the growing popularity of his contemporary, Johan Sebastian Bach. He was the most prolific composer of his time: his oeuvre comprises more than 3000 pieces.
Telemann was also one of the first composers to concentrate on the business of publishing his own music, and at least forty early prints of his music are known from editions which he prepared and sold himself. His enormous output of publications provided instrumental and vocal material for protestant churches throughout Germany, for orchestras and for a great variety of amateur and professional musicians.
Here you can find a list of Telemann's vast compositions.