Friday, January 2, 2009

Career dangers for a musician

Georg Philipp Telemann showed his musical talent early, composing the opera Sigismundo at the age of twelve. The resulting acclaim provoked an unfortunate reaction, as Telemann described afterward: "...ach! But what a lot of trouble I caused myself with this opera! A multitude of musical enemies came to my mother to tell her that I would become a conjurer, tightrope walker, minstrel, or trainer of guinea pigs etc., if I didn't put an end to my music soon. Thus said, thus done! My music and instruments were taken from me, and thus half my life."

To protect Telemann from the dangers of a musical career, Telemann's family directed him toward the law. He dutifully began his legal studies at the University of Leipzig in 1701. However, before long he was slipping away to compose cantatas for the Leipzig opera. By 1704, he had made a name for himself as a composer and was appointed chapelmaster at the court of Count Erdmann II of Promnitz in Sorau. To the relief of his family, Telemann went from success to success throughout his musical career and avoided the degrading sidelines that some unfortunate composers must pursue to keep bread on the table between commissions.

This account of the young Telemann captured my interest, because my son the composer has recently taken a number of jobs that are perilously close to minstrelsy. I keep a wary eye out for signs of guinea pigs.