Telemann’s Runaway Wife


Composer George Philip Telemann had lived a long, productive life, but on the home frontevents had taken some unhappy turns and he consoled himself with two loves–poetry and plants. Telemann’s unfortunate home life was publicized by a theater scandal that broke in Hamburg.

A play was being planned that would satirize three Hamburg celebrities, including Telemann. The satire was aimed particularly at Telemann because his wife had been unfaithful to him and loved a Swedish officer. When news of the planned production leaked out, Hamburg authorities put a stop to it. But worse damage was to follow. Telemann’s wife took his money and ran off with her lover, leaving Telemann in debt to the tune of 3,000 thalers–a huge sum of money in the 1750’s.

Telemann was forced to rely on the charity of nearby friends, some of whom covered a good deal of the debt. Maintaining his sense of humor, Telemann wrote to another for aid:

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My fate now gives me generous reprieve,

Extravagance departed with my spouse.

Can I my debts from time to time relieve

And Paradise return to grace my house?

True, Hamburg rallies ’round me in my need,

With open hand, and charity has done.

Can friends beyond her walls perhaps be found?

Consoled! I am meanwhile Thy Servant Telemann.

Among the most consoling responses of his friends was a gift of exotic plants that Handel sent from England. Handel wrote: “I am sending you a presen t — a chest of flowers which botanical experts assure me are select and rare.

But Telemann’s greatest consolation must have been his music, which he wrote at a furious rate. In fact, according to the Guinness Book of World Records, George Philip Telemann is probably the most prolific composer of all time.