Musical life in Hamburg around 1770

Carl Philipp Emanuel Bach – People and Places

Georg Philipp Telemann (1681–1767), engraving by Lichtensteger (c. 1745). (Source: Wolfenbüttel, Herzog August Bibliothek, Inventar-Nr. A 21703)

When C. P. E. Bach assumed the succession of his goduncle Georg Philipp Telemann (1682–1767) as the musical director of the five main churches in the 1770’s, the musical life in the Free and Hanseatic City of Hamburg differed widely from that in Berlin. While the opera in Berlin followed an agenda based exclusively on the rigid taste of the king (who financed the operation even if an audience failed to appear), the fall of the famous Hamburgian baroque opera must be assigned to the enterprising spirit of those wealthy citizens whose financial support the opera depended on. Whenever the opinion prevailed that the activities of the opera threatened commercial business, such sponsors refused support.

But the end of the opera, where Händel had celebrated his first success in 1706 with  Almira, was already 30 years past when Bach assumed his position in the port town. Although the cultural life of Hamburg could not compete with the diversity of the Prussian Capital, musical journalism was astir and actually spearheaded the German scene. Moreover the opening of a new concert hall on Valentinskamp in 1761 supported Bach‘s ambitious project of reviving the public concert activity Teleman had established in earlier years. Bach financially safeguarded his enterprises by means of advance reservations: his compositions were only performed or publicised if there were enough orders (some of his compositions were self-published).

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