The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music: YOU MUST HEAR THIS – The Concerto for Viola in G major by Georg Philipp Telemann. | September 10, 2015

By Jacob Stockinger

As you may already know, the Baroque German composer Georg Philipp Telemann holds the all-time record as the world’s most prolific composer of classical music.

And often The Ear thinks Telemann (below) should have written less so that what he did write would be of a more consistently high quality — even though his contemporaries thought of him highly enough to give him a job over his contemporary Johann Sebastian Bach.

georg philipp telemann

But be that as it may, The Ear recently heard a wonderful piece by Telemann.

It was his Concerto for Viola in G Major, which I don’t recall ever hearing performed live in Madison, although maybe I just missed it and readers can correct me.


Whatever, the viola concerto certainly deserves more performances and a wider hearing. Viola concertos themselves are pretty rare compared to concertos for violin, cello and piano.

The Ear especially loves the opening, Romantic-like slow movement, which is offered below in a YouTube video along with the other three lovely and ear-catching movements, in a performance by Camerata Milwaukee.

You can also let The Ear know what you think of the work, of the much-maligned viola and of Telemann in general.


  1. I would love to know which pieces the Ear would have liked for Telemann not to have written. Personally, I don’t think the man was capable of penning a bad tune and am very glad he was so prolific.

    Comment by Shad Gregory — September 10, 2015 @ 8:56 pm

    • First, the middle movement sounds “Romantic” to you (Jake, I can’t figure out how else to reply) I would guess because of the totally non-stylistic performance on the video. Anyway, the work is played a fair amount! May I suggest some other pieces: the “Paris” Quartets (1738), the 6 Quadri (1730, which are not the first six Paris Quartets despite what people think), Musique de Table, Pyrmonter Kurwoche, the late cantata Ino, the Concerto in E minor for Flute and Recorder, especially the Polish finale, the fantasias when played by people who understand what they are about, Don Quixote Suite, and a huge number more. The cantatas are wonderful; try Du aber, Daniel, gehe hin. For the Quartets (1730 and 38), the Kuijken recording is amazing (I did the booklet, which of course you don’t get if you download it). And there is the hysterical intermezzo Pimpinone. And this performance of the viola concerto is plodding. And everything is stressed. I don’t doubt that he’s an excellent violist, just not for this music.

      Comment by Jeanne Swack — September 10, 2015 @ 9:40 pm

      • I’d like to point out that the Viola Concerto in G does NOT have a middle movement, and the first movement (which Jake is referring to) can sound romantic (yes, that is a lower case “r”, not the upper case for the period) when one means that it is played lovingly, whether one is playing it I period style or not. (Admittedly, I have not listened to this recording of the concerto, since I know it so well, and know how it should sound, so I can’t speak to this performance, but there are good ones out there.).

        Also good pieces to listen to and play: the Canonic Sonatas of which there are twelve, I believe. I haven’t played all of them, but they are great fun!

        Comment by bratschespeilerin — September 18, 2015 @ 12:51 am

      • This is true-it’s not the “middle movement.” I read the posting rather quickly. I do havevthevbeauriful Darmstadt parts to the concerto in my office.

        Comment by Jeanne — September 18, 2015 @ 12:58 am

      • Obviously I can’t type well on an iPad hey board. Sorry for the typos.

        Comment by Jeanne — September 18, 2015 @ 12:59 am

    • Also, I don’t see why a “ranking” exercise is appropriate.

      Comment by Jeanne — September 18, 2015 @ 1:01 am

  2. As a violist, I am well aware of this concerto, and have performed it (live, here in Madison – but that was long ago), and you are correct in that it has not been performed live here in town for many, many years. However, WERNER does program it every 6 months or so, as does Peter Van De Graff on the Beethoven network.

    Comment by bratschespeilerin — September 10, 2015 @ 12:44 pm

    • That should read WERN, not WERNER. Stupid auto-correct!! I apologize for not catching it before hitting the enter button!

      Comment by bratschespeilerin — September 10, 2015 @ 12:46 pm

  3. I didn’t write the Grove article (which is largely a revision of the previous Grove article by a German scholar). I did write the Oxford Bio-Bibliography for Telemann (which our own university library can’t access). But I think you haven’t heard enough Telemann, because he really was a brilliant and innovative composer. Thanks for the plug, Beverly!

    Comment by Jeanne Swack — September 10, 2015 @ 12:24 pm

  4. Why “the much- maligned viola”? Sure there are viola jokes, but these are funny and not mean , and often initiated and circulated by U.S., the violists.
    Who do you think is being malignant? I don’t know such a person, at least not in connection with violas!

    Comment by Bici Pettit-Barron — September 10, 2015 @ 8:04 am

    • Hi
      Thank you for reading and responding.
      I was referring to all the jokes about violas and violists, that’s all.
      Some of them seem more insulting than funny.
      Kind of like the jokes about blondes.
      But it is a subjective matter, I admit.
      Glad you think it is all funny or innocent.
      Best wishes,
      The Ear

      Comment by welltemperedear — September 10, 2015 @ 8:52 am

  5. Nice but stilted; Schubert”s “Arpeggione for Viola and Piano” is much better. Schubert is another composer who does not get enough play.

    Here’s a link to M. Argerich, piano, and Yuri Bashmet, viola, playing it. (This piece is often also played by cello).

    Comment by fflambeau — September 10, 2015 @ 3:58 am

  6. Hi Jake. Long time no see. Did you know that our own Jeanne Swack is one of the world’s experts on Telemann? I think the Groves article is by her. Bev

    Professor Beverly Taylor
    Director of Choral Activities
    University of Wisconsin-Madison

    Comment by Beverly Taylor — September 10, 2015 @ 12:26 am

    • Hi Beverly,
      Thank you for reading and replying.
      Hope all is well with you.
      Yes, I did know about Prof. Jeanne Swack and her outstanding scholarship on Telemann.
      I have also heard her and UW students perform Telemann cantatas and other works.
      But other readers may not known about her and her work, so it is great that you brought it to our attention.
      Best wishes,

      Comment by welltemperedear — September 10, 2015 @ 10:08 am

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