Number of the Month: 800

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When Georg Philipp Telemann sat down to compose a piece of music, his ideas would seem to just pour out of his pen onto the page. A contemporary of Handel and Bach, he wrote more than 3,000 works in the eighteenth century. He composed everything from operas and chamber music to cantatas, incorporating Polish, Italian and French styles into his works. "In terms of his diversity, he was unique at that time", says Dr Ann Kersting-Meuleman, director of the Music and Theatre Collection at the University Library Frankfurt am Main. The library vault contains 800 musical manuscripts written by the composer. They are now to be digitised in a project funded by the German Research Foundation (DFG). The aim is to give researchers and musicians around the world better access to Telemann’s works.

Access for musicians and researchers from all over the world

A dunce’s cap as a watermark: a manuscript penned by the composer Georg Philipp Telemann

The works to be digitised include not only manuscripts written by the baroque composer himself, but also copies. Manuscripts from musical directors who were Telemann’s successors in Frankfurt are also to be digitised, however. In his role as musical director, the composer was responsible among other things for the music played on feast days in several Frankfurt churches. "This allows us to study how his successors used his works", explains Kersting-Meuleman. During the course of the project, a service provider will scan 48,000 pages for the university library. Then the documents will be assigned to Telemann’s individual works and catalogued so that they can subsequently be made available in digital form.

The work being done in Frankfurt aims to benefit musicians, on the one hand. "We hope this will mean that the works are played in churches and concert halls again", says Kersting-Meuleman. On the other hand, the documents are intended to drive forward research. As not all of Telemann’s works are available in printed form, the digitised documents will allow researchers to get to know other works in future and compare them with those by different composers. For example, this will make it possible to compare the various ways in which Telemann and Johann Sebastian Bach added music to the liturgical texts on feast days in the church calendar.

Numerous digitisation projects in Germany

The project also involves digitising and cataloguing the watermarks of the individual documents. In Telemann’s day, watermarks were used by paper manufacturers to mark their products. They give clues as to the year in which the paper used by the composer was made. As such, they should help scientists date certain works even more precisely.

Contrary to what is often presumed, the project in Frankfurt is not designed primarily to address fears that the ancient documents could soon disintegrate, explains project leader Kersting-Meuleman. She admits that the ink does fade slightly if the paper is exposed to light. "However, paper from this era is very stable", she adds. The Telemann project in Frankfurt is just one of several projects involving the digitisation of musical manuscripts in Germany. Others are being run at the Saxon State Library in Dresden, for example, and at the State Library in Berlin.

Music and Theatre Collection of the University Library Johann Christian Senckenberg

The Music and Theatre Collection contains more than 400,000 objects, from musical manuscripts and prints to draft stage designs, musical instruments and coins. The items in the collection date back to the year 1500. > Music and Theatre Collection