Voices from the 18th Century: Telemann on the Death of Johann Georg Pisendel



On November 25, 1755, Johann Georg Pisendel (pictured) passed away in Dresden, Germany. He had been employed as a violinist of the Dresden court orchestra for over forty-three years, and since 1728 as its distinguished concertmaster.

Pisendel was, by many accounts, an exceptional musician who inspired several friends of his to dedicate pieces to him, including Antonio Vivaldi, Tomaso Albinoni, and Georg Philipp Telemann. It was Telemann, however, the only one of the three still alive at the time of Pisendel’s death, who wrote a poem in his honor.

Upon the death of the Polish King’s late Concertmaster, Herr Pisendel.

Friend! I shall never more kiss you,
Death has snatched you from me.
What a treasure I must do without!
How many excellences died with you!
If for your remembrance,
My pipe, stirred by the muses,
But knew how to present a touching song
As a weeping threnody!

Surely to extol you gloriously
An expansive plane appears before me
That contains a rich jewel
From your noble life:
Taught through the mouth of the wise,
Worthy of a pulpit,*
Devoting himself to foreign languages
With seasoned insight;

Reared in the bosom of musical art,
Surpassing great masters,
And through feather, finger, bow,
Seeing himself head of them all;
Changing through the customs of court
To be the favorite, and yet in doing so
Acting without pride and deceit,
Rightly according to the old German loyalty;

To the needy richly giving;
In temptation as a Christ,
Living of his firm faith;
Say: whether this is not laudable?
Full of such lovely images
I gladly extol your praise. But alas!
To paint your life again
My paintbrush is much too weak.

* It is known of the blessed concertmaster Pisendel that for his morning and evening hours, reserved for daily devotion, he read the Bible in its original languages; living proof of his piety, as he doubtlessly had adopted in his younger years, and through him are put to shame many a youth who devote themselves to music yet view other subjects with the greatest apathy. (Translation: D.S.)

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