Thomas Tellefsen 1823-1874

Thomas, the youngest of six siblings, was born into a very musical family. His father Johan Christian was an organist in Trondheim Cathedral for many years, and he was also a competent organ builder! His mother, Anne Cathrine (maiden name Stibolt), taught singing and music. Most of the children learnt music from their parents, but none as much as Thomas. Even as a young child he displayed a rare talent and decided to concentrate on music from an early age. In this context his home town was too small.
In the summer of 1842 he moved to Paris, and for the most part the French capital was his main base for the rest of his life. In Paris he heard Franz Liszt play, and young Tellefsen developed an almost religious relationship to music and art. He worked assiduously, received tutoring, attended concerts and made acquaintances in the proper circles. For many years he lived under very poor conditions, and his family and other benefactors in Trondheim would often need to support him. From 1844 he was a pupil of Chopin, and gradually earned a reputation as an excellent pianist.
Tellefsen’s compositions often reflect the great master, but traces of Norwegian folk music can also be found in some of his works. His production amounts to a total of 44 published opuses, including the first two well-known Norwegian piano concerts. As a concert pianist he visited Norway quite often, and was also eventually greatly acclaimed in his native country and home town. When his friend Chopin died in 1849, Tellefsen took over many of the master's pupils. These were by and large recruited from the nobility, and over time the young man from Trøndelag became quite well off materially and socially. In 1858 he married the singer Severine Bye, she also from Trondheim. When they visited Norway they gave concerts together. They also had a daughter.
Tomas Tellefsen suffered from poor health. Political circumstances such as the French Revolution in 1848 and the Franco-German war in the 1870s were not beneficial for a frail artist's soul. His condition worsened and he died only 51 years old. He is buried in Paris.
Recommended reading: Thomas Tellefsens familiebreve [Thomas Tellefsen's family letters]. 1923.

Author: Einar Rædergård