Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

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Fischer-Dieskau in 1985

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (born 28 May 1925 in Berlin, died 18 May 2012 in Berg, Upper Bavaria) was a German baritone singer. For more than 30 years he was thought of by many as the greatest male singer in classical music. He was particularly famous for his singing of Lieder (German art songs), but he was also a superbly great singer of opera as well as a concert singer with orchestras. Later in his career he also conducted.

Fischer-Dieskau had a lyrical baritone voice, not a powerful, heroic voice like a Heldenbarton. In spite of that he recorded many operatic roles which are traditionally thought of as being for Heldenbariton: Wotan in Richard Wagner's Ring Cycle, Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, Amfortas in Parsifal, Macbeth in Verdi's opera etc.

He is the most recorded singer of all time.[1] He sang in many languages as well as German: French, Russian, Hebrew and Hungarian.

Early years[change | change source]

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was born in Berlin. His parents were teachers. He started singing as a child and began voice lessons at the age of 16. He had to join the German army (the Wehrmacht) during World War II, in 1943. He had only just finished school. He was captured in Italy in 1945 and spent two years as an American prisoner of war. During that time, he sang Lieder in POW camps to homesick German soldiers.

Career[change | change source]

In 1947 he returned to Germany where he started his professional career singing the baritone solo in Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem without any rehearsal. (He was a last-minute substitute for a singer who was ill.) He gave his first Lieder recital in Leipzig later that year.

From early in his career he worked with famous lyric sopranos Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Irmgard Seefried, and the recording producer Walter Legge, producing very popular albums of lieder by Franz Schubert and Hugo Wolf.

In the autumn of 1948, Fischer-Dieskau became principal lyric baritone at the Städtische Oper Berlin (Municipal Opera, West Berlin), making his first opera performance in the role of Posa in Verdi's Don Carlos under the conductor Ferenc Fricsay. This company, known after 1961 as the Deutsche Oper, was to be his artistic home until his retirement from the operatic stage, in 1978.

Fischer-Dieskau made guest appearances at the opera houses in Vienna and Munich. After 1949 he made concert tours in the Netherlands, Switzerland, France and Italy. In 1951, he first appeared at a concert in the Salzburg Festival with Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) under Wilhelm Furtwängler. He was starting to appear all over the world: in the Royal Albert Hall, London, Boston, Massachusetts and at the Bayreuth Festival.

As an opera singer, Fischer-Dieskau performed mainly in Berlin and at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. He also made guest appearances at the Vienna State Opera, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London, at the Hamburg State Opera, in Japan, and at the King's Theatre in Edinburgh, during the Edinburgh Festival. His first tour in the United States took place in 1955, when he was 29. For his recitals there he was accompanied by Gerald Moore. He recorded many Lieder with Gerald Moore, and gave many recitals with him until Moore retired in 1967. However, they continued to make recordings after that. Their recordings of the Schubert song cycles Die schöne Müllerin and Die Winterreise were very highly thought of.

Fischer-Dieskau also performed many works by living composers including Benjamin Britten, Samuel Barber, Hans Werner Henze, Karl Amadeus Hartmann, Ernst Krenek and Witold Lutosławski.

Fischer-Dieskau also recorded many famous roles in Italian operas, e.g. Verdi's Rigoletto and Rodrigo in Verdi's Don Carlos, Scarpia in Giacomo Puccini's Tosca. He retired from opera in 1978.

Fischer-Dieskau's musicianship and technique were always perfect. He retired from the concert hall on New Year's Day, 1993, at 67, and spent his time conducting, teaching (especially the interpretation of Lieder), painting and writing books.

Personal life[change | change source]

In 1949, Fischer-Dieskau married the cellist Irmgard Poppen. Together they had three sons: Mathias, who became a stage designer, Martin (a conductor), and Manuel (a cellist). Irmgard died in 1963 of complications following childbirth. Afterwards, Fischer-Dieskau was married to the actress Ruth Leuwerik, from 1965 to 1967, and Kristina Pugell, from 1968 to 1975. From 1977 until his death he was married to the soprano Julia Varady.

Audio samples[change | change source]

References[change | change source]

  1. Matthew Boyden. The Rough Guide to Opera 3rd Edition London: Rough Guides Ltd., 2002