Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (28 May 1925 – 18 May 2012) was a German lyric baritone and conductor of classical music, one of the most famous Lieder (art song) performers of the post-war period, best known as a singer of Franz Schubert's Lieder, particularly "Winterreise" of which his recordings with accompanist Gerald Moore and Jörg Demus are still critically acclaimed half a century after their release.
Recording an array of repertoire (spanning centuries) as musicologist Alan Blyth asserted, "No singer in our time, or probably any other has managed the range and versatility of repertory achieved by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Opera, Lieder and oratorio in German, Italian or English came alike to him, yet he brought to each a precision and individuality that bespoke his perceptive insights into the idiom at hand." In addition, he recorded in French, Russian, Hebrew, Latin and Hungarian. He was described as "one of the supreme vocal artists of the 20th century" and "the most influential singer of the 20th Century". Fischer-Dieskau was ranked the second greatest singer of the century (after Jussi Björling) by Classic CD (United Kingdom) "Top Singers of the Century" Critics' Poll (June 1999). The French dubbed him "Le miracle Fischer-Dieskau" and Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf called him "a born god who has it all." At his peak, he was greatly admired for his interpretive insights and exceptional control of his soft, beautiful instrument. Despite the small size of his lyric/chamber baritone voice, Fischer-Dieskau also performed and recorded a great many operatic roles. He dominated both the opera and concert platform for over thirty years.
Albert Dietrich Fischer was born in 1925 in Berlin to Albert Fischer, a school principal, and Theodora (née Klingelhoffer) Fischer, a teacher. In 1934, his father added the hyphenated "Dieskau" to the family name (through his mother, he was descended from the Kammerherr von Dieskau, for whom Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the "Peasant Cantata"). He started singing as a child and began formal voice lessons at the age of 16. When he was drafted into the Wehrmacht during World War II in 1943, tending horses on the Russian Front, Fischer-Dieskau had just completed his secondary school studies and one semester at the Berlin Conservatory. He served in Grenadier Regiment 146 of the 65th Infantry Division south of Bologna in the winter of 1944-45 and entertained his comrades at soldier's evenings behind the lines. He was captured in Italy in 1945 and spent two years as an Americanprisoner of war. During that time, he sang Lieder in POW camps to homesick German soldiers. He had an infirm brother who was sent to an institution by the Nazi regime and starved to death. His family home was also destroyed during the war.
In 1947, Fischer-Dieskau returned to Germany where he launched his professional career as a singer in Badenweiler, singing in Brahms' Ein Deutsches Requiem without any rehearsal. (He was a last-minute substitute for an indisposed singer.) He gave his first Lieder recital in Leipzig in the autumn of 1947 and followed it soon afterwards with a highly successful first concert at Berlin's Titania-Palast.
In 1951, Fischer-Dieskau made his first of many recordings of Lieder with Gerald Moore at the EMIAbbey Road Studios, London, including a complete Die schöne Müllerin, and they performed the work on 31 January 1952 at the Kingsway Hall, London in the Mysore Concerts of the Philharmonia Concert Society. They gave recitals together until Moore retired from public performance in 1967. They continued, however, to record together until 1972, in which year they completed their massive project of recording all of the Schubert lieder appropriate for the male voice. Gerald Moore retired completely in 1972, and died in 1987, aged 87. Their recordings of Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise are highly prized as examples of their artistic partnership.
Beyond his recordings of Lieder and the German opera repertoire, Fischer-Dieskau also recorded performances in the Italian operatic field. His recordings of Verdi's Rigoletto (alongside Renata Scotto and Carlo Bergonzi) and Rodrigo in Verdi's Don Carlos, are probably the most respected of these ventures. (Others, such as the title role in Verdi's Macbeth (with Elena Souliotis), Giorgio Germont in Verdi's La traviata, and Scarpia in Giacomo Puccini's Tosca (with Birgit Nilsson), are not delivered by him with the same degree of effectiveness.) As conductor Ferenc Fricsay put it, "I never dreamed I'd find an Italian baritone in Berlin." Fischer-Dieskau retired from opera in 1978, the year he recorded his final opera, Aribert Reimann's Lear, which the composer had written at his suggestion.
Throughout his career, his musicianship and technique were flawless. As Greg Sandow of Opera News put it, "Overall, his technique is breath-taking; someone should build a monument to it." He retired from the concert hall as of New Year's Day, 1993, at 67, and dedicated himself to conducting, teaching (especially the interpretation of Lieder), painting and writing books. He still performed as a reciter, reading for example the letters of Strauss to Hugo von Hofmannsthal, read by Gert Westphal, for the Rheingau Musik Festival in 1994; and both performing and recording Strauss's melodrama Enoch Arden. He also became an honorary member of the Robert Schumann Society.
As 'the world's greatest Lieder singer' (Time magazine), he regularly sold out concert halls all over the world until his retirement at the end of 1992. The precisely articulated accuracy of his performances, in which text and music were presented as equal partners, established standards that endure today. The current widespread interest in German Romantic art song is mainly due to his efforts. Perhaps most admired as a singer of Schubert Lieder, Fischer-Dieskau had, according to critic Joachim Kaiser, only one really serious competitor – himself, as over the decades he set new standards, explored new territories and expressed unanticipated feelings and emotions.
Few artists achieve the level of recognition, admiration and influence of Fischer-Dieskau, and even fewer live to see that influence realised during their own lifetime. Ushering in the modern recording era, he challenged our perception and processes of how recordings could be made, explored the possibilities of modern recording and exploited the potential for the popularity of classical music – and all this while setting standards of artistic achievement, integrity, risk-taking, and of the aesthetic ideal that became our new norm. Whenever we bask in the beauty of his tone, revere the probing, questioning power of his intellect, or simply wonder at the astonishing physical abilities throughout all that he has achieved in his long recording career, we must also pause and say THANK YOU to this great artist, whose legacy, like a great and bright star lighting the way for those who follow in his passion for singing, is exemplary in every way.—Thomas Hampson, May 2012, Hall of Fame, Gramophone Magazine.
Won five Grammy Awards: in 1969, 1971, 1976, 1983, and 1988.
In 1949, Fischer-Dieskau married the cellist Irmgard Poppen. Together they had three sons: Mathias (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. In 1977 he married the soprano Júlia Várady.
His older brother Klaus Fischer-Dieskau was a notable Berlin choral director who conducted Fischer-Dieskau several times, including in his only recording of a passion by Heinrich Schütz in 1961.
Fischer-Dieskau smoked during a large part of his career. In an interview with B.Z.-News aus Berlin in 2002 he said, "I quit smoking 20 years ago. I smoked for 35 years, and then stopped in a single day."
On 18 May 2012, Fischer-Dieskau died in his sleep at his home in Berg, Upper Bavaria, ten days before his 87th birthday.
Mozart, Die Zauberflöte (1971) Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra and Chorus of Hamburg State Opera, conducted by Horst Stein, directed by Sir Peter Ustinov. Fischer-Dieskau as the Speaker, with Hans Sotin as Sarastro, Nicolai Gedda as Tamino, Cristina Deutekom as Queen of the Night, Edith Mathis as Pamina, William Workman as Papageno. A DVD from Arthaus Musik GmbH, Leipzig.
Texte deutscher Lieder. Deutscher Taschenbuchverlag, Munich, 1968.
Auf den Spuren der Schubert-Lieder. Werden – Wesen – Wirkung. F.A. Brockhaus, Wiesbaden, 1971. (ISBN3-7653-0248-1) Translated by Kenneth S Whitton as Schubert's Songs: A Biographical Study. Alfred A. Knopf, 1977. (ISBN0-394-48048-1)
Wagner und Nietzsche: der Mystagoge und sein Abtrünniger. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart, 1974. translated by Joachim Neugroschel as Wagner and Nietzsche. Continuum International, 1976.
The Fischer-Dieskau Book of Lieder: The Original Texts of over 750 Songs, translated by Richard Stokes and George Bird. Random House, 1977. (ISBN0-394-49435-0)
Robert Schumann. Wort und Musik. Das Vokalwerk. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart, 1981. translated by Reinhard G. Pauly as Robert Schumann Words and Music: The Vocal Compositions. Hal Leonard, 1992. (ISBN0-931340-06-3)
Töne sprechen, Worte klingen: Zur Geschichte und Interpretation des Gesangs. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart/Munich, 1985.
Nachklang. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart, 1988. translated by Ruth Hein as Echoes of a Lifetime, Macmillan, London, 1989, and as Reverberations: The Memoirs of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. Fromm International, New York, 1989. (ISBN0-88064-137-1)
Wenn Musik der Liebe Nahrung ist: Kunstlerschicksale im 19. Jahrhundert. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart, 1990.
Weil nicht alle Blütenträume reifen: Johann Friedrich Reichardt: Hofkapellmeister dreier Preussenkönig. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart, 1993.
Fern die Klage des Fauns. Claude Debussy und seine Welt. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart, 1993.
[Paintings and drawings 1962–1994, a selection]. Nicolaische Verlagsbuchhandlung Beuermann, Berlin, 1994.
Schubert und seine Lieder. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart, 1996.
Carl Friedrich Zelter und das Berliner Musikleben seiner Zeit. Nicolai Verlag Berlin, 1997.
Die Welt des Gesangs. J.B. Metzler Verlag, Stuttgart, 1999.
Zeit eines Lebens – auf Fährtensuche. Deutsche Verlags-Anstalt, Stuttgart, 2000.
Hugo Wolf. Leben und Werk. Henschel Verlag, Kassel, 2003.
Musik im Gespräch: Streifzüge durch die Klassik mit Eleonore Büning. List Taschenbuch Verlag, Berlin, 2005.
Goethe als Intendant: Theaterleidenschaften im klassischen Weimar. Deutscher Taschenbuch Verlag, Stuttgart, 2006.
Johannes Brahms: Leben und Lieder. List Taschenbuch Verlag, Berlin, 2008.
Jupiter und ich: Begegnungen mit Furtwängler. Berlin University Press, 2009.
^Hans Joachim Moser Heinrich Schütz: a short account of his life and works 1967 – 121 "St. Matthew Passion (SWV 479) Soloists, Hugo-Distler-Chor, Berlin, conducted by Klaus Fischer- Dieskau Archive 198 174 (mono),"
Neunzig, Hans A. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau Trans. Kenneth S Whitton. Gerald Duckworth & Co, 1998. (ISBN0-7156-2818-6)
Whitton, Kenneth S. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: Mastersinger Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1981. (ISBN0-8419-0728-5)