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DIETRICH FISCHER-DIESKAU

Christened Albert Dietrich Fischer (it was his father who conjoined his own mother’s maiden name of Dieskau to his own in 1934), he was born in the Zehlendorf district of Berlin on 28th May 1925, his parents being teachers. His introduction to music came early with piano lessons from the age of six. When he first saw Wagner’s Lohengrin, the impression was so marked that he was determined to become a heroic tenor. His voice later broke and settled on a high baritone one. His first recital occurred when he was only fifteen while still at school in January 1942. He then studied with the tenor Georg Walter, himself a renowned Lieder singer in his day. Before he could make his real debut he was called up into the German army at the age of eighteen, serving in Italy before becoming a prisoner of war of the American forces in May 1945. Returning to Germany two years later he worked with Hermann Weissenborn and made his concert début in a performance of Brahms’s German Requiem in Badenweiler in 1947 as a very late replacement and without rehearsal, to be followed by a successful recital in Leipzig later that year. The turning-point in his career came in a new production by Heinz Tietjen of Verdi’s Don Carlos when he sang Posa at the Städtische Oper in Berlin under Fricsay to marked acclaim. He would appear at this house for over 35 years.

The year 1949 saw Fischer-Dieskau singing at the Vienna State Opera as well as in the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. His reputation soon spread to Britain where Beecham engaged him for the demanding baritone part in Delius’s Eine Messe des Lebens in London in June 1951, an occasion which proved memorable in every sense. The young singer soon made his first recordings in London with the pianist Gerald Moore, a partnership which would produce a remarkable artistic and creative fusion over the next quarter century in the concert hall and recording studio. It was from these sessions that he made his first Die schöne Müllerin with Walter Legge as producer. Such was the demand for his services on record that he had contracts with both EMI and Deutsche Grammophon.

Fischer-Dieskau’s first appearance at the Salzburg Festival took place in August 1951 when he sang Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen under Furtwängler following a memorable Brahms German Requiem under this conductor in Vienna some months earlier. He returned to this festival in 1956 and continued yearly until 1967, appearing on the operatic stage and giving a Lieder recital with Gerald Moore for ten consecutive years from 1956 until 1965. Most of these were recorded and their subsequent release on CD has proved a valuable insight into Fischer-Dieskau’s live interpretations. He also appeared at the Bayreuth Festival during the years 1954-61 when he sang the Herald in Lohengrin, an unforgettable Wolfram in Tannhäuser, Kothner in Meistersinger and Amfortas in Parsifal. His American debut took place in April 1955 with two concerts in Cincinatti, followed by further appearances in Minnesota and New York, both accompanied by Gerald Moore. In fact it was through the concert hall and recordings that Fischer-Dieskau’s American reputation was achieved as he never sang on the operatic stage on that continent. The baritone became a regular visitor to Britain either for recording purposes but also in the concert hall. He made his operatic debut as a memorable Mandryka in Arabella at Covent Garden in 1965 and as Falstaff in Verdi’s opera two years later. He appeared at the Edinburgh Festival in August 1952, first toured Japan in 1963 and enjoyed a most successful tour of Israel in 1971. He undertook his first conducting assignment with the New Philharmonia Orchestra in London two years later. He would later conduct for his wife, the soprano Júlia Várady.

On the operatic stage Fischer-Dieskau embraced mainly German and Italian rôles: these included Don Giovanni, Don Alfonso, Almaviva in Figaro, Barak in Die Frau ohne Schatten, Jochanaan in Salome, Olivier and the Count in Capriccio, Doktor Faust, Mathis der Maler, Wozzeck, Renato in Un ballo in maschera, and, finally in 1976, Hans Sachs. He also created the roles of Gregor Mittenhofer in Henze’s Elegy for Young Lovers (May 1961) and the title part in Reiman’s Lear (July 1978).

While Fischer-Dieskau’s operatic activities were significant, it is as a Lieder singer that he will be best remembered. His repertoire consisted of well in excess of a thousand songs, covering Beethoven, Berg, Brahms, Cornelius, Loewe, Haydn, Liszt, Mahler, Mendelssohn, Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Richard Strauss, Telemann and Wolf in addition to less well-known composers, including many contemporaries such as Blacher, Fortner, Henze, Reimann, Reutter, Schwarz-Schilling and von Einem. He also embraced French chanson with Debussy, Fauré and Milhaud among others. He recorded virtually his entire song repertoire and in doing so became the most prolific recording artist of his time.

He also compiled The Fischer-Dieskau Book of Lieder (London, 1976), an autobiography, Nachklang (Stuttgart, 1988), published in English as Echoes of a Lifetime (London, 1989), in addition to books on the Lieder of Schubert (New York, 1977) and Schumann (London, 1992), and on Wagner and Nietzsche (1976).

Fischer-Dieskau worked and was associated was associated with Benjamin Britten (1913-1976). When the composer wrote his choral War Requiem for the dedication of the new Coventry Cathedral he had the voice of the German baritone in mind. The first performance in June 1962 created a profound and marked effect and the following year they cemented that relationship with a now famous recording. Three years later Britten composed his Songs and Proverbs of William Blake for the German baritone who gave the première at the 1965 Aldeburgh Festival.

In 1983 Fischer-Dieskau was appointed Professor of Voice at the Berlin Hochschule für Kunste and eventually retired from the concert hall in 1992 to spend the next few years teaching, conducting and painting. His first wife was the cellist Irmgard Poppen, whom he married in 1949, but who died tragically young in 1963 following problems when giving birth. His three sons from his first marriage are Mathias (a stage designer), Martin (a conductor) and Manuel (a cellist).Then followed unsuccessful marriages to the actress Ruth Leuwerik (1965-67) and Christina Ougel-Schule (1968-75). In 1977 he married the Hungarian soprano Júlia Várady.

Fischer-Dieskau’s first major operatic recording was as Kurwenal in Tristan und Isolde under Furtwängler, made in London in over twelve days in June 1952 with an outstanding cast of singers that included Kirsten Flagstad as the heroine and Ludwig Suthaus as the hero. The now legendary recording (Naxos 8.110321-24) was completed in less time than originally planned so it was decided to take the opportunity to record Mahler’s song-cycle Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. It is pertinent to point out that half a century ago the music of Mahler was little known or heard. The Nazis had banned performances of his music during the years from 1933 to 1945 and thereby effectively removed his music from public awareness. Furthermore there was only slight knowledge of his music outside German-speaking countries. Thus it was quite a bold decision to record virtually unknown music at this time.

Fischer-Dieskau sang Mahler’s Kindertotenlieder on one of the first batch of recordings made in 1955 by Rudolf Kempe (1912-1976) with the Berlin Philharmonic, a performance widely praised when first released.

Role: Classical Artist 
Album Title
Catalogue No  Work Category 
BRAHMS, J.: Deutsches Requiem (Ein) (Fischer-Dieskau, Grummer, Kempe) (1955) Naxos Historical
8.111342
Choral - Sacred
BRUNO MONSAINGEON EDITION, VOL. 1 (THE) – Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (6 Blu-ray Disc Set) (Blu-ray, Full-HD) EuroArts
2073934
Classical Concert, Classical Documentary, Classical Concert, Classical Documentary
BRUNO MONSAINGEON EDITION, VOL. 1 (THE) – Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (6 DVD Box Set) (NTSC) EuroArts
2073938
Classical Concert, Classical Documentary, Classical Concert, Classical Documentary
DEUTSCHE OPER BERLIN - 100 Years (1912-2012) (6-DVD Box Set) (NTSC) Arthaus Musik
107522
Opera DVD
DVD SAMPLER 2006 - BALLET and CONCERT (NTSC) TDKDVD
DVWW-COSMPL3
Samplers
MAHLER, G.: Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen / Kindertotenlieder / SCHUMANN, R.: Liederkreis (Fischer-Dieskau) (1952-1955) Naxos Historical
8.111300
Vocal
MOZART, W.A.: Don Giovanni (Deutsche Oper Berlin Opening Performance, 1961) (NTSC) Arthaus Musik
101574
Opera DVD
SCHUBERT, F.: Schone Mullerin (Die) (Fischer-Dieskau, Schiff) (NTSC) Arthaus Musik
107269
Classical Concert
SCHUBERT, F.: Schone Mullerin (Die) (PAL) TDKDVD
DV-CODSM
Classical Concert
SCHUBERT, F.: Winterreise (Fischer-Dieskau, Brendel) (NTSC) Arthaus Musik
107229
Classical Concert
SCHUBERT, F.: Winterreise / Die schone Mullerin (Fischer-Dieskau, Brendel, A. Schiff) (NTSC) Arthaus Musik
107523
Classical Concert
SCHUBERT: Winterreise (NTSC) TDKDVD
DVWW-COWINT
Classical Concert
STRAUSS, R.: Capriccio (Schwarzkopf, Wachter, Gedda, Fischer-Dieskau, Hotter, Ludwig, Philharmonia Orchestra, Sawallisch) (1957-1958) Naxos Historical
8.112034-35
Opera
VERDI, G.: Don Carlos (Deutsche Oper, Berlin, 1965) (NTSC) Arthaus Musik
101621
Opera DVD





 
 
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