The following is a guest post by Senior Cataloger Sharon McKinley.
This is already last week’s news, but we wanted to note the passing of a singer who had a profound and lasting effect on legions of performers and a horde of admirers through a large part of the 20th century and beyond. How does one summarize the life of a classical music icon like German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau? Here was a special human being, a singer, a conductor, and a scholar who personified the German Lied. He was a versatile opera star who performed in and recorded dozens of operas, from Mozart (Almaviva in Marriage of Figaro) and Verdi (Falstaff) to Wagner (Wotan in Das Rheingold) and Berg (Wozzeck), and in large orchestral/vocal works such as Brahms’ Ein Deutches Requiem. He was a champion of contemporary music. Samuel Barber’s 3 Songs, op. 45 and the baritone solo in Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem were written for him.
Fischer-Dieskau was best known for his performances of German Lieder. If anyone can be said to have popularized this rarefied art form, it was he. He was known as “the world’s greatest Lieder singer.” The man concertized extensively and made recordings almost as extensively, collaborating for many years with the great accompanist Gerald Moore. I still have some of those Lieder recordings on LPs and cassettes. We were all enthralled back then by his wonderful expression and tone, and his superb musicianship. Listening to these for the first time was a voyage of discovery for us vocalists.
There are dozens of obituaries and articles on the internet (just search his name and pick any one!), and there are nuggets of information in every one of them. Here’s one in English on the Deutsche Grammophon web page. It mentions that he never appeared onstage in the role of the bird-catcher Papageno in Mozart’s Die Zauberflöte. I learned many years ago that he refused the part because he would look too silly in that feathered costume (I can’t prove it, though!). But he recorded it several times.
Deutsche Grammophon, for whom Fischer-Dieskau recorded many works, also has an extensive discography. You’ll find a huge selection (well over 500 hits!) of Fischer-Dieskau performances in the Library’s catalogs, along with a nice selection of biographies in German and English.
The Music Division’s august stacks are home to his memoirs, in the original German and in English translation. He also wrote scholarly tomes, such as a biography of composer Johann Friedrich Reichardt. As for recordings, many are still available commercially. The Library has a few rarities, such as a live recording of Mozart’s Le nozze di Figaro recorded at the Salzburg Festival in 1962. The Music Division has in its Leonard Bernstein collection material pertaining to Fischer-Dieskau, including a letter in which Bernstein speaks glowingly of the baroitone.
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was an unforgettable presence in the musical world. His legacy will live on forever.
Here is a Bernstein letter mentioning him: