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Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

During an international singing career that stretched from the 1940s into the 1970s, German singer Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (born 1915) was one of the most celebrated sopranos of all time. In the 1950s and 1960s, she was a fixture on the worldwide opera circuit, performing regularly in the great concert halls of Europe and the United States and making immortal recordings of many important operas and German lieder. Her delivery of some of operas classic roles, particularly the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier, set the standard for generations of sopranos to come. While her stature as one of the great singers of her time is secure, Schwarzkopf's activities in Germany during the Nazi era have cast a shadow of scandal on her otherwise sterling career.

Olga Maria Elisabeth Frederike Schwarzkopf was born on December 9, 1915, in Jarocin, Poland to German parents, Friedrich Schwarzkopf and Elisabeth Fröhling. Like so many musical superstars, her drive and talent were obvious from an early age. Her first opera performance, at the age of 12, was in the role of Eurydice in a school production of Orfeo et Euridice in Magdeburg, Germany, where the family had relocated. In 1934 she was accepted as a student at the Berlin High School for Music, where she stood out even in such a competitive atmosphere, surrounded by other highly talented youths.


Made Professional Debut in Parsifal

Schwarzkopf's first voice instructor, Lula Mysz–Gmeinter, pegged the young singer as a mezzo–soprano, but Schwarzkopf's mother, attuned to the career implications of one's vocal range, demanded a coaching switch. Schwarzkopf eventually transferred to the care of a Dr. Egonolf, who saw a future for her as a coloratura soprano, the operatic sub–category with the very highest range. She studied with Egonolf for over a year before making her professional debut with the Berlin Deutsche Oper as the Second Flower Maiden in Act II of Wagner's Parsifal in 1938.

Schwarzkopf sang exclusively with Berlin's Deutsche Oper for four years. Shortly after joining the group, she joined the Nazi party, a move she viewed at the time as a reasonable career advancement strategy, but which would stir considerable controversy later. Biographer Alan Jefferson actually traced Schwarzkopf's Nazi association to an even earlier point, with a stint as leader of the party's student association in 1935. In 1939 she was admitted to the Reichstheaterkammer, the Nazi propaganda ministry's performing arts outpost that sought to maintain the ideological purity and patriotism of Germany's actors and musicians. During her tenure with the Deutsche Oper, Schwarzkopf performed outside of Berlin only once, in 1941, when she sang the role of Adele in Die Fledermaus when the company went on tour to the Paris Opera.

While at the Deutsche Oper, Schwarzkopf was noticed by the Hungarian soprano Maria Ivogun, who became her coach and mentor, and taught her to sing lieder, or traditional German songs. One of the fringe benefits of studying with Ivogun was that her husband, Michael Raucheisen, happened to be one of the best accompanists in the business. Schwarzkopf gave her first recital as an interpreter of German lieder in 1942 in Berlin. Shortly afterward, she contracted tuberculosis, and spent about a year in 1943 and 1944 recuperating at a sanatorium in the Tatra mountains. Her absence sparked all sorts of crazy rumors, perhaps the most absurd being that she had gone off to bear Adolph Hitler's love child. Schwarzkopf left the Oper in 1946 and joined the Vienna State Opera, and—once she managed to convince examiners, falsely, that she had not been an active Nazi party member—her career began to accelerate. With the Vienna troupe, she toured the top opera houses of Europe. She made her debut at the Royal Opera House in London as Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni in September of 1947. Just over a year later she appeared at La Scala in Milan, Italy, for the first time, in the role of the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier. On the strength of her success in London—and the brisk sales of her recordings—Schwarzkopf was engaged as a guest member of the resident company at the Royal Opera House, also known as Covent Garden.

Teamed Up With Legge

Meanwhile, and perhaps not coincidentally, Schwarzkopf's social life also kicked into high gear around this time. In 1946 she was invited to audition for English record company executive and London Philharmonic co–founder Walter Legge, an extremely powerful figure in the classical music industry. Legge signed her to an exclusive recording contract with the EMI label, and became her manager as well. She quickly became a fixture in high–profile performances both on the stage and on vinyl. The business partnership between Schwarzkopf and Legge soon blossomed into a romance. Schwarzkopf moved to London in 1947, and the pair married in October of 1953. Working with Legge, Schwarzkopf went on to record the major operas of Mozart, the songs of Richard Strauss, and various works by Bach, Brahms, Mahler and other important composers.

With the Vienna State Opera, Schwarzkopf was the principal coloratura soprano during the second half of the 1940s. She was a regular at Covent Garden in London, at La Scala, and at the Bayreuth (Germany) and Salzburg (Austria) opera festivals. The warmth and flexibility of her voice made her a natural for such diverse roles as Mimi in La Boheme, Pamina in The Magic Flute, and the title role in Madame Butterfly, all of which were among the parts she sang between 1948 and 1951.

Schwarzkopf remained with the Vienna State Opera until 1950. The following year, she created the role of Anne Trulove in Igor Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. In October of 1953, she made her American debut, singing lieder in New York to launch a year–long tour of the United States. Her prior association with the Nazis continued to hound her, and her New York debut was greeted by anti–Nazi protestors. Schwarzkopf's first American opera performance was as Marschallin—considered by many her signature role—with the San Francisco Opera Company in October of 1955. While her career prospered in America, she remained a regular visitor to such renowned Opera capitals as Salzburg and Milan through the rest of the 1950s.


Debuted at the Met in 1961

During most of the 1960s, Schwarzkopf focused almost exclusively on a small handful of operatic roles: Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni; the Countess in Nozze di Figaro (the Marriage of Figaro); the Marschallin in Der Rosenkavalier; Fiordiligi in Cosi fan tutte; and Countess Madeleine in Capriccio. In 1961 she appeared in a film of Der Rosenkavalier made from a Salzburg stage production. She made her Metropolitan Opera debut in 1964, once again in the role of the Marschallin, and remained with New York's premier opera company for two seasons.

Schwarzkopf announced her retirement from opera in 1971. Her final performance was in Brussels, Belgium on New Year's Eve that year, fittingly in Der Rosenkavalier. She continued as an active performer for several more years, however, giving recitals of German lieder across the globe. In 1975 she undertook a "farewell" recital tour of the United States. While this marked the end of her concert career as a steady performer, she continued to give the occasional recital. In March of 1979, Legge had a major heart attach. Disregarding his doctor's instructions, he attended his wife's final recital two days later in Zurich, Switzerland; he died less than a week afterward.

In her "retirement," Schwarzkopf maintained a busy schedule of master classes, initially together with Legge until his death, and she oversaw the remastering and re–release of old recordings. As a teacher, Schwarzkopf by all accounts fit the stereotype of the demanding—some would way bordering on sadistic—taskmaster. A couple years into her retirement, Schwarzkopf's past Nazi involvement again became a matter of public debate among opera aficionados. In 1981 a Viennese music historian named Oliver Rathkolb published a doctoral thesis that revealed, based on documents found in the National Archives in Washington, that Schwarzkopf had underplayed her affiliation with the Nazis. During the period after World War II, Schwarzkopf had repeatedly denied that she had been a party member, eventually admitting only a "temporary" affiliation in the early 1940s. Rathkolb's research showed otherwise, and Schwarzkopf finally conceded in a 1983 letter to the New York Times that she had indeed been a member, though she asserted that jointing the party was strictly a career necessity, akin to obtaining a union card.


Biography Renewed Controversy Over Nazi Past

In spite of the controversy, Schwarzkopf's reputation as one of the great sopranos of all time remained intact. As of the mid–1990s, she was EMI's third best selling artist, trailing only violinist Itzhak Perlman and fellow diva Maria Callas. On January 1, 1992, Queen Elizabeth II, of England, dubbed Schwarzkopf Dame Commander of the Most Excellent Order of the British Empire. Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf continued to teach master classes, still ruthlessly, through the 1990s. In 1996 the first full–blown biography of Schwarzkopf was published. The unauthorized biography was written by British musicologist Alan Jefferson, who had already published acclaimed studies of several prominent German musicians, including Richard Strauss. Jefferson's book steered clear of lurid gossip, focusing primarily on the details of Schwarzkopf's performing and recording career. He did not, however, shy away from the troubling details of Schwarzkopf's past association with the Nazi party. While this issue made up only a small portion of the book, it went into far more detail than Rathkolb had earlier.

Among the new information unearthed by Jefferson was evidence that Schwarzkopf's political affiliations and unnamed friends in high places contributed as much to her rapid advancement early in her career as did her estimable talent. Jefferson also noted that shortly after arriving in Berlin, Schwarzkopf had an acting career that spanned at least five films, some of which could best be described as Nazi propaganda. She also did her part for the war effort, touring the Eastern Front to bolster the morale of German troops. Jefferson leaves it to the reader to determine whether these facts are serious indictments or merely a product of the unique situation confronting a young woman whose only real interest was in advancing her artistic career.

By the beginning of the 21st century, Schwarzkopf was living a quiet life in Zurich, Switzerland, where she still received the occasional student and made periodic public appearances. Schwarzkopf was by all accounts an utter perfectionist, as hard on herself when she was performing as she was on her students when her singing career had ended. Opera buffs point to the purity and precision of her voice as the quality that set her apart from her peers. In recent years, she viewed the modern opera world with some disdain. "It's a kind of prostitution now," Schwarzkopf was quoted as saying in a 1995 Opera News profile. "There's a disintegration of integrity of our profession. We have a generation of singers who have vanished, because they're forced to sing beyond their capacity." Future generations of listeners will determine how much irony is inherent in such comments from a giant of opera who made the kinds of decisions Elisabeth Schwarzkopf made in the name of pleasing the music industry.


Books

International Dictionary of Opera, St. James Press, 1993.

Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth, On and Off the Record: A Memoir of Walter Legg, Scribner, 1982.


Periodicals

New Yorker, August 26, 1996.

Opera News, December 9, 1995; August 1996.


Online

"Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf," http://sopranos.freeservers.com/elisabet.htm (December 27, 2004).

Oron, Aryeh, "Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Soprano," http://www.bach-cantatas.com (December 27, 2004).

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Schwarzkopf, (Dame) (Olga Maria) Elisabeth (Friederike)

Schwarzkopf, (Dame) (Olga Maria) Elisabeth (Friederike) (b Jarocin, nr. Poznań, 1915). Ger.-born soprano (Brit. cit.). Opera début Berlin 1938 (Flower Maiden in Parsifal). Vienna début 1942, remaining there in coloratura roles until 1944. Rejoined Vienna Opera 1946. Salzburg début 1947; CG début (with Vienna Opera) 1947. Settled in Eng. 1948, member of CG co. 1948–52. Milan début 1948; S. Francisco from 1955; NY Met 1964. Created Anne Trulove in The Rake's Progress, Venice 1951. Famous in Strauss roles such as the Marschallin, which she sang on her farewell to stage, Brussels 1972. Retired from concert platform 1975 and gave master classes. One of greatest sops. of her generation, superb interpreter of Lieder, especially Wolf. Was wife of Walter Legge, who produced many of her recordings. DBE 1992.

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Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf (shwärts´kôpf), 1915–2006, German lyric soprano. After studying music in Berlin she was trained by Maria Ivogün. She sang with the Berlin State Opera (1938–42) and became (1944) principal soprano at the Vienna State Opera. Schwarzkopf, who gained a reputation for subtlety and versatility in recitals, oratorios, and opera, also performed at Covent Garden, London, and La Scala, Milan. She first sang in the United States in 1953 and made her debut at the Metropolitan Opera in 1964. She was especially known for roles in operas by Mozart and Richard Strauss and for her lieder singing, most notably her interpretations of Hugo Wolf. In 1951, Schwarzkopf sang the leading role in the premiere of The Rake's Progress by Igor Stravinsky.

See biography by A. Jefferson (1997).

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"Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. 23 Aug. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

"Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Encyclopedia.com. (August 23, 2017). http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/schwarzkopf-elisabeth

"Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth." The Columbia Encyclopedia, 6th ed.. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/reference/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/schwarzkopf-elisabeth

Schwarzkopf, Dame Elisabeth

Schwarzkopf, Dame Elisabeth (1915– ) German soprano known for her versatility in recitals, oratorios, and operas. She sang with the Berlin State Opera from 1938 to 1942, and became principal soprano of the Vienna State Opera in 1944. She specialized in Richard Strauss, Mozart, Schubert, and Hugo Wolf, and made many fine recordings.

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"Schwarzkopf, Dame Elisabeth." World Encyclopedia. . Retrieved August 23, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/environment/encyclopedias-almanacs-transcripts-and-maps/schwarzkopf-dame-elisabeth