Fischer-Dieskau, (Albert) Dietrich, great

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Fischer-Dieskau, (Albert) Dietrich, great

Fischer-Dieskau, (Albert) Dietrich, great

German baritone; b. Berlin, May 28, 1925. The original surname of the family was Fischer. His father, Albert Fischer (1865–1937), a classical scholar, headmaster of a secondary school, and composer, legally conjoined his mother’s maiden surname to his in 1934. Dietrich began to study piano when he was 9. At age 16, he became a student of voice of Georg Walter in Berlin. On Jan. 31, 1942, he gave his first public recital in Zehlendorf. He then pursued vocal training with Hermann Weissen-born at the Berlin Hochschule fur Musik. Following his graduation in 1943, he was drafted into the German army. On May 5, 1945, he was captured by U.S. forces in Italy’s Po Valley, and was held as a prisoner of war until 1947. Upon returning to Berlin, he completed his vocal studies with Weissenborn. His performances of Schubert’s Winterreise in a RIAS radio broadcast in Berlin in Dec. 1947 won fine critical notices, and in 1948 he began to give public lieder recitals. On May 6, 1948, he made his operatic debut in the bass role of Colas in a RIAS broadcast in Berlin of Mozart’s Bastien und Bastienne. His operatic stage debut followed on Nov. 18, 1948, when he sang Verdi’s Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, at the Berlin Stadtische Oper. He soon established himself as an invaluable member of the company, appearing there and with its successor, the Deutsche Oper, for 35 years. In 1949 he sang Schubert’s Die schone Mullerin in Berlin to great effect, and also appeared as Wolfram for the first time at the Stadtische Oper. His appearance as a soloist in the Brahms Requiem under Furtwangler’s baton in Vienna in 1951 prompted Furtwangler to engage him for the Salzburg Festival that same year, where he won extraordinary acclaim for his performance of Mahler’s Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen. On June 7, 1951, he made his London debut as a soloist in Delius’s A Mass of Life with Beecham conducting. That same year, he sang Wolfram at his debut at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich and portrayed Mozart’s Count Almaviva at the Stadtische Oper. In 1952 he made his first appearance at the Edinburgh Festival and sang Jochanaan at the Stadtische Oper, where he returned as Don Giovanni in 1953. His notable debut at the Bayreuth Festival followed in 1954 as Wolfram.

Fischer-Dieskau made his U.S. debut on April 5, 1955, as a soloist in the Brahms Requiem with the Cincinnati Sym. Orch. conducted by Thor Johnson. His U.S. recital debut then followed at N.Y.’s Town Hall on May 2, 1955. In 1957 he sang Falstaff for the first time at the Stadtische Opera, and also sang that composer’s Renato at the Hamburg State Opera. He portrayed Hindemith’s Mathis der Maler at the Stadtische Oper in 1959, and returned there as Berg’s Wozzeck in 1960. On May 20, 1961, he created the role of Gregor Mittenhofer in Henze’s Elegie fiir junge Liebende in Schwetzingen. He was engaged as Don Giovanni for the opening of the new Deutsche Oper in Berlin in 1961. On May 30, 1962, he was a soloist in the premiere of Britten’s War Requiem at Coventry Cathedral under the composer’s direction. In 1963 he made his first highly acclaimed tour of Japan, and then sang Barak at the opening of the renovated National Theater of the Bavarian State Opera. In 1964 he was engaged as Macbeth at the Salzburg Festival. He appeared as Mandryka at London’s Covent Garden and as Hindemith’s Cardillac at the Bavarian State Opera in 1965. His notable Falstaff was portrayed at the Vienna State Opera in 1966, and then at Covent Garden in 1967. In 1968 he sang Berg’s Dr. Schon in Berlin and Wotan in Das Rheingold at the Salzburg Festival. He returned to Berlin in 1969 as lago. In 1971 he made his first tour of Israel with enormous success. His long-standing interest in conducting led to his engagement to record with the New Philharmonia Orch. of London in Feb. 1973. In Oct. of that year he made his public conducting debut with the Camerata Academica of Salzburg. He made his U.S. conducting debut with the Los Angeles Phil, in 1974.

In 1976, toward the close of his operatic career, Fischer-Dieskau won critical accolades for his outstanding characterization of Hans Sachs at the Deutsche Oper. He also won critical approbation for his portrayal of the title role in Reimann’s Lear at its premiere at the Bavarian State Opera on July 9, 1978, which role he chose for his final operatic performance, on Aug. 3, 1982, at the Munich Opera Festival. In 1983 he became prof, of voice at the Berlin Hochschule fiir Kiinste, but continued to pursue a concert and lieder career until his farewell public appearance as a singer at the Bavarian State Opera on Dec. 31, 1992. Thereafter he gave increasing attention to teaching and writing while making occasional appearances as a conductor. Few singers of the 20th century ever attained and none ever surpassed Fischer-Dieskau in his dedication to and exposition of the vocal art. Whether in opera, concert, or lieder, he was acknowledged as a master recreative artist. While he will also be considered a foremost interpreter of the Romantic repertoire, his important contribution to the music of his own era must also be recognized via his performances of works ranging from Schoenberg to Matthus. Still, his name will be forever linked with Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, and Wolf as the peerless concert and lieder baritone of the age. His collaboration with the pianist Gerald Moore in an exhaustive survey of almost every Schubert lieder setting for the male voice stands as one of the great landmarks in the history of recording. Among Fischer-Dieskau’s numerous awards and honors are the Arts Prize of Berlin (1950), membership in the Berlin Akademie der Kiinste (1956), Kammersanger of Bavaria (1959), the Mozart Medal of Vienna (1962), Kammersanger of Berlin (1963), honorary doctorates from Yale Univ. (1977), the Univ. of Oxford (1978), the Sorbonne in Paris (1980), the Royal Coll. of Music in London (1997), and the Univ. of Heidelberg (1998), the Grand Cross of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany (1978), and the Gold Medal of the Royal Phil. Soc. of London (1988). In 1977 he married his 4th wife, Julia Varady.


Texte deutscher Lieder: Bin Handbuch (Munich, 1968; 7th ed., 1986; Eng. tr., 1976, as The Fischer-Dieskau Book of Lieder); Auf den Spuren der Schubert-Lieder: Werden-WesenWirkung (Wiesbaden, 1971; Eng. tr., 1976, as Schubert: A Biographical Study of His Songs); Wagner und Nietzsche: Der Mystagoge und sein Abtrünniger (Stuttgart, 1974; Eng. tr., 1976, as Wagner and Nietzsche); Robert Schumann, Wort und Musik: Das Vokalwerk (Stuttgart, 1981; Eng. tr., 1988, as Robert Schumann, Words and Music: The Vocal Compositions); Tone sprechen, Worte klingen: Zur Geschichte und Interpretation des Gesangs (Stuttgart and Munich, 1985); Nachklang: Ansichten und Erinnerungen (Stuttgart, 1988; Eng. tr., 1989, as Echoes of a Lifetime)’, Wenn Musik der Liebe Nahrung ist: Kunstler-Schicksale im 19. Jahrhundert (Stuttgart, 1990); Weil nicht alle Blutentraume reiften: Johann Friedrich Reichardt, Ho/kapellmeister dreier Preussenkonige (Stuttgart, 1992); Fern die Klage des Fauns: Claude Debussy und seine Welt (Stuttgart, 1993); Schubert und seine Lieder (Stuttgart, 1996); Carl Friedrich Zelter und das Berliner Musikleben seiner Zeit: Eine Biographie (Berlin, 1997).


K. Whitton, D. F.-D.-—Mastersinger: A Documented Study (London and N.Y., 1981); W.-E. von Lewinski, D. F.-D. (Munich and Mainz, 1988); H. Neunzig, D. F.-D.: Eine Biographie (Stuttgart, 1995; Eng. tr., 1998, as D. F.-D.: A Biography).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire