Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (born 28 May 1925 in Berlin) is a retired German lyric baritone and conductor of classical music, one of the most famous lieder (art song) performers of the post-war period and "one of the supreme vocal artists of the 20th century".[1] 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 Elisabeth Schwarzkopf called him "a born god who has it all."[2] At his peak, he was greatly admired for his interpretive insights and exceptional control of his beautiful voice. Fischer-Dieskau has also performed and recorded a great many operatic roles. He is the most recorded singer of all time.[3] He dominated both the opera and concert platform for over thirty years.[4]

Recording an astonishing 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 and Hungarian.

Although his vocal technique was highly accomplished, Fischer-Dieskau's voice was rather light, a lyric-chamber baritone with less-than-overwhelming power. Despite this, he performed and recorded many heavy heroic baritone and bass-baritone operatic roles such as Wotan, Hans Sachs, Amfortas, Iago, Macbeth, Scarpia, and Jokanaan.


Early years

Albert Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was born in Berlin to Albert, a school principal, and Dora, a teacher. 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, Fischer-Dieskau had just completed his secondary school studies and one semester at the Berlin Conservatory. He was captured in Italy in 1945 and spent two years as an American prisoner of war. During that time, he sang Lieder in POW camps to homesick German soldiers.

Singing career

In 1947, he 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.

From early in his career he collaborated with famous lyric sopranos Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and Irmgard Seefried, and the recording producer Walter Legge, issuing instantly-successful albums of lieder by Schubert and Hugo Wolf.

In the autumn of 1948, Fischer-Dieskau was engaged as principal lyric baritone at the Städtische Oper Berlin (Municipal Opera, West Berlin), making his debut as Posa in Verdi's Don Carlos under Ferenc Fricsay. This company, known after 1961 as the Deutsche Oper, would remain his artistic home until his retirement from the operatic stage, in 1978.

Subsequently, Fischer-Dieskau made guest appearances at the opera houses in Vienna and Munich. After 1949 he made concert tours in the Netherlands, Switzerland, France and Italy. In 1951, he made his Salzburg Festival concert debut with Mahler's Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen (Songs of a Wayfarer) under Wilhelm Furtwängler. That year, he also made his British debut, at the Royal Albert Hall in London during the Festival of Britain. In 1956, Fischer-Dieskau made his Boston performance debut for the Peabody Mason Concert series,[5] and appeared again in 1958.[6] He appeared in Frederick Delius's A Mass of Life, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham.[7] He made regular opera appearances at the Bayreuth Festival between 1954 and 1961 and at the Salzburg Festival from 1956 until the early 1970s.

As an opera singer, Fischer-Dieskau performed mainly in Berlin and at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. He also made guest appearances at the Vienna State Opera, at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden in London, at the Hamburg State Opera, in Japan, and at the King's Theatre in Edinburgh, during the Edinburgh Festival. His first tour in the United States took place in 1955, when he was 29, with his concert debut in Cincinnati on 15 April (J. S. Bach's Kreuzstab cantata ) and 16 April (Ein Deutsches Requiem). His American Lieder debut, singing Franz Schubert songs, took place in Saint Paul, Minnesota, on 19 April. His New York City debut occurred on 2 May at The Town Hall, where he sang Schubert's song cycle Winterreise without intermission. Both American recitals were accompanied by pianist Gerald Moore.

In 1951, Fischer-Dieskau made his first of many recordings of Lieder with Gerald Moore at the EMI Studios, London, including a complete Die schöne Müllerin, and they performed the work on January 31, 1952 at the Kingsway Hall, London in the Mysore Concerts of the Philharmonia Concert Society.[8] 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.

Fischer-Dieskau also performed many works of contemporary music, including Benjamin Britten (who chose Fischer-Dieskau as the baritone soloist when writing War Requiem), Samuel Barber, Hans Werner Henze, Karl Amadeus Hartmann (who wrote his Gesangsszene for him), Ernst Krenek, Witold Lutosławski, Siegfried Matthus, Winfried Zillig, Gottfried von Einem and Aribert Reimann. He participated in the 1975 premiere and 1993 recording of Gottfried von Einem's cantata An die Nachgeborenen, written in 1973 as a commission of the UN, both with Julia Hamari and the Wiener Symphoniker conducted by Carlo Maria Giulini.[9]

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. They display his characteristic perceptiveness and intelligence but lack idiomatic Mediterranean vocal colour and temperament - perhaps, in short, seeming too Germanic.[citation needed] However, as with the operatic interpretations of Schwarzkopf and Maria Callas, Fisher-Dieskau's performances on disc always seem thought out and are often true to the score.[citation needed] 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 that 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."[10] 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 has 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 is also 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.[11]


Personal life

In 1949, Fischer-Dieskau married the cellist Irmgard Poppen. Together they had three sons: Mathias (stage designer), Martin (conductor), and Manuel (cellist). Irmgard died in 1963 of complications following childbirth. Afterwards, Fischer-Dieskau was married to the actress Ruth Leuwerik, from 1965 to 1967, and Christina Pugel-Schule, from 1968 to 1975. Since 1977 he has been married to the soprano Julia Varady. His older brother Klaus Fischer-Dieskau was a notable Berlin choral director who conducted Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau several times, including in his only recording of a passion by Heinrich Schütz in 1961.

Partial discography

As singer

Fischer Dieskau recorded mainly on the labels EMI, DG and Orfeo.

As reciter

  • Strauss, Enoch Arden, with Burkhard Kehring, piano

On video

  • Schubert, Winterreise, recorded July 1990, with Murray Perahia (piano), from Sony Classical.
  • Schubert, Winterreise, recorded January 1979, with Alfred Brendel (piano), Sender Freies Berlin (SFB), from TDK 2005.
  • Mozart, Don Giovanni, Deutsche Oper Berlin, with Ferenc Fricsay, live performance in German, recorded September 24, 1961. Cast includes Pilar Lorengar, Elisabeth Grümmer, Walter Berry, Erika Köth, Donald Grobe, and Josef Greindl.
  • Strauss (Richard), Mahler, and Schubert: "Schwarzkopf, Seefried, and Fischer-Dieskau", a DVD from EMI Classics. Includes Schwarzkopf playing the Marschallin and Fischer-Dieskau singing "Der Erlkönig".
  • Mozart, Le nozze di Figaro Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Lorin Maazel, from the Salzburg Festival, 1963. A DVD from VAI.

As conductor


  1. ^ Ted Libbey. The NPR Listener's Encyclopedia of Classical Music New York: Workman Publishing, 2006
  2. ^ Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: the Baritone of Our Age by Richard Wigmore June 6, 2007
  3. ^ Inc. Marquis Who's Who. Who's Who in the World: Marquis Who's Who., 2004
  4. ^ Matthew Boyden. The Rough Guide to Opera 3rd Edition London: Rough Guides Ltd., 2002
  5. ^ Christian Science Monitor, 24-Oct-1956, Harold Rogers, Boston
  6. ^ Boston Globe, 7-Nov-1958, Kevin Keley, "Superb German Baritone"
  7. ^ Liner notes to Portrait of Dietriech [sic] Fischer-Dieskau, HMV, released by World Record Club
  8. ^ Concert Programme, 31 Jan 1952.
  9. ^ "Einem, Gottfried von: An die Nachgeborenen". Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved 2010-06-29. 
  10. ^ Greg Sandow. "21 Sides of Fischer-Dieskau" Opera News November 2000
  11. ^
  12. ^ 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),"


  • The Fischer-Dieskau Book of Lieder: The Original Texts of over 750 Songs, translated by Richard Stokes and George Bird. Random House, 1977. (ISBN 0-394-49435-0)
  • Reverberations: The Memoirs of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, translated by Ruth Hein. Fromm International, 1989. (ISBN 0-88064-137-1)
  • Robert Schumann Words and Music: The Vocal Compositions, translated by Reinhard G. Pauly. Hal Leonard, 1992. (ISBN 0-931340-06-3)
  • Schubert's Songs: A Biographical Study. Alfred A. Knopf, 1977. (ISBN 0-394-48048-1)
  • Wagner and Nietzsche, translated by Joachim Neugroschel. Continuum International, 1976.
  • Jupiter und ich: Begegnungen mit Furtwängler, Berlin University Press, 2009.

Further reading

  • Neunzig, Hans A. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau Trans. Kenneth S Whitton. Gerald Duckworth & Co, 1998. (ISBN 0-7156-2818-6)
  • Whitton, Kenneth S. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: Mastersinger Holmes & Meier Publishers, 1981. (ISBN 0-8419-0728-5)

External links

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  • Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau — Naissance 28 mai 1925 Berlin,  Allemagne …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau — (* 28. Mai 1925 in Berlin) ist ein deutscher Sänger der Stimmlage Bariton. Er ist auch Dirigent, Maler, Musikschriftsteller und Rezitator. Fischer Dieskau gilt als einer der bedeutendsten Lied und Opernsänger des zwanzigsten Jahrhunderts. Mit… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • Dietrich Fischer — Dieskau (* 28. Mai 1925 in Berlin) ist ein deutscher Sänger der Stimmlage Bariton. Er ist auch Dirigent, Maler, Musikschriftsteller und Rezitator. Fischer Dieskau gilt als einer der bedeutendsten Lied und Opernsänger unserer Zeit. Mit über 400… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

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  • FISCHER-DIESKAU (D.) — FISCHER DIESKAU DIETRICH (1925 ) Un héritage musical déterminant: c’est pour son ancêtre Dieskau que Bach écrivit la Cantate des paysans ; une formation intellectuelle, musicale et vocale à la fois précoce, accomplie, exhaustive, qui lui… …   Encyclopédie Universelle

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  • Martin Fischer-Dieskau — Born 1954 (age 56–57) Berlin, Germany Nationality …   Wikipedia

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