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Our motto: "Critical thinking in the cheap seats." Unbiased, honest classical music and opera opinions, occasional obituaries and classical news reporting, since 2007. All written content © 2019 by Paul J. Pelkonen. For more about Superconductor, visit this link. For advertising rates, click this link. Follow us on Facebook.

Friday, May 18, 2012

Obituary: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

The master of lieder dies at 86.
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau in a publicity still for his
1968 recording of Hindemith's Cardillac.
Image © 1968 Deutsche Grammophon/Universal Classics.
German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau died earlier today. He was 86. According to the Berliner Morgenpost, the Berlin native was in the Bavarian mountains "near Starnberg" when he passed away. The death was announced by his wife of many years, opera singer Julia Varady. 

Mr. Fischer-Dieskau was one of the most important German baritones of the recordings era. His signature achievement was his cycle of Schubert lieder, consisting of over 400 songs. Mr. Fischer-Dieskau's recordings (most made with accompanist Gerald Moore) were instrumental in bringing the lied relevant in the 20th and 21st centuries, allowing listeners to have the experience of a song recital in their own homes.

Although his voice was considered a "light" baritone, Mr. Fischer-Dieskau was a master at driving every syllable of a lyric home, bringing deep, profound meaning to song cycles like Winterreise and Brahms' Four Serious Songs. The singer's signature sound, rich, mellow and pliant in both its upper and lower ranges became one of the most recorded voices of the 20th century. 

His recorded legacy also includes voluminous sets of Lieder by Brahms, Liszt,  Schumann, Richard Strauss and Hugo Wolf. In an international performing career that spanned from 1948 until his retirement from the stage in 1992, Mr. Fischer-Dieskau had a repertory of over 3,000 songs.

He also sang opera, preferring to appear on stage in Berlin and Munich. Signature roles included Papageno in Die Zauberflöte, Gunther in Götterdämmerung and the title role in Rigoletto. He also recorded the most challenging Wagner baritone roles: Wotan (only in Das Rheingold) with Herbert von Karajan and Hans Sachs in Die Meistersinger. Mr. Fischer-Dieskau's wide repertory also included lesser-known German operas like Hindemith's Cardillac and Busoni's Doktor Faust.

Mr. Fischer-Dieskau was born near Berlin in 1925. In 1943, the 17-year old singer gave his first public recital of Schubert lieder which was interrupted by a bombing raid on the German capital. Along with every other man in Germany who could walk and carry a weapon, the singer was later drafted into the Wehrmacht. He was captured in Italy, and spent the later years of World War II entertaining homesick German soldiers in Allied POW camps. 

In 1948, Mr. Fischer-Dieskau recorded Brahms' Four Serious Songs for RIAS. This marked the beginning of his career in front of the microphone. He grew into one of the most important stars of the newly booming record industries, taking opportunity to work with many great conductors and recording many operas and countless lieder. 

The singer retired from the stage in 1992, choosing to focus his energies on master classes. His pupils included the recently retired baritone Thomas Quasthoff. He is survived by his fourth wife and three children, including conductor Martin Fischer-Dieskau.

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