Friday, May 18, 2012

In Memoriam: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau 1925-2012

German baritone, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau died on Friday at his home in Bavaria. He was 86.

Fischer-Dieskau possessed one of the most beautiful baritone voices of the 20 century. His mastery of vocal technique and interpretation made him one of the finest performers of art songs from the 1940s to his official retirement in 1992. Although his vocal technique was such that soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf called him "a born god who has it all.", Fischer-Dieskau's voice was rather small. Despite it's lack of power, he performed relied on his technique to carry him through recorded many heavy heroic baritone and bass-baritone operatic roles such as Wotan, Hans Sachs, Amfortas, Telramund, Iago, Macbeth, Scarpia, and Jokanaan.

For many years after his retirement from singing, Fischer-Dieskau remained an influential teacher and orchestra conductor.

Baritone Thomas Hampson recently said of Fischer-Dieskau:
Few artists archieve the level of recognition, admiration and influence of Fischer-Dieskau, and even fewer live to see, that influence realised during their own lifetime. Ushering in the modern recording era, he challenged our percepton and processes of how recordings could be made, explored the possibilities of modern recording and exploited the potential for popularity of classical music; and all this while setting standarts of artistic archievment, integrity, risk-talking, and the aestetic ideal that became our new norm. Whenever we bask in the beauty of his tone, revere the probing, questioning power of his intellect, of simply wonder at the astonishing physical abilities throught all that he has archieved in his long recording career, we must also pause and say THANK YOU to this great artist, whose legacy, like a great and bright star lighting the way for those who follow in his passion for singing, is exemplary in every way.
Tall and elegant, with what some called "a military dignity", he was blessed with an impressive physical presence, which he used to his benefit in performance. His manners were infallible and he guarded his privacy carefully. His American publicist Herbert Breslin put it more crudely, claiming that the baritone “had an almost priestly attitude”.

As a side note - rather coincidentally, Herbert Breslin, who was Luciano Pavarotti's manager as well as publicist for Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, Renata Tebaldi, Joan Sutherland, Marilyn Horne, pianist Alicia de Larrocha and many others died yesterday at the age of 87.

Fischer-Dieskau's reserved demeanor was many times misinterpreted because when you first met him, he could seem cold and calculating. But when he opened up, many say he displayed a rich sense of humour and capacity for warm friendship. In a business filled with divas and divos, he had few personal enemies.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is survived by his fourth wife, Hungarian soprano Júlia Várady. He is also survived by three sons - Mathias (stage designer), Martin (conductor), and Manuel (cellist) - from his first marriage to cellist Irmgard Poppen who died in 1963 of complications following childbirth.

To honor the life of this most incredible baritone, I give you a performance of one of the pieces for which he was most known. Schubert's Der Erlkönig.

Schubert's Der Erlkönig is quite challenging dramatically because there are four separate characters – the narrator, father, son, and the Erlkönig. As the story goes, a young boy is being carried home at night by his father on horseback. The son seems to see and hear beings his father does not - the Erlkönig, who promises games, flowers on the beach and his daughters who will wait on the child hand-and-foot. The father reassuringly explains what the child sees – a wisp of fog, rustling leaves, shimmering willows. The child shrieks that he has been attacked. The father, horrified, rides faster and faster. Upon arriving home he recognizes that the boy is dead ... "In seinen Armen das Kind war tot."

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