Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, 1925-2012
May 18, 2012 1:41 PM   Subscribe

Baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau has died (NYTimes). “Providence gives to some singers a beautiful voice, to some musical artistry, to some (let us face it) neither, but to Fischer-Dieskau Providence has given both. The result is a miracle and that is just about all there is to be said about it.” (John Amis)

Selected work:
Brahms, Ein Deutsches Requiem, "III. Herr, lehre doch mich" and "VI. Denn wir haben hie keine bleibende Statt"
Bach, St. Matthew Passion, "Mache dich, mein Herze, rein"

And, of course, Schubert... "Mondnacht", "Ständchen", "Der Leiermann"
posted by Madamina (26 comments total) 10 users marked this as a favorite
posted by facetious at 1:47 PM on May 18, 2012


Also, Schumann
posted by BEE-EATING CAT-EATER at 1:51 PM on May 18, 2012

posted by kariebookish at 1:52 PM on May 18, 2012

He was forced to fight in the Nazi military starting in 1943. From the obit:
on May 5, 1945, just three days before the Allies accepted the German surrender, he was captured and imprisoned. It turned out to be musical opportunity: soon the Americans were sending him around to entertain other P.O.W.’s from the back of a truck. The problem was, they were so pleased with this arrangement that they kept him until June 1947. He was among the last Germans to be repatriated.
posted by John Cohen at 1:56 PM on May 18, 2012


Spent many hours listening to him in my college listening lab. Phenomenal voice.
posted by rouftop at 2:13 PM on May 18, 2012

His performances in the Richter, von Karajan, and Klemperer productions of the St. Matthew Passion are all still stunning decades after they were recorded. I know he was very prolific, but he is forever in my mind associated with that monumental work.

posted by hydropsyche at 2:16 PM on May 18, 2012

Fischer-Dieskau changed my life. I never really got the point of lieder until I started listening to his recordings. Even though he didn't have an always-reliable voice, technically, and sometimes could be on the overly sentimental side in his interpretations, those issues were irrelevant in light of the tremendous passion and intelligence he brought to the music and the lyrics.

If it hadn't been for Fischer-Dieskau, I would probably have become a mediocre mezzo-soprano. Because of him, I realized that my gift was not to be a singer, but instead to think about words and music and write about them.

He will be so missed.
posted by Sidhedevil at 2:33 PM on May 18, 2012 [7 favorites]

posted by Trurl at 2:45 PM on May 18, 2012

When I was employed at a university, I took a German class on a lark in order to improve my appreciation of music sung in German. His Book of Lieder, with its side-by-side German and English texts, was a favorite discovery of mine.
posted by matildaben at 3:12 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

His writings on Schubert lieder are essentially the gold standard, and this performance might give you an idea of why.
posted by sinnesloeschen at 3:27 PM on May 18, 2012 [1 favorite]

What a life, what a great singer. His rendition of those Schubert lieder is amazing. No less amazing is Gerald Moore's accompaniment. Most performances showcase the singer and relegate the piano to the background. Those two had such a keen mutual understanding. The interplay between voice and piano and their overall sense of what the lyrics want, what the music desires, makes those records transcendent.

Such musical sense, such an understanding of poetry, such a wonderful voice. How rare is any one of these? With his unimaginably perfect combination of all three, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was a gift to the music he loved, and we are blessed that he gave such a love to all of us.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 3:58 PM on May 18, 2012

...and now that I read the John Amis quote above, I'm a bit embarrassed to have been unconsciously parroting a much more famous opinion. I guess I'm a little proud too; after all, what I wrote is true, and Amis is no slouch.

In any case, rest in peace, Mr. Fischer-Dieskau, and thanks.
posted by Ice Cream Socialist at 4:06 PM on May 18, 2012

posted by Hairy Lobster at 4:11 PM on May 18, 2012

English translation of the words he's singing in the first link:
Lord, make me to know mine end, and the measure of my days, what it is: that I may know how frail I am.
(From this article with more Fischer-Dieskau videos.)
posted by John Cohen at 4:23 PM on May 18, 2012

> sometimes could be on the overly sentimental side in his interpretations,

Not always so much of a defect, maybe, considering the number of lieder that are about apple-cheeked maidens, birds on twigs, etc.

The most ear-opening Fischer-Dieskau performance I remember was his recording of songs by Berg, Schoenberg, and Webern. It was the first I ever heard (and lo these many years later still one of a very few) that made the Zweite Wiener Schule actually sound Viennese. Schlag isn't an Austrian word for nothing.
posted by jfuller at 4:32 PM on May 18, 2012

Oh yeah,


He had prodigious gifts, and he did not waste them.
posted by jfuller at 4:36 PM on May 18, 2012

posted by the_bone at 5:19 PM on May 18, 2012

posted by jann at 8:02 PM on May 18, 2012

posted by Schlimmbesserung at 10:10 PM on May 18, 2012

posted by cybercoitus interruptus at 10:16 PM on May 18, 2012

I've been waiting to get my thoughts in order to write about this. I never met Fischer-Dieskau, but I feel his loss in a strangely personal way.

He was the Papageno on the first Magic Flute recording I ever listened to, on cassette tape. I listened to that recording so often that I'm pretty sure he directly influenced how I sing German to this day. Later, when I began to study Lieder, his recordings were invaluable. I listened to many singers, but even when his version wasn't your favourite, it would never be uninteresting, and never ignorable. Listening to him is a masterclass in how to sing text.

He has been a profound influence on me throughout my life as a singer. I'm preparing Schubert's Winterreise right now-- a work he recorded many times-- and will be thinking of him.

Many of his renditions of the Winterreise are up on YouTube, including the entire cycle here(1962, recording with Gerald Moore) and here (1979, live performance with Alfred Brendel).

Individual songs:
Gute Nacht
Der Lindenbaum

Other songs that have been shredding me in the past 24 hours:

O du mein holder Abendstern, Wolfram's song to the Evening Star from Wagner's Tannhaüser. Wolfram has just seen the woman he unrequitedly loves walk offstage; he knows she is going to her death.

Du bist die Ruh, Schubert. Dodgy video sound quality, but I love this recording. Usually I like my Schubert without so much rubato, but he sings as though it could be done no other way. Oh Dietrich.

I will miss him. Gone though he is, I hope he will continue to inspire.
posted by Pallas Athena at 4:24 AM on May 19, 2012 [1 favorite]

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, in pictures

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: a guide in clips

I never really got the point of lieder until I started listening to his recordings.

Yep. The 1962 Die Schöne Mullerin with Gerald Moore did it for me - the depth and intensity, the diversity of sounds and moods. Such wonderful music. I'd always thought of myself as "not really a vocal/opera person" until I heard him sing those songs. The two of them opened up a new world of listening for me, and I'll always be in their debt.

posted by mediareport at 5:00 AM on May 19, 2012

I once saw Fischer-Dieskau live on stage, at the Royal Festival Hall; this was in 1989, late in his career (he retired in 1992), and musically it was a bit underwhelming, to be honest, but he still had great stage presence. I can't now remember what he sang, but I can still remember the way he stood there. (Funnily enough, just as I was writing this, I read Leo Carey's tribute, where he quotes a German soprano watching Fischer-Dieskau and gasping: 'Just the way he stands -- it's so honest'. I know exactly what she means.)

It may not have been an entirely unmixed blessing to have one singer dominating the lieder repertoire for so long and overshadowing a number of other very fine artists. But what he gave us was so glorious, one couldn't wish for any less of him.
posted by verstegan at 3:36 PM on May 19, 2012

I've always loved this performance of Der Abschied from Das Lied von der Erde. And now it's sadly appropriate (the farewell).
posted by mubba at 3:45 PM on May 19, 2012

I wonder if I'll ever hear a better lieder singer in my lifetime. I still seek out his performances when I go looking for something new to listen to. The choir in heaven has our best baritone now. I hope they enjoy it like we did.

posted by davismbagpiper at 6:36 PM on May 19, 2012

Sigh. To hear him singing Schubert's song-cycles was truly a revelatory experience. Godspeed.

posted by bardophile at 7:27 AM on May 20, 2012

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