Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was one of the true giants.
And not only in terms of his interpretations, but also quite literally: at 1.92 meters, the German was unrivalled in this respect as well. Artistically speaking, he was no less imposing.
Fischer-Dieskau was present on stage for over forty years, his repertoire encompassed around 3000 songs, and he made about 400 recordings. He was as successful with the “classics” from Schubert to Hugo Wolf as – unconcerned about possibly antagonizing audiences – the later contemporaries he championed like Paul Hindemith and Aribert Reimann. Fischer-Dieskau was also no stranger to the opera stage, though he never felt quite comfortable there – his was the world of the German lied. And in this world, his influence was certainly felt.
But what was so special about this artist, such that no one in the field of lied interpretation can ignore him? It can be said that “FiDi,” as the tall baritone was nicknamed, brought the words back into song. Glossing over the meaning of the words with bel canto and soulful vocal pathos were nothing for him – for Fischer-Dieskau, the text was center stage. A quality that was also frequently held against him: his thorough textual exegesis and highly emphasized articulation seemed exaggerated to some. But ultimately Fischer-Dieskau understood what he sang, and also wanted to enable the audience to understand it. In doing so, he set new standards.
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is born on May 25, 1925 in Berlin as the son of a classical philologist and a teacher.
1942 makes his debut with Schubert’s Winterreise in the Community Hall, Zehlendorf. The same year he becomes a pupil of Hermann Weissenborn at the Berlin Musikakademie.
1945 Fischer-Dieskau becomes an American prisoner of war. Over the following two years, and in spite of the difficult conditions, the young baritone learns the majority of his repertoire on his own.
1948 Fischer-Dieskau makes his opera debut at the Städtische Oper Berlin (today: Deutsche Oper Berlin), followed by his first recordings for RIAS with Schubert’s Winterreise.
1950 the baritone appears at Milan’s La Scala, one year later at the Salzburg Festival. 1952 appears on the Bayreuth Festival stage for the first time as Wolfram in Wagner’s Tannhäuser.
One of Fischer-Dieskau’s greatest stage successes was as Verdi’s Falstaff in Berlin in 1957. The Süddeutsche Zeitung speaks glowingly of his performance in an enthusiastic review.
Another highlight of his career is his involvement in the premiere of Benjamin Britten’s War Requiem during the consecration of the new cathedral in Coventry in 1962.
1983 appointed professor at the Berlin University of the Arts.
1992 Fischer-Dieskau ends his active career as a singer. He continues to give master classes, however, until his death – his pupils include such luminaries as Thomas Quasthoff and Christian Gerhaher.
On May 18, 2012, shortly before his eighty-seventh birthday, Fischer-Dieskau dies in Berg, Upper Bavaria.
Did you know?
In addition to singing, Fischer-Dieskau dedicated himself throughout his life to writing and painting. The baritone left behind around 5000 artworks – including portraits of Arnold Schoenberg and Ernst Krenek.
It is reported that Fischer-Dieskau did not recognize himself on recordings – he always heard the “fortes much too loud, the pianos much too soft,” summing up his own interpretation with the words: “Everything is exaggerated.”
The German giant was not without his appeal to women – he was married four times, and his last marriage to singer Júlia Várady lasted until his death in 2012.
The baritone was no stranger to audience enthusiasm – at his first lied recital in London’s packed Royal Festival Hall in 1954, the applause for the twenty-nine-year-old singer lasted a full half hour. The audience only relented when the lights were turned off in the hall.
At the tender age of six, the little Dietrich performed Carl Maria von Weber’s Der Freischütz as a puppet show in front of the record player. His first visit to the opera was to see Wagner’s Lohengrin – after this he resolved to become a “heroic tenor.”
For his Abitur (German A levels), Fischer-Dieskau failed miserably in the subject of gymnastics, but was able to compensate for this fiasco with his impeccable achievements in music. His words: “After all, singing is also gymnastics.”