Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (28 May 1925 – 18 May 2012) was a German lyric baritone and conductor of classical music, one of the most famous Lieder (art song) performers of the post-war period, described as "one of the supreme vocal artists of the 20th century" and "the most influential singer of the 20th Century". 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." At his peak, he was greatly admired for his interpretive insights and exceptional control of his beautiful voice. Fischer-Dieskau also performed and recorded a great many operatic roles. He was the most recorded singer of all time. He dominated both the opera and concert platform for over thirty years.
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.
He was most admired, though, as a singer of Schubert Lieder, particularly the cycle Winterreise. His recordings of Winterreise with accompanist Gerald Moore and Jörg Demus are still critically acclaimed half a century after their release.
Early years 
Albert Dietrich Fischer was born in 1925 in Berlin to Albert Fischer, a school principal, and Theodora (Dora) née Klingelhoffer, a teacher. In 1934, his father added the hyphenated "Dieskau" to the family name (through his mother, he was descended from the Kammerherr von Dieskau, for whom Johann Sebastian Bach wrote the "Peasant Cantata"). 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, tending horses on the Russian Front, 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. He had an infirm brother who was sent to an institution by the Nazi regime and starved to death. His family home was also destroyed during the war.
Singing career 
In 1947, Fischer-Dieskau 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. He appeared in Frederick Delius's A Mass of Life, conducted by Sir Thomas Beecham. 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 an interval. Both American recitals were accompanied by 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 31 January 1952 at the Kingsway Hall, London in the Mysore Concerts of the Philharmonia Concert Society. 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, Othmar Schoeck, 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.
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. 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. 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." 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.
Few artists achieve 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 perception and processes of how recordings could be made, explored the possibilities of modern recording and exploited the potential for the popularity of classical music - and all this while setting standards of artistic achievement, integrity, risk-taking, and of the aesthetic ideal that became our new norm. Whenever we bask in the beauty of his tone, revere the probing, questioning power of his intellect, or simply wonder at the astonishing physical abilities throughout all that he has achieved 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.—Thomas Hampson, May 2012, Hall of Fame, Gramophone Magazine.
- Léonie Sonning Music Prize 1975
- Ernst von Siemens Music Prize 1980
- Polar Music Prize 2005
- Gramophone Hall of Fame entrant 2012
Personal life 
In 1949, Fischer-Dieskau married the cellist Irmgard Poppen. Together they had three sons: Mathias (a stage designer), Martin (a conductor), and Manuel (a 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. In 1977 he married the soprano Júlia Várady.
Fischer-Dieskau apparently was smoking during a long period of his career. In an interview with "B.Z.-News aus Berlin" of 2002 he stated (in German): "I've quit smoking already 20 years ago. I was smoking for 35 years, and then stopped from one day to another."
Partial discography 
As singer 
Fischer-Dieskau recorded mainly on the labels EMI, DG and Orfeo.
- Bach, 75 Cantatas, with Karl Richter on the Polygram label
- Bach, Jesus and bass parts in the Passions under a wide host of conductors, e.g. Herbert von Karajan, Otto Klemperer, Wilhelm Furtwängler, Fritz Lehmann, and Karl Richter
- Bartók, Bluebeard's Castle, with Ferenc Fricsay
- Bartók, Bluebeard's Castle, with Wolfgang Sawallisch
- Beethoven, Fidelio, with Fricsay
- Beethoven, Fidelio, with Leonard Bernstein
- Alban Berg, Wozzeck, with Karl Böhm
- Alban Berg, Lulu, with Karl Böhm
- Brahms, Ein Deutsches Requiem, with Rudolf Kempe
- Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, with Otto Klemperer and the Philharmonia Orchestra on the Angel label
- Brahms, Ein deutsches Requiem, with Otto Klemperer, the Philharmonia Orchestra and Elisabeth Schwarzkopf on the EMI label 1961 recorded at Kingsway Hall in March 1961
- Brahms, Liebeslieder Walzer on the Deutsche Grammophon label
- Brahms, Vier ernste Gesänge, lieder, with Jörg Demus, piano on the Deutsche Grammophon label
- Britten, War Requiem, Benjamin Britten conducting, with Galina Vishnevskaya and Sir Peter Pears
- Busoni, Doktor Faust, conductor Ferdinand Leitner
- Cimarosa, The Secret Marriage, with Daniel Barenboim
- Debussy, Mélodies, with Hartmut Höll, piano, recorded 1988 for Claves Records, available in 2006 on Brilliant Classics
- Fauré, Requiem, Op. 48 under André Cluytens on EMI
- Gluck, Orfeo ed Euridice with Karl Richter
- Gluck, Iphigenie in Aulis with Artur Rother
- Gluck, Iphigenie in Aulis with Kurt Eichhorn and Anna Moffo
- Haydn, The Creation, with Herbert von Karajan
- Henze, Elegie für junge Liebende, with Martha Mödl, the composer conducting
- Paul Hindemith, Cardillac, with Josef Keilberth
- Paul Hindemith, Mathis der Maler, with Rafael Kubelík
- Paul Hindemith, When lilacs last in the dooryard bloom'd (Requiem "for those we love"), with Wolfgang Sawallisch
- Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde, with Leonard Bernstein and the Vienna Philharmonic
- Mahler, Lieder, with Daniel Barenboim, piano, on the EMI label
- Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Des Knaben Wunderhorn, with Daniel Barenboim, piano, on the Sony label
- Mahler, Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen and Kindertotenlieder with orchestra, with Wilhelm Furtwängler and Rudolf Kempe, on the EMI label
- Mahler, Kindertotenlieder, with Karl Böhm
- Mahler, Rückert-Lieder, on the Deutsche Grammophon label
- Felix Mendelssohn, Lieder, with Hartmut Höll, piano, recorded 1989 and 1991 for Claves Records, available in 2006 on Brilliant Classics
- Mozart and Haydn Discoveries, with Reinhard Peters and the Vienna Haydn Orchestra on the Decca label
- Mozart, The Magic Flute with Ferenc Fricsay
- Mozart, The Magic Flute, with Karl Böhm
- Mozart, The Magic Flute, with Georg Solti (as the Sprecher)
- Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro, with Karl Böhm
- Mozart, The Marriage of Figaro, with Ferenc Fricsay
- Mozart, Don Giovanni, with Ferenc Fricsay
- Mozart, Don Giovanni, with Karl Böhm
- Mozart, Così fan tutte, at least two different recordings are available, one starring Gundula Janowitz as Fiordiligi; the other starring Irmgard Seefried, both conducted by Karl Böhm.
- Mozart, Requiem, with Daniel Barenboim
- Offenbach, Les contes d'Hoffmann, as Lindorf/Coppelius/Miracle/Dapertutto on the EMI label
- Orff, Carmina Burana, with Eugen Jochum and the Chor und Orchester der Deutschen Oper Berlin on the Deutsche Grammophon label
- Puccini, Tosca, with Birgit Nilsson, as well as excerpts in German with Anja Silja, on Decca Records
- Reger, Hebbel Requiem with the Philharmoniker Hamburg and Gerd Albrecht
- Reimann, Lear, with the Bavarian State Orchestra on the Polygram label
- Schoeck, Lebendig begraben, with Radio-Symphonie-Orchester Berlin, on the Deutsche Grammophon label
- Schoeck, Notturno, five movements für voice and string quartet, on EMI Classics
- Schoeck, Lieder, with Margrit Weber (piano) and Karl Engel (piano), on the Deutsche Grammophon label
- Schubert, Deutsche Messe, with Wolfgang Sawallisch and the Orchester des Bayerischen Rundfunks on the Capitol label
- Schubert, Winterreise, with Gerald Moore, piano, on the Deutsche Grammophon label
- Schubert, Winterreise, with Daniel Barenboim, piano, on the Deutsche Grammophon label
- Schubert, Die Winterreise, with Jörg Demus, piano, on the Deutsche Grammophon label
- Schubert, Die schöne Müllerin, with Gerald Moore, piano, on the Angel label
- Schubert, Lieder, with Gerald Moore, piano on the Deutsche Grammophon label
- Schubert, Lieder, with Sviatoslav Richter, piano on the Deutsche Grammophon label
- Schubert, Missa Solemnis and Masses in C major and E flat major, with Wolfgang Sawallisch and the Bavarian Radio Symphony Orchestra on the EMI label
- Schubert, Schwanengesang, with Gerald Moore, piano on the EMI label
- Schubert, Lieder, with Hartmut Höll, piano, recorded 1987 for Claves Records, available in 2006 on Brilliant Classics
- Schumann, Dichterliebe, Liederkreis, and the complete lieder for male voice, with Christoph Eschenbach, piano, on the Deutsche Grammophon label
- Schumann, Liederkreis, with Gerald Moore, piano, on the EMI label
- Schütz St Matthew Passion SWV 479. Berlin Hugo-Distler Chor, dir. Klaus Fischer-Dieskau Archiv LP 1961
- Shostakovich, Suite on Verses of Michelangelo Buonarroti and Four Verses of Captain Lebyadkin, with Vladimir Ashkenazy and the Radio Symphony Orchestra Berlin on the Polygram label
- Shostakovich, Symphony No. 14 with Bernard Haitink and the Concertgebouw Orchestra on the Decca label
- Richard Strauss, Elektra, with Karl Böhm
- Strauss, Arabella, with Wolfgang Sawallisch
- Strauss, Die Frau ohne Schatten, with Joseph Keilberth (Deutsche Grammophon; re-released on Brilliant Classics)
- Strauss, Salome, with Karl Böhm
- Strauss, Der Rosenkavalier, with Karl Böhm
- Strauss, Ariadne auf Naxos, with Kurt Masur
- Strauss, Capriccio, with Wolfgang Sawallisch
- Johann Strauss, Die Fledermaus, with Willi Boskovsky
- Verdi, Un ballo in maschera (in German), with Fritz Busch
- Verdi, La traviata, with Lorin Maazel
- Verdi, Otello
- Verdi, Falstaff, with Leonard Bernstein
- Verdi, Macbeth, with Elena Souliotis
- Verdi, Rigoletto with Renata Scotto, Carlo Bergonzi, Rafael Kubelík and the La Scala Orchestra on the Deutsche Grammophon label
- Verdi, Don Carlos, in German, with Ferenc Fricsay and Josef Greindl, 1948 (his operatic debut)
- Verdi, Don Carlos, in Italian, with Georg Solti
- Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, as Hans Sachs, with Eugen Jochum and the Berliner Staatsopernorchester on the Deutsche Grammophon label
- Wagner, Die Meistersinger von Nürnberg, as Fritz Kothner the baker, with Andre Clutyens, at Bayreuth, 1956
- Wagner, Lohengrin with Rudolf Kempe (EMI), as Friedrich von Telramund
- Wagner, Lohengrin, with Eugen Jochum (Conductor), Bayreuth Festival Orchestra, 1954, as the Heerrufer
- Wagner, Lohengrin, with Georg Solti, Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra, as the Heerrufer (Decca)
- Wagner, The Flying Dutchman, with Franz Konwitschny (EMI)
- Wagner, Tannhäuser, with Franz Konwitschny (EMI)
- Wagner, Das Rheingold, with Herbert von Karajan (DG)
- Wagner, Götterdämmerung, with Georg Solti and the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra on the Decca label
- Wagner, Tristan und Isolde, with Wilhelm Furtwängler
- Wagner, Tristan und Isolde, with Carlos Kleiber
- Wagner, Parsifal, with Hans Knappertsbusch (live at Bayreuth, 1956, CD manufactured by Arkadia)
- Wagner, Parsifal, in studio with Georg Solti
- Weber, Lieder, with Hartmut Höll, piano, recorded 1991 for Claves Records, available in 2006 on Brilliant Classics
- Wolf, Frühe Lieder, with Hartmut Höll, piano, recorded 1986 for Claves Records, available in 2006 on Brilliant Classics
- Zemlinsky, Lyrische Symphonie, with Lorin Maazel
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.
- Mozart, Die Zauberflöte (1971) Hamburg Philharmonic State Orchestra and Chorus of Hamburg State Opera, conducted by Horst Stein, directed by Sir Peter Ustinov. Fischer-Dieskau in a cameo non-singing role as the Speaker, with Hans Sotin as Sarastro, Nicolai Gedda as Tamino, Cristina Deutekom as Queen of the Night, Edith Mathis as Pamina, William Workman as Papageno. A DVD from Arthaus Musik GmbH, Leipzig.
As conductor 
- Berlioz, Harold in Italy with violist Josef Suk and the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra on the Supraphon label
- Brahms, Symphony No. 4, with the Czech Philharmonic Orchestra on the Supraphon label
- Mahler, Das Lied von der Erde with the Radio-Sinfonieorchester Stuttgart on the Orfeo label
- Schubert, Symphonies #5 and 8 "Unfinished," with the New Philharmonia Orchestra on the EMI label
- Richard Strauss, Arias from Salome, Ariadne auf Naxos, Die Liebe der Danae, and Capriccio, with Júlia Várady and the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra on the Orfeo label
- Richard Wagner, Wesendonck Lieder with Júlia Várady, Deutschland-Sinfonie-Orchester, Orfeo
- Sänger Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau gestorben Der Tagesspiegel 18 May 2012
- Ted Libbey. The NPR Listener's Encyclopedia of Classical Music New York: Workman Publishing, 2006
- The Guardian, May 2005
- Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: the Baritone of Our Age by Richard Wigmore 6 June 2007
- Inc. Marquis Who's Who. Who's Who in the World: Marquis Who's Who., 2004
- Matthew Boyden. The Rough Guide to Opera 3rd Edition London: Rough Guides Ltd., 2002
- BBC obituary
- Gramophone, on Fischer-Dieskau and Winterreise
- "Lyrical and Powerful Baritone, and the Master of the Art Song". New York Times. : May 18, 2012.
- Daniel Lewis (May 18, 2012). "Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Lyrical and Powerful Baritone, Dies at 86". The New York Times.
- Liner notes to Portrait of Dietriech [sic] Fischer-Dieskau, HMV, released by World Record Club
- Concert Programme, 31 Jan 1952.
- "Einem, Gottfried von: An die Nachgeborenen". Boosey & Hawkes. Retrieved 2010-06-29.
- Greg Sandow. "21 Sides of Fischer-Dieskau" Opera News November 2000
- "Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (baritone)". Gramophone. Retrieved 11 April 2012.
- Zöllner, Michael. "Sehr geehrt: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau". BZ online. B.Z. Ullstein GmbH. Retrieved 30 December 2012.
- "Sänger Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau gestorben". ORF.at. 18 May 2012. Retrieved 18 May 2012. (German)
- 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)
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