Transcendent Voice: Memories of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

Friday, May 18, 2012 - 09:33 AM

When I was a young singer, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was one of my idols. He had it all: the voice, the diction, the conviction behind both words and music, and the ability to communicate with an audience. Over and over, I listened to his recordings, marveling at how his presence jumped off the vinyl. And then, one day, a Pied Piper voice teacher led some of us on a trip to New York, and I got to hear him in person.

Sometimes the anticipation of seeing someone perform can lead to disappointment. But not Fischer-Dieskau. His performance was a revelation, and best of all, when our teacher took us backstage to meet him, he and his wife (the singer Julia Varady) were kind and respectful of our eager ambitions. A few years later, when Fischer-Dieskau gave a series of recitals at Carnegie Hall, my friend Joan (another huge fan) and I immediately signed on for all three. You know those life-changing musical experiences that you can count on the fingers of one hand?

It's been decades, but I still remember exactly what it felt like sitting in the dress circle, being enveloped by his artistry. And I will never forget the recital at which the audience called him back for encore after encore after encore, which he obliged for a while — until he finally strode out, looked all 2800 of us straight in the eye, and sang, "Adé!" (Goodbye!), the first word of Franz Schubert's song "Abschied" (Farewell).

I've always had a thing for Schubert's song cycle Winterreise, and have gone regularly to hear different singers interpret it. Many of them were good, but only one of them (Christa Ludwig!) did not make me want to go home and put on my Fischer-Dieskau recording. Never mind hard -- he was an impossible act to follow. Truly, a Meistersinger. Adé.

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Comments [7]

Rina from The Bronx

I've been listening to him singing all day long today (not on this station, though.)
It's awful that German songs are so rarely played now. I remember that in the early 90s you could still tune in to WNYC and hear songs by Schubert and Mahler. Not anymore. What a pity and what a great loss.

May. 21 2012 02:49 PM
Kenneth Bennett Lane, Lake Hiawatha, NJ from Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, Boonton, NJ

DIETRICH FISCHER-DIESKAU will be remembered as an artist whose art reflected the composer's intentions without artifice or exaggeration or undue resort to lacrymosity, gushiness, or prolongation of notes simply for displaying that ability. I have seen him in concert at what was known as Avery Fisher Hall at Lincoln Center in NYC and abroad where his following is like that of a rock star. Besides being the possessor of a voice of unique and warm textured timbre, he was a good musician and his dramatic instincts were not fostered with a desire for sensationalism. So, one may consider them authortive. RIP, DIETRICH, YOUR RECORDS WILL EXTOL YHOUR TALENT AND HOW YOU GAVE LIFE TO THE MASTERPIECES YOU SANG !!! I am a Wagnerian romantischer heldentenor, the director of the Richard Wagner Music Drama Institute, where all the roles of Wagner and Shakespeare are coached, and an opera composer of “Shakespeare” and “The Political Shakespeare." I have sung, and commercially recorded LIVE for Valhalla Records CDs four main hall, Isaac Stern Auditorium, solo concerts, three of them three hours long. I well remember the George Jellinek interview program with DIETRICH when it was originally broadcast with those iconic recordings. George Jellinek's programs with the interviews and the commentaries on recordings should be repeated for this era's ears and be available as a valued resource to artists and the general public. Jellinek's cornucopia of interviews and recordings upon which he commented should be archived in such a manner as to be accessible to students, artists and the general public.

May. 19 2012 10:44 AM
Steve from Belgium

Dietrich fisher-dieskau was always a bit special, once you bought an album you wanted one more and after a while you have a large collection. German singers always have something special, it's usually very high quality and when you get them on the Deutsche Grammophon label there even better.
Luckely Deutsche Grammophon, Decca, Philips and EMI have released a large quantity of their pre-stereo collection so everyone can enjoy them.

May. 19 2012 04:30 AM
judy kameny

Ms. Lewin,

You write almost the exact same thing that I posted to my Facebook page this afternoon, including the very same excerpt from Schwanengesang and bidding him "ade." One evening back in the 70s, my mother asked if I wanted to see if I could get a last-minute ticket to Carnegie Hall, where she was hearing Fischer-Dieskau. I had never even heard of him at the time (!!!), and amazingly I managed to get a ticket in the center of the 7th row from someone whose friend hadn't shown up. I remember sitting there at the end of the concert, absolutely dumbstruck. It is no exaggeration to say that it changed my life. I became a musician because of his inspiration.

I also went to those three concerts! You were fortunate enough to meet him, which I had always hoped to do. Alas, it was not to be. At the time, Carnegie Hall was truly a fortress and getting backstage after a concert was virtually impossible.

When my son was a baby, I remember him singing Schubert songs, imitating FD from a CD I played for him - quite comical to hear coming from the crib! I actually sent a copy to Herr FD.

There will never be another one like him, and how lucky I am to have found inspiration like that in my life.

May. 19 2012 12:15 AM
Susan Protter from New York City

When I graudated from College, I went to Europe by student boat. I met four people who were going to Bayreuth for Master Classes and invited me to come up for a week before the season. I was delighted. Once there, we would sneak into rehearsals and sit in a box so that nobody could see us. We were the only ones in the house.One day for a rehearsal of Tannheuser a very dapper gentlemean came on stage and began to sing. I was so startled by the quality of his voice that started to ask a question. My friend put his hand over my mouth to shut me up and whispered that is Fisher-Dieskau. It was a magical moment and one I have never forgotten.

May. 18 2012 09:52 PM
Kurt Blaihut from TRAIL B.C. Canada

The first recordings of Dietrich Fischer-Diskeaus' recordings I collected were the great Schubert song cycles and I have played them ever since as they are incomparable-especially those with Gerald Moore. I also cherished his operatic portrayals of Rigoletto,Iago,Posa,Wozzeck and King Lear. He was a glorious and sensitive artist who will never be replaced.

May. 18 2012 05:49 PM
Betsy C. Close from Durham, NC

From the first time I heard his voice as a singing student at Juilliard, he has been my hero. I have heard him in person, read his books, seen videos of his interviews through all the years. He and I were both born in 1925 and both were shaped by WW II. He was a great artist, a gentle and intelligent man of taste.

At age 86 I am losing my loved ones all the time now. This news grieves me as deeply as a loss of one of my family. I am so thankful for all the beauty and joy Dieter brought to my life through all these years, and will treasure my recordings of his voice. My sincere sympathy to his family.

May. 18 2012 03:00 PM

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