Transcendent Voice: Memories of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

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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.