The Well-Tempered Ear

Classical music news: Famed German baritone Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau is dead at 86. Listen, be moved and leave a message.

May 19, 2012

By Jacob Stockinger

The classical music world is in mourning today.

Yesterday, on Friday, May 18, 2012, the famed German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (below, at 80 in his Berlin home) died at 86, just a few weeks short of his 87th birthday.

I don’t find much to say.

One thing is that I regret I never got to hear him in person. What a treat that would have been, since his ability to communicate the feeling and meaning of a song without cheap or melodramatic theatrics to an audience was unsurpassed.

I also want to say we are lucky to have had him with us as long as we did. He was notoriously heavy cigarette smoker, and an unrepentant one at that. He has been quoted as saying that his smoking added something intangible to his superb tonal quality. Well, may or maybe not. Who am I to argue with him?

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was really one of the vocalists who seemed to sing as naturally and effortlessly as the rest of us breathe and talk. You never heard audible breathing, his line is so seamless. Just listen to his flowing and uninterrupted phrasing. Below, he is singing Schubert’s “In Spring” with pianist Sviatoslav Richter in 1978.

And his diction was unsurpassed. Whether his diction came from his total devotion to the text, or the his devotion to the text arose from his unsurpassed diction, I can’t tell. It’s sort of a chicken-or-egg issue. But does it matter, really? Whatever he did and however he did it, it worked – for many, many decades. (Below is the young Fischer-Dieskau performing in the 1950s.)

Longevity was another part of his miracle. Fischer-Dieskau recorded the great repertoire standards of Schubert, Schumann, Brahms and Mahler  many times – entire cycles three or four times with different pianists and at different ages. His prolific career spanned 50 years and he produced hundreds of recordings in his lifetime.

It is a measure of his greatness how quickly condolences, tributes and testimonial sites sprouted up on the web and especially at YouTube.

So here are links to two of the sites with the news and factual accounts of his death:

Here is a link to a wonderfully candid interview the singer gave to The Guardian when he turned 80:

And here are links to YouTube videos that were put on the day Dietrich Fischer died and where you can leave comments — as well as herein the COMMENTS section of this blog. Tell us your favorite song he sang and what you liked most about his singing and what it was like to hear him live.

And here is Schubert’s entire song cycle “Winterreise” with Fischer-Dieskau and pianist Alfred Brendel. 

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