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. 


  1. Fischer-Dieskau has always been a constant source of musical enrichment and motivation for me. His uncanny ability to make the impossible sound effortless is quite a gift. The way he was able to transend the musical performance process to a truly artistic experience will always be a goal and a mystery for me for a very long time.

    Comment by Robert Taylor — May 31, 2012 @ 1:14 pm

  2. […] Classical music news: Famed German baritone Dietrich Fisher-Dieskau is dead at 86. Listen, be moved … ( […]

    Pingback by Dietrich Fisher- Dieskau | a tube a day — May 22, 2012 @ 10:33 pm

  3. I heard him in Chicago at Orchestra Hall about 1972. It was an ambitious program that he handled with grace and ease. The audience loved him. He was still singing encores a full hour after the formal concert had concluded. In fact, he was still singing when we had to leave. What a gracious, generous artist .

    Comment by Ron McCrea — May 21, 2012 @ 7:46 pm

  4. He is unparalleled. He set the standard for the art of the song in the 20th / 21st century. Profoundly beautiful and prolific. He sang and recorded everything. I am blessed to have heard him live once in concert.

    Comment by Marius — May 19, 2012 @ 9:14 pm

  5. No one has commented on his uncanny identifiability. Many (many) years ago my college choral group sang the Faure Requiem, and I fell in love. I raced out to get a recording, and by sheer good luck bought the one with Fischer-Dieskau as baritone. When he entered on the Hostias, I had already heard him enough to ask myself “How do I know with such conviction who it is I’m hearing?” Other baritones had to eat their hearts out, knowing their listeners would say “He’s great, but he’s not Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau” For some listeners that might have been a lament, for some a compliment (though I can’t imagine why) but for all it was a certainty.

    Comment by Jim Holden — May 19, 2012 @ 6:53 pm

    • Dear Jim,
      Thank you for reading and replying
      You are completely right — Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was unmistakeable as a singer — for many reasons.
      And I also had that Faure Requiem with him — and I also loved it. I think Andre Cluytens was the conductor, and Victoria de Los Angeles was the soprano.
      I haven’t heard the recording in a long time, but I don’t think it has ever been surpassed for subtlety and sheer musicality. Such beauty!

      Comment by welltemperedear — May 20, 2012 @ 9:17 am

  6. The song that first sprang to mind was “Im wunderschoenen Monat Mai” from his 1956 recording of “Dichterliebe”. It’s still heartbreakingly beautiful to me, after carrying it around in my head for over 50 years.

    Comment by westmelrose — May 19, 2012 @ 11:27 am

    • Ann,
      I couldn’t agree with you more.
      It IS haunting and DOES stay with you.
      Ho owned that Schumann cycle “A Poet’s Loves” and so many more.
      What a heart-breaking irony that Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who made so many of us fall in love with singing, with lieder and with male voices, died in the wondrously beautiful month of May.
      Lucky for us, he left us so many wondrously beautiful memories to keep hold of him.

      Comment by welltemperedear — May 19, 2012 @ 12:22 pm

  7. Your article is right on. Heard Dietrich Fischer=Dieskau many times in Germany. He was
    exquisite. His singing humbled me, one of the concerts
    I never forget was DIE WINTERREISE. I was transfixed.

    Comment by Barbara DeMain — May 19, 2012 @ 9:49 am

    • Hi Barbara,
      Thank you for your kind words.
      And lucky, lucky you to have heard Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau so often in person.
      Even many professionals today seem like mere amateurs next to him.
      What a gift! What a legacy!

      Comment by welltemperedear — May 19, 2012 @ 12:24 pm

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