YOU ARE A BARD!
Interview with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (© Hindemith-Forum, Hindemith-Foundation Frankfurt / Main)
You have produced an imposing number of recordings. What is it that fascinates you about working in the recording studio?
Studio work offers the possibility of analysing precisely what one is doing. The artist can experiment almost like a scientist in his laboratory. He is required, however, to observe sharply and listen attentively to what he has recorded. Disturbing elements can be cut out and less successful passages can be improved upon. Naturally such corrective possibilities are not available to the artist when on stage.
Are there recordings of you with which you no longer identify today; or of which you say "I would do it differently now?"
Yes indeed, there are quite a few. But I think hardly any of them are the way I would do them at the present moment. The relationship to the piece one interprets changes with every new confrontation. That is why I have recorded a great many works several times - up to nine times. I regret, too, not to have sung certain works, such as Verdi's Simon Boccanegra for example. I would like very much to have sung this impressive opera. Unfortunately I never got round to it.
Isn't it frustrating for a singer to have an instrument requiring so much care as does the human voice, an instrument that always has to be carefully protected?
I don't think that we singers are at a disadvantage, for we certainly cannot allow ourselves to practice as many hours as instrumentalists do. An instrumentalist must invest far more time in order to achieve what is expected of him.. We, in comparison, have more time für living. Of course a singer must take good care of his voice, not carelessly exposing it to cold weather.
After the war you studied with Hermann Weißenborn at the Berlin Music Academy. How were the conditions for studying back then?
The personal moment was far more pronounced then than it is today. The lesson was very strongly connected to personalities and those responsible endeavoured to win over reliable, timetested teachers. They talked about Hindemith as a possible director of the Academy after the war; unfortunately this never came about. One of his pupils, Paul Höffer, did act as a teacher for a short time. At this time music was of central importance, as well as its artistic presentation and interpretation. In my opinion, too many areas are brought together nowadays, individual quality gets the short straw.
You have repeatedly stated in interviews , what a strang impression Wilhelm Furtwängler made upon you, especially during the early 1950s. What was it that especially impressed you about him.
I notice that many, many young people, young conductors too, have an enormous tendency to "make him their own." But no one can imitate him. He is simply an absolutely unique phenomenon. What especially impressed me was his ability to enchant his audience and the orchestra before him, to virtually create an atmosphere full of tension, allowing one to experience each note of a huge arch, especially with Bruckner. His musical understanding was fulfilled with his sense of harmonious proportions. This is in marked contrast to his own compositions, which do not unfold in this great tension, despite the best efforts.
Do you remember encounters with Paul Hindemith and his music?
The first time I saw him was after the war, when he and his wife Gertrud travelled to Frankfurt and registered in a hotel, a lonely hotel between destroyed houses across from the main railway station. I saw him, would have approached him and spoken to him but was too shy. Shortly thereafter we met in Berlin when he performed his Requiem 'Für die, die wir lieben' (For Those We Love) in his own translation with the Berlin Philharmonic. I sang the solo parts together with the fabulous Ira Malaniuk. On this occasion he said to me, "You're not a singer at all, you're a bard!" It must not often have happened to him that someone tried to communicate the message of music and text in this war to a public. I have repeatedly performed and recorded the Requiem with different conductors, for example with Fritz Rieger in Munich, Artur Rother in Berlin and Wolfgang Sawallisch in Vienna.
What role did Hindemith play in post-war Germany amongst artists, and what role does he play todoy?
Formerly a much greater role than today! I can well remember how euphorically enthusiastic the cellist Enrico Mainardi was about Hindemith. He recorded the 1940 Cello Concerto a number of times and repeatedly performed it in concert. My very good friend, the pianist Hans Erich Riebensahm, - a splendid Beethoven player - often included Hindemith in his programmes. Sviatoslav Rich- ter, as is well known, played all of the piano sonatas and, shortly before his death, wanted to organise a Hindemith Festival of his own in Grange de Meslay near Tours to celebrate the composer's 100th birthday. He had engaged me as conductor tor Hindemith's Kammermusik No. 2 with himself at the piano, amongst other works. He also wanted to accompany my wife, Julia Varady, in Hindemith's 'Das Marienleben', Op. 27. Unfortunately he became ill and retired from the world completely, so this programme could not be realised.
Which works of Hindemith do you value in particular?
There are quite a few. Above all the early songs with piano accompaniment which have meanwhile -thank God! - been published. In earlier days when I first confronted these pieces, this was not yet the case. I received these lieder as copies of the manuscripts from the Hindemith Institute in Frankfurt. Soon afterwards I sang these demanding works in concert and also made a recording of them with Aribert Reimann as piano accompanist. Hindemith's uncanny choice of poets is most impressive here. They range from Novalis to Nietzsche and Walt Whitman. During the performances of the music I also sensed that the audience willingly followed this music and took notice of it with satisfaction. This surely has to do with the fact that one could recognise the contours of this music as well as its overall structure whilst listening to it. Also memorable are those pieces of Hindemith's that are built less along melodic lines than on the emphasis of rhythmic elements. One must also mention the early Kammermusiken with their wild gestures and motor rhythms. As a conductor I have organised several Hindemith concerts where the early ballet 'The Demon' was performed alongside individual Kammermusiken. Despite this music's wild, novel traits, one can sense that Hindemith is standing upon the shoulders of his forefathers.
Besides your commitment to Hindemith's songs, you also deserve credit tor the first complete recording of his opera 'Mathis der Maler'. What do you find fascinating about this opera?
We performed Mathis on stage under Richard Kraus in the mid-1950s long before making the recording. I fondly remember this impressive production with the first appearance of Pilar Lorengar, the marvellous Spanish soprano, meanwhile deceased. Performing this piece always gave me much joy. Music and text go together particularly well here, which is probably due to the fact that Hindemith wrote the libretto himself. Hans Pfitzner succeeded similarly in his opera Palestrina. The subject of these operas is fascin- ating: the creative artist, whether painter or musician, in conflict with his conscience and the demands of his environment. Hindemith "translates" the historical material into our own time in that he poses questions that apply to all artists' creativity. At the end of the confrontation remains the recognition that one must dedicate oneself with all one's energy to the artistic work to be realised. This atti- tude corresponds to my own conviction. HJW