For most of us, it is Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's singing voice that captured our interest and attention. And for those whose music listening takes place outside of Germany, opportunities to hear Fischer-Dieskau speak have been-- and remain-- few. Nevertheless, some recorded documents of Fischer-Dieskau as a speaker made their way to English-speaking countries as early as the 1960's, such as Fischer-Dieskau speaking Wilhelm Müller's prologue and epilogue to "Die schöne Müllerin" in his 1961 EMI recording of Schubert's song-cycle. (An earlier DG recording of Brahms' "Die schöne Magelone" in which Fischer-Dieskau spoke Tieck's accompanying narrative appeared in the USA without the spoken parts!)
For those interested in opera, DG's "Magic Flute" recording conducted by Karl Böhm provided the chance to hear Fischer-Dieskau speak Papageno's dialogue, and in the early 1970's, music listeners who bought DG's ambitious Schubert Edition with Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore got to hear Fischer-Dieskau speak Protobavera's text in the delightful little melodrama "Abschied von der Erde" (D.829).
In the years since Fischer-Dieskau's retirement from singing at the end of 1992, readings, narrations, interviews, lectures, and other kinds of commentary have been one focus of his activity. For example, since 1993, Fischer-Dieskau has frequently performed Richard Strauss's melodrama "Enoch Arden," which he recorded for DG in the mid-1960's, and has given readings on his own (E.T.A. Hoffmann, Thomas Mann) and with others, such as his performances of correspondence by Strauss and Hofmannsthal with Gert Westphal and of Brahms and Clara Schumann with actress Thekla-Carola Wied. In some cases, the readings have been coupled with musical performances. In 2001, for example, Fischer-Dieskau is scheduled to read from the letters of Leopold Mozart in a performance with Mozart songs sung by Julia Varady. Not surprisingly, the live performances have been confined to German-speaking countries, but musical performances, such as the speaking role in Schönberg's "Gurrelieder" have been heard in London. Next year (2001), Fischer-Dieskau will be performing the speaking role of Moses in Schönberg's "Moses und Aaron" in performances conducted by Kent Nagano.
Some of Fischer-Dieskau's speaking performances have been recorded, such as the reading from the correspondence of Goethe and Carl Friedrich Zelter with Gert Westphal (Litraton 1995) and the collection of Christmas poetry and stories released by Orfeo ("Nacht, heller als der Tag" 1994). My own favorite is the collection of music from the time of the Thirty Years War, accompanied by Fischer-Dieskau reading poems by Andreas Gryphius ("Die Herrlichkeit der Erden, Muss Rauch und Asche werden", Ars Musici 1997). There, more than in the other recordings, one can hear how wonderfully Fischer-Dieskau finds the music in Gryphius' words and projects it without assistance from any composer.
Although this is an aspect of Fischer-Dieskau's artistic activity that may be quite remote from the experience of most of his English-speaking admirers, it is important evidence of the intense involvement with words that may be sensed in all of his musical performances.
"His voice, in dialogue with actor Gert Westphal, transports the correspondence between Goethe and Zelter, between Richard Strauss and Hofmannsthal, between Nietzsche and Peter Gast, right into the present, so that it is worthwhile to listen." (Hans A. Neunzig)
"I am sure it would have been good for me if my father or mother, or one of my many aunts, had enjoyed reading out loud. But I was hardly ever the recipient of such a boon-- most likely because I myself was too preoccupied with reading out loud. I had a great yearning to exercise my own voice. And yet I cannot imagine anything more beneficial to a child than to hear good literature read aloud. When I was in the sixth grade, Dr. Mayer, our enterprising German teacher, made us read (unfortunately without acting) classic plays aloud, assigning us roles. It did not take very long for him to discover that I stood out among my fellow students who, stuttering mightily, robbed the reading of any illusion. Because I could read with expression, I was allowed to read the lead part in whatever play we were studying." (Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Reverberations)
"The reciter has to accomplish yet another cultural-historical
rescue action: He has to stand up for the word. In our present
cultural-historical situation reciting is irretrievably out of
place, and the reciter's smile is directed at just this hopelessness.
The artistÕs nature is full of a spirit of contradiction
and he gains self-irony from it. When he is finished and leaves
the stage or the podium, he is disturbed by his inaudible cry
of disappointment, which has a different tone every time; in
such moments nothing would ever make his voice that has just
become silent resound once more.
herausgegeben von: © Monika Wolf, 1999-2017
translations and compilations: © Celia A. Sgroi, January 2004