The April 2000 Diapason article on Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau by Andre Tubeuf.

Translation part one by John Sell, part two by Jeffrey Joel,remaining part by Laura McBurnie (members of the LIEDER-LIST).

 Part one

Few singers have marked the century to such a degree. For his 75th birthday, Deutsche Grammophon reissues recordings unavailable on CD. And Andre Tubeuf recalls the art and the journey of this exceptional interpreter.

"What does your dad do?" This question is (was)routine among schoolchildren of the period. Fischer-Dieskau's sons had be be unique: "Plattenspieler." While other fathers drove trains, theirs played records. These children, though, only saw the face emerging from the iceberg. When he wasn't at home, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau didn't play records: he recorded them.

A first attempt for Electrola, 78 rpm, with the quite forgotten Leo Stein at the piano, is an authentic artifact: two Loewe ballads, Die Uhr and Tom der Reimer, as Leo Slezak and Tauber could have done. From the barely-twenty-three-year-old boy who just gave his first Liederabend in Leipzig (preceded by other sorts of evenings in his prisoner-of-war camp in Italy), no declaration of intentions aimed at triumph, no pretension. Just a calling card. This one will like to tell a story; with only words he is going to paint a landscape, sustain characters. To capture our imagination, the other first disc, for DF, a 78 of course, is Brahms' Vier ernste Gesaenge. No pretention here either, but the acknowledgment, quite simple, of a disposition of soul that leans toward the serious, and designates the essential. The voice, one should know, is only an instrument in which the physical obeys the moral; the crater will open, if the depth is there. These are the serious (even black) songs that, fearless, but not unaware, this very young (twenty-five years old!) high (and almost, then, light) baritone was to audition in front of Furtwangler. He presented himself not in what flattered his voice, but in that which expressed him fully. Furtwangler contented himself with responding, "Thank you." Two shy people, one facing the other, would be doubly laconic. But the invitation came: Mahler's Fahrenden Geselle under the baton of the maestro at Salzburg, the summer of 1951, at twenty-six years of age!

Some people are ready, from birth, for everything that cannot be taught; Patti was like this, with respect to vocal production, breathing, tone. To sing, even to sing well, is for some an instinct. Beyond this, Fischer-Dieskau had this accuracy of aesthetic judgment, this rightness of taste, that almost dispenses with interpretation. To read would be enough, and to sing what one had read. One has from him, and published on CD, an entire Schwanengesang from 1948; he will record this cycle more than once, so particular in its composite, even hybrid, quality, but not to deepen, and above all not to search. Right away the words sound right and full, the line in nothing but the breath become sonorous. Without a doubt there was not a singer for whom at this point to sing was obvious. The clear depth of tone, the inexhaustible plasticity of the breath, the unimaginable ease of the tessitura, all this is only the instrument, absolutely docile to an intelligence that does not consist of looking for a meaning hidden behind the words, but to put itself in their service, to let them speak. To say that Fischer-Dieskau was the most natural of singers is to imply that he was (contrary to a widespread prejudice, especially in France) the least intellectual. To be intelligent was enough for him, and intelligible. In Lied, from the very beginning he was without limits, and, in a sense without progress. When HMV issued his first series of 78s in Lieder, a Schoene Muellerin and the Heine songs, and Beethoven's An die ferne Geliebte (1951), one said to oneself, thunderstruck, it is not possible to be accomplished in this way so young. It would require forty years before, even the manner of his voice and his breath, their physical seat finally decaying (not much before his seventy-five years) Fischer-Dieskau would change something in the interpretation. The values will shorten, the fullness of sound on each note will thin, or hollow. The simplicity, the intelligibility, even the liquid quality, from beginning to end, will have stayed the same, at once immediate and definitive.

But next to him, who does not vary, what a constellation of pianist partners! Almost infinitely different from one another, they oblige him each time to respond to their stimulation so that he is fully himself! We almost forget, they are such formidable pianists, Herta Klust, Gerald Moore, Hartmut Hoell, and even Joerg Demus, Karl Engel and Aribert Reimann, accompanists so habitual that one ends up believing that they were expected. But the others! In strict alphabetical order: Ashkenazy, Barenboim, Bernstein, Brendel, Britten, Eschenbach, Horowitz, Kempff (yes! Even Horowitz and Kempff, the first once, for Lieder of his own composition, the second for Dichterliebe, during the famous Concert of the Century in 1976), Perahia, Pollini, Richter, Sawallisch ... All embarked, with Fischer-Dieskau, in what was the essential adventure and undertaking of his life: the defense and illustration of the German Lied. To have Richter or Barenboim close by as one throws oneself into Die Schoene Magelone, a Brendel or a Perahia (or even, at Salzburg, Pollini) in the still, infinite whitenesses of Winterreise, this does not make the same Brahms or the same Schubert --simply in the two cases a Brahms and a Schubert equally (although differently) engaged, and accomplished. One will not exhaust oneself, frequenting all his inexhaustible life. Throughout the fifties, Fischer-Dieskau sang in public, and recorded the expected Schubert cycles; from this period date also Dichterliebe, An die ferne Geliebte, the first systematic Schubert recitals, around three-quarters of an hour each (the length of an LP), revealing among tens of others the jewels, unknown even to the initiates of 78s, such as Die Sterne, Alinde or Nachtviolen. The Wolf boxes made accessible--and, from the start, definitive--the Moerike-Lieder, the Goethe selections, Eichendorff ... The same canvassing, bulimic, certainly, but perfectly reasonable, calculated in its progression, of Schumann and Brahms, with Moore and Klust or Weissenborn on EMI, Demus and then Moore on DG. The sixties will complete with Cornelius, Loewe, Liszt, the gigantic complete Schubert, with Moore. Is it necessary to recall that at barely thirty-five, Fischer-Dieskau set a program, outside the repertory and almost beyond the public, a contemporary program dedicated to Fortner (the Hoelderlin), Reutter, Blacher and Reimann (the Celan); that he traveled beyond, into Faure (La Bonne Chanson), Debussy (the Villon settings) and Ravel (the Chansons Madecasses); that he canvassed (and in what company! Rampal or Nicolet on flute, Veyton at the harpsichord) material where certainly the baroques (who did not yet exist) did not go looking, through that pure taste for undertaking that is the only kind of curiosity that is truly noble. Rameau's Thetis and Clerambault's Orphee, up to the Tenebres of Couperin. All that material he put for us on disc, guaranteeing with his name, world
seal of musical and vocal quality, that to follow him in listening would be beautiful and would make us richer. The extraordinary thing is that so many texts that he only learned for purposes of recording them, and only sang once, with a view to the disc, would have this polish, this settled quality, simplified, reduced to speaking for themselves, as if they had been tried and reprised in public, ten and twenty times. And how many texts in the run-of-the-mill (there are some) works of Schubert, Brahms or even Wolf will inspire in us the brusque, noncommittal regret that one doesn't hear them in public often enough!

Part two

But then, was our Lieder-singer and record-player fully a singer of opera? Not often, it is true. And because of an essential shade of difference, which he himself expressed clearly, almost harshly. In recital he was on his terms, the only one to choose his program and to agree to his partners, while opera imposes concessions. From his debut in Berlin as Posa in "Don Carlo" in 1948 at Tietjens's request (a role made for his idealist's gaze, and the heroic fragility of his voice, to say nothing of the cantilena), he could have devoted himself to the stage and its consuming prestige, to burn himself up there and, above all, to compromise himself there. It would have been easy. He did nothing about it. The lied and concerts required enough of him. He accepted roles on recordings, in exemplary surroundings (like Kurvenal in Furtwaengler's "Tristan" or the Dutchman), that he would never have allowed himself to do in the theater. Nevertheless, as early as 1954 (the mystic abyss permits) he said yes to Bayreuth for Amfortas, then Wolfram, the Heerrufer (in "Lohengrin") and even Kothner. But he wisely refused the Count in the "Marriage of Figaro" for which Furtwaengler had wanted him in Salzburg as early as 1952. He didn't sing his first Count until 1956, for the Mozart year, when Oscar Fritz Schuh as director and Karl Boehm as conductor made chamber musicians out of marvelous and well-paired singers (there were Schwarzkopf and Seefried, Kunz and Ludwig). "Don Giovanni" to open the Berlin Opera with Fricsay in 1963, Don Alfonso somewhat later; Mandryka in "Arabella" durably, and passionately, with Della Casa first, then, 20 years later, with his beloved, the definitive Varady; but also in Strauss's hometown, in Munich to reopen the theater, a Barak in "Frau ohne Schatten" phenomenal for its line, its depth, its projection, its timbre (to say nothing of the marvelous eloquence of the words), followed a bit later by Jochanaan. Sachs, long dreamed of (one would like to say caressed), and prundently deferred, would come later, at the right time: but one should no longer remember much about his "Rheingold" Wotan for which he didn't refuse Karajan and where he knew how not to spoil himself. A few excursions into Verdi after the youthful Posas: a Macbeth in Salzburg (with Grace Bumbry) and, against the Visconti's rather jaded skepticism, a fabulous Falstaff. There were the two pieces of the "Trittico" in Munich under Sawallisch: Gianni Schicchi (incredibly funny with verve) and the "Tabarro" where the baritone and the soprano (Varady) fell in love. And Vienna has the recollection of some solitary Onegins (with Jurinac). Fischer-Dieskau certainly sang the repertoire: but under conditions that did not form a repertoire. He didn't amass dollars at the Met, not feeling himself at home there, and in surroundings where he felt at home, in Berlin and Munich, his home ports. His real work in opera was devoted to works that had been cast aside or were not well known, because of a lack of famous singers interested in them, and he revived and rehabilitated them: "Wozzeck" and "Lulu" by Berg, not well established at that time; Hindemith's "Cardillac"; Busoni's "Doktor Faust". His care and time, his artistic self-denial went out to these unloved works and to the creation of two of the absolute masterworks of the last half-century, Henze's "Elegy for Young Lovers" and Reimann's "Lear". In concert he was also the creator of two important oratorios of the period, two requiems, Britten's and Reimann's. Besides what is apparent, he was always prospecting and also always solicitous of partners who inspired him, to record Britten's "Blake Songs" with him, the "Michelangelo Suite" of Shostakovich with Ashkenazy, and finding the time (and the breath, and the memory, and the fervor) to reveal the essence of Messiaen's "Saint Francois" to Salzburg as far back as 1985--and in what French!

He was also a painter, writer (Nietzsche, Pauline Viardot were very good subjects for him, as well as Debussy), sometimes a conductor; he happily made his voice available for listening in very flowing readings. Nevertheless, without listing everything he did, his activity and his essential act remain the same. He inspires us to listen; he teaches us to listen. The "record-player" gives rise ever day to 10 or 100 new record-players, who bring hope to music and its youth reoriented and unmuffled.

Part three

DG's tribute

Treasures and rarities abound in the twenty records released by DG for Fischer-Dieskau's seventy-fifth birthday. Let us note primarily the hitherto unpublished on CD: an exceptional Schoeck group (here, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was a pioneer and a prophet), the programme with Engel (1977) completing a first with Margrit Weber (1958); "Kraemerspiegel"
(irresistible) and other lieder of Strauss with Demus (1964) and Engel (1960); Reger (Weissenborn, 1965) along with Pfitzner (Engel 1959, Demus 1972); the much-awaited return of Liszt (Demus, 1962) with the "Petrarque" fantasies, completed in 1982 with Barenboim. Let us mention the remarkable triad of Debussy (the Villons), Ravel (Madecasses, Grecques, Don Quichotte) of 1959 with Engel, Nicolet, and Irmgard Poppen along with Charles Ives (Ponti, 1975); finally the only tribute of DFD to performer/composers, Mahler (pending) at the forefront, Busoni, up to Busch, Bruno Walter and Kempff (the latter, let it be observed, already on CD in addition to his complete Beethoven). These margins of a repertoire, which is stunning as much for its diversity as for its reach, have been anticipated by the curious who will throw themselves into them with delight. Also hitherto unreleased on CD are some admirable lieder collections: Brahms with Demus (1957-1958) ; Schubert "Im Spiegel der
Antike" (Demus 1958-1961) ; particularly Schumann with the vocally untouchable Kerner (Weissenborn 1956: with "Dichterliebe", Demus 1965, an absolute must!). One presses less for the later "Winterreise" (Barenboim), the unpublished "Muellerin" (Demus), the "Schwanengesang" (Moore) and even the illustrious Wolf "Moerike" with Richter. In these
Fischer-Dieskau is not at his best and other of his readings are available. Bach (cantatas 1956 and 1982) with Buxtehude (unpublished on CD), the Mahler cycles with Kubelik and Boehm, these are again of the classical DFD.

Inevitably mixed, to our eyes, is a panorama of opera from Handel (superb group from Munich, 1977) through Gluck to Wagner, atypical to the widely varied complete works; and then still a French-Italian blend (with "Falstaff" and "Boheme", admittedly very juvenile, in German) where from Escamillo and Tell to "Forza"'s Carlo one casts one's net fairly wide. Item, a potpourri of sacred music, from Bach to Brahms. Further, inseparable from its package, the delicious (and familiar: Poppen on cello, and Nicolet, Engel) "volkslieder" of Haydn, Beethoven, and Weber. A monument? Certainly, if one considers how many complete Dietrich
Fischer-Dieskau collections are currently available. But we still have some regrets. We would have placed here the lieder of Meyerbeer, the "Jedermann" of 1963 directed by Frank Martin himself, the young "Magelone" and "Enoch Arden" where Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau acted as narrator, rather than blends of opera and oratorio, so little resembling to the spirit of a tribute which is not primarily addressed to the general public. What do you want? It's not our fault if Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau has made of us
curious record collectors!