Top Ear

In Memoriam: Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925-2012)

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Leonard Ip writes

“OH MY LORD!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!
FISCHER-DIESKAU HAS JUST DIED TODAY!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!”

It was in the evening of 18th May, 2012, and this was exactly what appeared on my Facebook chat.

Half of my body turned cold. Immediately I went for a check on the internet: there were news from BBC and The Guardian. The obituaries weren’t out yet, but there was no question a star has fallen. The most beautiful voice on the world has left us, at last! The baritone has retired for almost ten years and has long ceased concertizing, but without him the musical world just isn’t same anymore. This is what legendary artists of the last generation casted upon the world. It is the last, magnificent afterglow of the 20th century that Fischer-Dieskau’s death brought away.

I am in no position to go into Fischer-Dieskau’s art, not least because so much already has been written about him. Listening to his unforgettable recordings, though, my grief seems to be loosening its grip. There is nothing but an incomparable sense of communication in Fischer-Dieskau’s voice – it reaches directly to your soul, speaks to it, and makes you resonate with the stories it tells. Schubert and Schumann were the composers whose lieders he gave perhaps the greatest performances to, but his Mahler is something that grows on me. Away from the complex and often self-contradictory world of the symphonies, Mahler’s lieders are the composer’s purest expression of personal sentiment, and every word Fischer-Dieskau utters is real and moving. No one but Fischer-Dieskau projects such a forlorn mood in the last lines of Die zwei blauen Augen (Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen) that so subtly foreshadows what was to come in Der Abschied, written almost twenty years later. The overwhelming pathos in the line ‘O du, des Vaters Zelle‘ in Wenn dein Mutterlein (Kindertotenlieder) is hardly ever delivered more directly and heartbreakingly. Find me another Von der Schonheit (Das Lied von der Erde) that is sung with such vividness and vivacity and I shall have my head peeled off.

Two years ago I scribbled in my notes some thoughts on Das Lied, and Fischer-Dieskau’s (1966, with Bernstein, King and VPO) was one of the recordings that then I listened to. I’ve never thought it would one day be the best way I can find to bid farewell to my beloved singer. This was what I wrote: “[…] marching through the most despairing interlude in C minor, the Farewell (Der Abschied) yet again arrives calmly at the major theme – a transitory F major. As if slowly pushing open a door, a prolonged E that grows into almsot unbearable intensity gives way to the C major closing……”

…… Yes, yes! Fischer-Dieskau’s voice takes off like a swan against the infinite blue sky: The beloved earth all over everywhere, blossoms forth in spring and greens up anew! I have no regrets leaving this world’s beauty, only that I shall never see its eternal renewal again!

New York Times quoted British critic John Amis in their obituary,

Providence gives to some singers a beautiful voice, to some musical artistry, to some (let us face it) neither, but to Fischer-Dieskau Providence has given both. The result is a miracle, and that is just about all there is to be said about it. […] Having used a few superlatives and described the program, there is nothing else to do but write ‘finis,’ go home, and thank one’s stars for having had the good luck to be present.

There are moments (rare ones) that art tells the human being: be thankful living. Then we know we owe this to the person who gave us his all.


Alex Ross brought up the thought. He was referring to Martin Kettle’s ‘quietly heartbreaking’ interview with the late Fischer-Dieskau, in which the great singer ‘fears that even he is being forgotten, slowly and inexorably.’ Ross says simply, ‘He will not.’

If there is only one piece of evidence it will be this one.

Is he, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, lost to the world? Bernstein has the last word:

But in letting go, we have gained everything.

Gute Nacht, maestro.

Author: Top Ear

Musical hooligans.

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