Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau remains one of the 20th century's greatest singers. His exceptionally long-lived career spanned 50 years and embraced a remarkably full and wide-ranging repertoire. He believed in taking the same intellectual and vocal approach to both opera and lied, which may account for his phenomenal success in both fields.
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau began singing lessons at the age of 16, at the height of the Second World War. It wasn't long before his outstanding baritone voice drew praise and he began studying under Hermann Weissenborn at the Musikhochschule in Berlin. The war, however, caught up with him. He was mobilised into the German army in 1943 and taken prisoner in Italy in 1945. He gave his first recital in captivity. On his liberation in 1947, he resumed his studies with Weissenborn and gave his first real recitals. He made his opera debut at the Berlin Opera House in the role of the Marquis of Posa in Verdi's Don Carlos. In 1949, he made the first of a series of decisive acquaintances in the person of Wilhelm Fürtwangler, who became almost a father figure for him. In the 1950s, his career took off. He made his debut at the Salzburg Festival under Fürtwangler in Mahler's Lieder eines fahrendes Gesellen, followed by the Edinburgh Festival, the Bayreuth Festival and performances in the United States. He met Karl Böhm and became his preferred singer. He was present for the reopening of the National Theater in Munich in 1963, in Die Frau ohne Schatten by Strauss. In 1965, he made his debut at Covent Garden in London in Arabella by Strauss. He also gave a series of recitals with Sviatoslav Richter. In the course of his career, he was accompanied by nearly 70 pianists! He referred to the three best-known of them as follows: Sviatoslav Richter "the most extreme", Gerald Moore "the most accomplished", Daniel Barenboim "the most intimate". But he also worked with Leonard Bernstein, Jorg Demus, Alfred Brendel and Murray Perahia. He performed under the baton of the greatest conductors, including Ferenc Fricsay, Herbert von Karajan, Otto Klemperer, Rudolf Kempe, Eugen Jochum, Georg Solti, George Szell, Rafael Kubelík and Karl Richter.
In 1971, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was the first German musician to perform in Israel. Two years later, he began a career as conductor, leading the Camerata Academica Salzburg, the Scottish National Opera and the English Chamber Orchestra. Then, in 1974, he took over at the head of the Los Angeles Philharmonic Orchestra and the Israel Philharmonic Orchestra. In 1981, he took part in a gala concert for the 200th anniversary of the Leipzig Gewandhaus. In 1983, he took the lead role in a concert version of Messiaen's Saint François d'Assise in Salzburg. In the educational field, he taught at the Hochschule der Künste in Berlin from 1983 and subsequently gave singing lessons in Como, Lübeck and Feldkirch. He retired from the stage in 1992. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is the singer with the longest list of recordings to his credit. He began at Berlin Radio in 1947 with Schubert's Winterreise. He cut his first record in 1949 for Deutsche Grammophon in the Vier ernste Gesänge by Brahms. In 1969, he completed a monumental recording of the complete Schubert lieder (with the exception of those he considered written exclusively for a woman's voice), which he followed up with those of Brahms, Liszt, Schumann and Wolf. An ardent champion of contemporary German music, he was involved in numerous first performances, including Elegie für junge Liebende (1961) and Das Floss der Medusa (1968) by Werner Henze, the Requiem (1982), Lear-Fragmente (1980) and Shine and Dark (1991) by Aribert Reimann, Umsungen (1984) by Wolfgang Rihm, Der Die Gesäng Zerschlug (1985) by Peter Ruzicka and Nachtlieder (1988) by Siegfried Matthus. His repertoire also included foreign composers and he took part in the first performance of Britten's A War Requiem (1965) and Songs and Proverbs of William Blake (1965). He has written extensively about singing, about the lied in general and Schubert's lieder in particular. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau married three times: Irmgard Poppen in 1949, Ruth Leuwerick n 1965 and Julia Varady in 1977.
Six landmark dates in the life of Dietrich Fischer Dieskau:
1949: met Furtwängler
1969: finished recording virtually the complete Schubert lieder
1973: began a career as conductor
1977: married Julia Varady
1983: concert version of Messiaen's Saint François d'Assise in Salzburg
1992: retired from the stage
Biography compiled from Radio France documentation, June 2017