Fischer-Dieskau´s talent for music was manifest at an early age. He took piano lessons and started to study singing in 1941 with Prof. Georg A. Walter. The following year he became a student of Prof. Hermann Weissenborn at the College of Music in Berlin. His first public appearance took place in 1942 at the church hall in Berlin-Zehlendorf, where he sang Schubert´s Winterreise with interruptions for air-raid warnings. After graduating from high school in 1943 he was called up for military service and spent the time until 1947 as a prisoner of war in Italy. There he continued with his singing studies on his own. He resumed his studies with Prof. Weissenborn during the years 1947-48.
His real career as a singer began in 1947 when, without prior rehearsal, he substituted for a soloist who had taken ill, in Brahms´ “Ein Deutsches Requiem” in Badenweiler. His official debut as a singer took place in the autumn of 1947 with a song recital in Leipzig, and shortly after that he made a successful appearance at the Titania Palace in Berlin. In the same year he made his first phonograph recording of “Winterreise”. In the autumn of 1948 he was engaged as a lyric baritone at the Städtische Oper in Berlin, where his first appearance, as Posa in Verdi´s opera “Don Carlos” under the baton of Ferenc Fricsay, aroused a great deal of public attention.
Then there were guest performances at the opera houses in Vienna and Munich, and from 1951 on also in England, Holland, Switzerland, France and Italy. The same year he sang for the first time at the Edinburgh Festival. Starting in 1954 Fischer-Dieskau was a frequent guest in Bayreuth, and from 1956 on in Salzburg (where he had made his debut already in 1954 in Mahler´s “Lieder eines fahrenden Gesellen”, with Wilhelm Furtwängler conducting). The critics praised time and again his exact and finely chiselled interpretations and the enormous wealth of nuances in his voice.
As an opera singer Fischer-Dieskau performed mainly at the Deutsche Oper in Berlin and at the Bayerische Staatsoper in Munich. He gave guest performances at Wiener Staatsoper in Vienna, Covent Garden in London, Staatsoper in Hamburg, the King´s Theatre in Edinburgh and also on a number of occasions in Japan. He toured the United States in 1955 and gave song recitals and concerts; his first appearance at Carnegie Hall in New York was in 1964. He gave his first song recital in Stockholm in 1959.
He did “pioneering work” for Hans Werner Henze, Winfried Zillig, Gottfried von Einem, Aribert Reimann and others. As “the best singer of lieder in the world” (Times), Fischer-Dieskau almost as a matter of course sang to a full house at every concert up until the end of 1992. He set lasting standards with the precision in his diction, in which the articulation of every word led to the equal importance of text and music. His efforts in the propagation of the mainly Romantic Lieder tradition were unbounded. As an interpreter of Schubert Fischer-Dieskau has, according to Joachim Kaiser (Süddeutsche Zeitung, 22 July 1991), really had only one single serious competitor, namely himself. Throughout the course of decades he has set higher standards, tried out new paths and interpreted undreamed-of human emotions.
Fischer-Dieskau has participated in over 200 recordings of complete operas; when it comes to lieder, the CD recordings are indeed legion.
Fischer-Dieskau has received various distinctions and honors ever since 1950. His latest awards include the title of honorary freeman of Berlin (2000) and “Premium Imperiale” in Japan (2002).
On 31 December 1992 Fischer-Dieskau brought to an end his public singing career of more than 45 years with a concert in Munich. In spite of this he is still active: a climax in his extensive work as a teacher was his master class at the Hugo Wolf Days in St. Paul, Austria, in July 2004, where all the Wolf-Mörike songs were studied and performed. In 2003 and 2004 he appeared as a conductor and reciter at the Salzburg Festivals, and in 2003 he finished writing his 15th book, a highly acclaimed biography of Hugo Wolf. Since 1960 he has also made time for “what I have always wanted to do”, and has attracted some attention as a pictorial artist; since 1980 his paintings have been displayed at more than twenty exhibitions.
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was born on 28 May 1925 in Berlin, the youngest of three sons. His father, a classical philologist with a doctor´s degree, worked as a principal in a school, and his mother was a teacher. One of his ancestors was chamberlain von Dieskau, for whom Bach composed his “Peasant Cantata” in 1742.
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau has since 1977 been married to the singer Julia Varady.
Author: Monika Wolf, September 2004
(translation Robert Carroll, Stockholm)