The tenor pays tribute to the legendary baritone, who died on Friday aged 86
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was a titanic figure and a mirror of his age. Hearing of his death today at the age of 86 it was the singing I thought of, of course, and the little of it I managed to hear live. Recitals on the Southbank in the 80s – a Meeresstille (Becalmed at Sea) of Schubert, so whispered that every member of the audience leant imperceptibly forward to catch the thread of sound he so miraculously spun. The most terrifying Erlkönig I have ever heard or, indeed, seen. A War Requiem that called to mind the circumstances of its premiere in Coventry when he struggled with the weight of his memories at the end of the piece, barely able to move.
He lived the 20th century in all its bleakness – a brother murdered by the Nazis, his first Winterreise performed as an American prisoner of war in Italy. His singing of the whole body of German song – from Mozart to Henze via his touchstone, Schubert – showed the world a new Germany, as significant in its way as the Wirtschaftswunder. He was profiled several times in Time magazine ("by all odds the world's finest lieder singer") and was one of the first German artists to sing in Israel. Personal memories abound, and his affectionate warmth will linger with me, he was never the grandee. But so too will the recordings I listened to again and again as a teenager, and still listen to today.
He was a great opera singer of course – a brilliant but atypical Iago, a seminal Wozzeck, never routine, ever surprising. He inspired a wealth of new music – Auden's monstrous creation, Mittenhofer, in Henze's Elegy for Young Lovers, Reimann's King Lear.
But now I have in my mind's ear Goethe's magical - but almost untranslatable - poem Grenzen der Menschheit, set to music by Hugo Wolf, and incomparably brought to life in all its grandeur and mysterious humility by Fischer-Dieskau and his companion on so many journeys, the pianist Gerald Moore:
Ein kleiner Ring Begränzt unser Leben Und viele GeschlechterReihen sich dauerndAn ihres DaseinsUnendliche Kette.(A small ringIs the boundary of our life,And many generationsForm a constant processionIn the endless chain of being.)
Ein kleiner Ring Begränzt unser Leben Und viele GeschlechterReihen sich dauerndAn ihres DaseinsUnendliche Kette.
(A small ringIs the boundary of our life,And many generationsForm a constant processionIn the endless chain of being.)
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