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Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Bass-Baritone)

Born: May 28, 1925 - Berlin, Germany
Died: May 18, 2012 - Berg on Starnberg Lake, Bavaria, Germany

The German bass-baritone, Albert Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (= DFD), is the youngest of three sons from his father's second marriage. His father Albert (1865-1937), a classical scholar, was a secondary school principal, and his mother Dora (1884-1966) was a teacher. His family came from a line of what might be called the 'professional' middle class: teachers, doctors, architects and clergymen; however, his father's mother was a member of the von Dieskau family, whose ancestors include Kammerherr von Dieskau for whom J.S. Bach wrote his Peasant Cantata (BWV 212) in 1742.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's musical interests and talent were evident early in his life, but he was no child prodigy. He learned to play the piano from his mother and continued to study piano throughout his school years.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau started singing as a child and began formal voice lessons at sixteen with Professor Georg A. Walter. When he was drafted into the Wehrmacht in 1943, Fischer-Dieskau had just completed his secondary school studies and one semester at the Berlin Conservatory. He was captured in Italy in 1945 and spent two years as an American prisoner of war. During this time he continued his musical studies on his own and took advantage of every opportunity to perform. After returning to Germany in 1947, he studied briefly with Professor Hermann Weissenborn at the Berlin Conservatory before beginning his professional career. Fischer-Dieskau once said: 'I passed my final exam in the concert hall'.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's professional career as a singer began in 1947 in Badenweiler when he sang in Brahms' German Requiem without any rehearsal - he was a last-minute substitute for a singer who was indisposed. He gave his first Lieder recital in Leipzig in the fall of 1947 and followed it soon afterward with a highly successful first concert at Berlin's Titania-Palast.

In the fall of 1948 Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was engaged as principal lyric baritone at the Municipal Opera (Städtische Oper) in Berlin, making his debut as Posa in Verdi's Don Carlos under Ferenc Fricsay. Subsequently, Fischer-Dieskau made guest appearances at the opera houses in Vienna and Munich. After 1949 he added concert tours in England, Holland, Switzerland, France and Italy. He made regular opera appearances in Bayreuth between 1954 and 1961 and in Salzburg from 1956 until the early 1970's (he made his Salzburg concert debut in 1951 with Gustav Mahler's Songs of a Wayfarer under Wilhelm Furtwängler). He garnered great critical acclaim for his detailed, insightful and imaginative interpretations and for the almost infinite variety of colors and shadings in his voice.

As an opera singer, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau performed mainly at the Deutsche Oper Berlin and at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich. He also made guest appearances at the Vienna State Opera, at Covent Garden in London, at the Hamburg State Opera, at the great opera festivals in Bayreuth and Salzburg, in Japan and at the King's Theater in Edinburgh during the Edinburgh Festival. His first concert tour in the United States took place in 1955, and he gave his first lieder recital at New York City's Carnegie Hall in 1964.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau's commitment to contemporary music led to his participation in the first performances of works by many composers, including Benjamin Britten, Samuel Barber, Hans Werner Henze, Ernst Krenek, Witold Lutoslawski, Siegfried Matthus, Winfried Zillig, Gottfried von Einem and Aribert Reimann. As 'the world's greatest Lieder singer' (Time magazine), he regularly sold out concert halls all over the world until his retirement at the end of 1992. The precisely articulated accuracy of his performances, in which text and music were presented as equal partners, established standards that endure today. The current widespread interest in German Romantic art song is mainly due to his efforts. Perhaps most admired as a singer of Schubert lieder, Fischer-Dieskau had, according to critic Joachim Kaiser, only one really serious competitor - himself, as over the decades he set new standards, explored new territories and expressed unanticipated feelings and emotions.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau ended his more than 45 years of concert activity at the beginning of 1993. He made his unannounced farewell to public performance with his participation in a gala concert at the Bavarian State Opera in Munich on December 31, 1992. Since that time he has kept himself fully occupied as a teacher, conductor, reciter and author. He died on May 18, 2012, aged 86. He is survived by his fourth wife, the soprano Julia Varady, whom he married in 1977, and three sons by his first wife, the cellist Irmgard Poppen, who died in 1963.

More Photos

Source: Mostly from Andante Website; Obituary in The Guardian (May 2012)
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (April 2001); Yoël L. Arbeitman (May 2012)

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: Short Biography | General Discussions

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




Under his name


BWV 203

Ernest Ansermet


Audio: Aria from BWV 8

Benjamin Britten


BWV 102

Theodor Egel


TV Broadcast: BWV 248

Karl Forster


BWV 158, BWV 208, BWV 211, BWV 212, BWV 245; Arias from Cantatas BWV 8, BWV 13, BWV 73, BWV 123, BWV 157, BWV 159

Wilhelm Furtwängler


BWV 244

Wolfgang Gönnenwein


BWV 249

Herbert von Karajan


BWV 244 [2nd, Jesus]

Otto Klemperer


BWV 244

Philip Ledger


BWV 248

Fritz Lehmann


BWV 4, BWV 244

Lorin Maazel


TV:BWV 56, BWV 158

Neville Marriner


BWV 211, BWV 212

Yehudi Menuhin


DVD: Aria from BWV 13

Karl Richter


BWV 1, BWV 4, BWV 5, BWV 6, BWV 9, BWV 11, BWV 13, BWV 17, BWV 21, BWV 24, BWV 26, BWV 27, BWV 28, BWV 30, BWV 33, BWV 34, BWV 38, BWV 39, BWV 44, BWV 56, BWV 58, BWV 61, BWV 63, BWV 64, BWV 67, BWV 68, BWV 70, BWV 80, BWV 82, BWV 87, BWV 92, BWV 93, BWV 96, BWV 100, BWV 102, BWV 104, BWV 105, BWV 115, BWV 116, BWV 121, BWV 129, BWV 130, BWV 135, BWV 137, BWV 139, BWV 140, BWV 158, BWV 171, BWV 175, BWV 178, BWV 179, BWV 180, BWV 187
BWV 82: short rehearsal extract
BWV 232 [2nd], BWV 243 [1st], BWV 244 [1st], BWV 244 [5th, Jesus]

Helmuth Rilling


BWV 56, BWV 82, BWV 245 [2nd]

Karl Ristenpart


BWV 21, BWV 22, BWV 37, BWV 39, BWV 42, BWV 47, BWV 56 [1st], BWV 56 [2nd], BWV 73, BWV 76, BWV 79 [1st], BWV 82 [1st], BWV 88, BWV 106, BWV 108, BWV 127, BWV 140 [1st], BWV 178, BWV 245

Kurt Thomas


BWV 248

Links to other Sites

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau Profile (Andante)
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Schubert Singers)

Fischer-Dieskau, Dietrich German baritone. Opernwelt interview - "On the enjoyment of challenges"
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (Ariadna auf Naxos)

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