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Emmi Leisner (Contralto)

Born: August 8, 1885 - Flensburg, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany
Died: January 12, 1958 - Kampen on Sylt, Schleswig-Holstein, Germany

The German contralto, Emmi Leisner, was blessed with one of the most beautiful voices of her age. Her father was of Danish origin and despite his rather a-musical profession (ship construction engineer) he had a profound artistic bent, being passionately fond of music and singing. He was a member of several amateur madrigal groups in his home city of Flensburg. Emmi Leisner's mother hailed from Husum and was a superb singer and pianist. Especially in her piano playing she had more talent and proficiency than is usual among hobby pianists and her technique enabled her to play the most demanding works by J.S. Bach, Robert Schumann and Johannes Brahms. Naturally there was much singing at home and their three daughters were all vocally talented. Emmi, the most gifted, eventually evinced greater musical ambitions than could be condoned by the parents. Already at the age of ten she had fully made up her mind that she was going to be a concert singer. After her schooling she was sent to Denmark for one year to acquire housekeeping skills. Emmi immediately joined music associations and when she returned to her parents her progress in piano and vocal studies was so remarkable that there was no further talk of kitchens and housekeeping.

Gradually her local reputation gained momentum and when a singer scheduled to appear at a Club concert in Flensburg had to cancel, the 16-year-old was given her first great opportunity. The local press reviewed the concert most favourably and, as a consequence, the parents now agreed to allow their daughter professional tuition. Thus Emmi went to Berlin where she studied for three years with Helene Breest. During this time she also attendend lectures at Berlin University and studied art history and philosophy.

On completion of her vocal studies, Emmi Leisner auditioned for several choir masters and conducters and was eventually engaged by Karl Straube, the conductor of Leipzig's world-famous Thomas Choir, as soloist. Her success was enormous and she was feted as a great new oratorio singer. It was in Leipzig that she first appeared on an operatic stage. Both the intendant and the conductor of the Leipzig opera were abbut to leave for Frankfurt and they asked her to join them in their new engagement. Emmi Leisner made a hugely successful guest appearence in Frankfurt as Amneris. Now the management of the Berlin Opera at last took notice and they asked her to audition – which resulted in an engagement at the Berlin Opera. From 1913-1921 she remained there singing Amneris, Dalila, Brangane, Fricka and Erda. She also gave memorable performances as Gluck's Orpheus in the then avant-guard staging by the Jacques-Dalcroze-school of Hellerau as well as singing Erda at the Bayreuth Festival.

After 1922 Emmi Leisner withdrew from the operatic stage and concentrated on Lieder and oratorio work. Here, too, she became internationally famous. She gave concerts in all major German cities and the adjoining countries as well as in France, England, USA, Denmark, Sweden and the Middle East. Especially impressive were her renditions of Schubert's Winterreise and J. Brahms' Vier emste Gesange. She also helped to popularise the artistic oeuvre of contemporary composers and was regarded as one of the best interpreters of Hans Pfitzner's Lieder. In the oratorio category she was noted for her J.S. Bach and George Frideric Handel interpretations. She gave her last Lieder recital in 1948.

As of 1939 Emmi Leisner lived in Kampen on Sylt. She spent the last years of her life passing on her vast experience to her pupils. On the occasion of her 65th birthday she received the specially created Schleswig-Holstein art award. She died in 1958 at the age of seventy-two.

Source: Liner to the CD ‘Lebendige Vergangenheit – Emmi Leisner’ (Preiser, 2001); Bits & pieces from other sources
Contributed by
Aryeh Oron (April 2002, July 2017)

Emmi Leisner: Short Biography | Recordings of Vocal Works under her name

Recordings of Bach Cantatas & Other Vocal Works




Bruno Kittel


Aria from BWV 244 [1st]

Gerhard Steeger


V-1 (1941): Aria from BWV 244

Links to other Sites


Biographies of Performers: Main Page | A | B | C | D | E | F | G | H | I | J | K | L | M | N | O | P | Q | R | S | T | U | V | W | X | Y | Z
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Last update: Monday, July 24, 2017 22:43