The baritone’s classic performances captured on video: Schubert, Schumann, Bach and more.
German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925–2012) is widely considered the greatest lieder singer of the 20th century. His frequent duo partner, soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, once described him as “a born god who has it all”, and it’s easy to see why in this clip from the 1950s, early in his career. His searing intensity and robust tone make for a particularly thrilling, urgent rendition of Schubert’s Der Erlkönig. The pounding repeated notes (played by Fischer-Dieskau’s longterm accompanist Gerald Moore) sound out hoofbeats as a father races through the forest with his young dying sun, who hears the calls of the evil Elf King luring him away from the world of the living. One of Fischer-Dieskau’s signature tunes.
An intimate moment captured by the great music filmmaker Bruno Monsaingeon: one of Hugo Wolf’s most turbulent lieder, Der Feuerreiter (The Fire Rider), with Sviatoslav Richter accompanying during a tour with Fischer-Dieskau.
Ächzen und erbärmlich Weinen
A charmed trinity filmed in 1974: Fischer-Dieskau sings the aria from Bach’s cantata BWV13 with violinist Yehudi Menuhin and Mstislav Rostropovich on cello continuo. Menuhin praised the “wonderful, rich resonance” of his baritone colleague’s voice, “incredibly rich and raw, but incredibly controlled… A sheer physical delight.”
The Marriage of Figaro
Although he was revered as a lieder recitalist, Fischer-Dieskau’s greatest successes were in opera. He appears as Count Almaviva in Jean-Pierre Ponnelle’s iconic 1975 production of Mozart’s The Marriage of Figaro (one of Limelight‘s Top Ten Operas on Film). Mirella Freni is his Susana; Kiri Te Kanawa plays the Countess.
Ein Deutsches Requiem
A stirring moment from Brahms’s German Requiem, “Lord, teach me that I must have an end”, with the NHK Symphony Orchestra and Wolfgang Sawallisch conducting in 1989. Even late in his career, Fischer-Dieskau’s voice retained its richness, strength and warmth.
Benjamin Britten composed the baritone solo in his War Requiem for Fischer-Dieskau: he needed a sensitive singer for such a poignant work on a theme that brought back memories of wartime horrors for many who heard it. The German Fischer-Dieskau was one of a trio of soloists from both sides of the conflict chosen for the 1963 recording conducted by the composer (the other two were English tenor Peter Pears and Russian soprano Galina Vishnevskaya). Although this clip doesn’t show footage from the premiere the previous year at the bombed, reconstructed Coventry Cathedral, it does show the text of soldier-poet Wilfred Owen’s powerful ode to weaponry and modern warfare, which allows Fischer-Dieskau to explore the depth and darkness of his range.
Cantata Der Friede sei mit dir BWV 158
(Aria: Welt, ade, ich bin dein müde)
Fischer-Dieskau is touchingly gentle and lyrical in this 1968 performance of a Bach aria with choral cantus firmus (RIAS Kammerchor) and violin obbligato (Lorin Maazel).
Die Schöne Müllerin
One of the 20th century’s most beloved interpreters of Schubert lieder, Fischer-Dieskau worked with a number of renowned pianists over a career spanning more than five decades. Here at the Salle Pleyel in 1992, he sings two charming Schubert songs from Die Schöne Müllerin with Christoph Eschenbach on accompaniment duties.
An die ferne Geliebte
Nimm sie hin denn diese Lieder
One of Fischer-Dieskau’s most illustrious and long-standing recital partnerships was with his countryman Alfred Brendel. This clip shows the duo together in song, alongside footage of Fischer-Dieskau leading a masterclass – always generous and nurturing towards young singers – workshopping the same lovelorn Beethoven lieder (in German).
Ging heut Morgen übers Feld
This lively yet tender performance (NHK Symphony Orchestra conducted by Paul Kletzki in Paris) dates from 1960, early in Fischer-Dieskau’s career, and shows his versatility and energy in orchestral song. You can practically hear the twinkle in his eye.
Fischer-Dieskau took part in many of the definitive performances committed to disc in the golden era of classical recording. Here he is in Solti’s famous Ring cycle.
Der Leiermann, from Winterreise
Despite the great versatility and artistry on display in this tribute, there can be no denying that Fischer-Dieskau’s most significant contribution to the repertoire is in Schubert song. Here’s the haunting organ grinder’s song that concludes Schubert’s bleakest song cycle. Alfred Brendel accompanies on piano in one of the 20th century’s greatest classical music alliances.