Sunday, May 20, 2012

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925-2012)

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925-2012)

On Friday, the musical world lost one of its great artists, German baritone, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. He was the most-recorded baritone of all time.  Although he excelled in opera, he made his reputation as an interpreter of the German Lied.

His ability to bring out aspects of the poetry in his singing was perhaps unequalled.  Here he is singing Schubert's "Erlkönig""Erlkönig" is a tour-de-force for any singer.  In this song, the singer must portray four different characters: Narrator, Father, Son, Erlkönig".

This is the best version, but no poetry.  You almost don't need it, because of his vocal inflections and facial expressions.

Here it is, anyway:

Wer reitet so spät durch Nacht und Wind? Who rides so late through the night and wind?
Es ist der Vater mit seinem Kind; It's the father with his child;
Er hat den Knaben wohl in dem Arm, He has the boy safe in his arm,
Er faßt ihn sicher, er hält ihn warm. He holds him secure, he holds him warm.
«Mein Sohn, was birgst du so bang dein Gesicht?» – “My son, what makes you hide your face in fear?” –
Siehst, Vater, du den Erlkönig nicht? Father, don't you see the Erlking?
Den Erlenkönig mit Kron und Schweif? – The Erlking with crown and flowing robe? –
«Mein Sohn, es ist ein Nebelstreif.» – “My son, it's a wisp of fog.” –
«Du liebes Kind, komm, geh mit mir! “You dear child, come along with me!
Gar schöne Spiele spiel' ich mit dir; Such lovely games I'll play with you;
Manch bunte Blumen sind an dem Strand, Many colorful flowers are at the shore,
Meine Mutter hat manch gülden Gewand.» My mother has many a golden garment.”
Mein Vater, mein Vater, und hörest du nicht, My father, my father, and do you not hear
Was Erlenkönig mir leise verspricht? – What the Erlking promises me so softly? –
«Sei ruhig, bleibe ruhig, mein Kind; “Be quiet, stay quiet, my child;
In dürren Blättern säuselt der Wind.» – In the dry leaves the wind is rustling.” –
«Willst, feiner Knabe, du mit mir gehn? “Won't you come along with me, my fine boy?
Meine Töchter sollen dich warten schön; My daughters shall attend to you so nicely.
Meine Töchter führen den nächtlichen Reihn, My daughters do their nightly dance,
Und wiegen und tanzen und singen dich ein.» And they'll rock you and dance you and sing you to sleep.”
Mein Vater, mein Vater, und siehst du nicht dort My father, my father, and do you not see over there
Erlkönigs Töchter am düstern Ort? – Erlking's daughters in that dark place? –
«Mein Sohn, mein Sohn, ich seh es genau: “My son, my son, I see it most definitely:
Es scheinen die alten Weiden so grau.» It's the willow trees looking so grey.”
«Ich liebe dich, mich reizt deine schöne Gestalt; “I love you; I'm charmed by your beautiful form;
Und bist du nicht willig, so brauch ich Gewalt.» And if you're not willing, then I'll use force.”
Mein Vater, mein Vater, jetzt faßt er mich an! My father, my father, now he's grabbing hold of me!
Erlkönig hat mir ein Leids getan! – Erlking has done me harm! –
Dem Vater grausets, er reitet geschwind, The father shudders, he rides swiftly,
Er hält in Armen das ächzende Kind, He holds in (his) arms the moaning child.
Erreicht den Hof mit Mühe und Not; He reaches the farmhouse with effort and urgency.
In seinen Armen das Kind war tot. In his arms the child was dead.

There have been many tributes in the news lately.  Alex Ross, the New Yorker Magazine Music Critic has blogged about him recently.

I never got to hear Fischer-Dieskau sing in person.  His influence on me comes only through his recordings.  I consider him one of the main influences on my approach to tone color, phrasing and vibrato among other things.

I have a friend in the Cleveland Orchestra studied violin at the Moscow Conservatory.  He recalls his teacher bringing in Fischer-Dieskau's Schubert recordings for the violinists to learn how to vary their vibrato to suit the expressive needs of the music.

There are many fine tributes out there.  I encourage you to do some exploring if you haven't come across this singer yet.  You are in for a treat!

I'll leave you with this recording:  This is Mahler's "Ich bin der Welt abhanden gekommen"

I am lost to the world
with which I used to waste so much time,
It has heard nothing from me for so long
that it may very well believe that I have died!

It is of no consequence to me
Whether it thinks me dead;
I cannot deny it,
for I really am dead to the world.

I am dead to the worldly bustle of things,
And I rest in a quiet place.
I live alone in my heaven,
In my love and in my song.

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