Influenced by my father’s taste, I grew up listening to classical music, most notably the symphonies of Brahms, the operas of Donizetti and Puccini, and the lieder of Franz Schubert. No one sang those last pieces better than my father’s favorite baritone, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who died this past Friday just ten days shy of his 87th birthday. He inhabited those songs; he told their stories, his voice colored the tone and the text in such a way that the hopeful lover, the spurned and often suicidal suitor, all four of the characters in DieErlkönig, among so many, many others, all were brought to life. I sang along with my father’s recordings, memorizing the lyrics phonetically if not literally. When I began the serious study of voice in my late teens and undergraduate years, it was not to the operatic stage that I aspired. In spite of my love of theatre, I wanted to be a recitalist who specialized in the lied. I wanted to unpack, inhabit, and present these gems in miniature, to draw an audience into their stories within the intimacy of the recital hall, as I had experienced them in those many recordings. Leave the opera house and verismo to others.Fischer-Dieskau himself was equally at home, and equally acclaimed, on the operatic stage as well as in oratorio. In a gesture of global post-war reconciliation, Benjamin Britten recruited him to sing in the premier of his War Requiem. I loved to hear him sing Papageno. But to me he will always belong first to the world of lieder.
Gute ruh, Herr Fisher-Dieskau; you were a Meistersinger indeed. If there are liederabends in heaven, my father surely will be queued up for a front row seat!