When the great German baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau died in May, I posted a brief appreciation of him. A longer, more informed, but no less appreciative appraisal by Heather Mac Donald appeared a few weeks ago at City Journal:
I usually reject the declinist conceit in classical music — the belief that the Golden Age of performance lies behind us. But when it comes to Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, the Olympian German baritone who died last month at age 86, I must succumb. German art songs, Lieder, have never had an interpreter of such exquisite sensibility; whether they ever will again remains to be seen. Yes, Fischer-Dieskau’s lyrical voice was stunningly beautiful, with a legato that enveloped the listener in the warmth of the most tender humanity. But it was what he did with that natural beauty that set him apart. No other musician has brought such subtlety of phrasing to the song literature. Each note and syllable were characterized by an individual nuance of breath, vibrato, and pulse, the product of a probing intelligence that at every moment considered how verbal meaning interacted with musical line. As a result, a song in Fischer-Dieskau’s hands led one to contemplate in awe the mysteries of human communication itself.
She goes on to discuss several of his recordings in detail, focusing on his legacy as an interpreter of Schubert’s lieder. It’s an interesting article, from which one can learn not only something about Fischer-Dieskau, and about Schubert, but also something about the art of listening.
She draws special attention to the monumental set of Schubert recordings which he made with pianist Gerald Moore in the 1960s and 1970s for Deutsche Grammophon:
The purchase of the Deutsche Grammophon sets, priced in the hundreds of dollars, may seem like a daring extravagance, but it is really a milestone commitment to musical culture—the equivalent of buying all of The Remembrance of Things Past or the complete Greek tragedies and comedies.
Agreed on all counts but one: the Deutsche Grammophon set to which she refers, all 20-odd hours of it, can be purchased for less than $100. It’s a steal.
By the way, Heather Mac Donald (whose name really does have a space where there normally isn’t one) writes about music quite regularly for City Journal, and she is well worth following. I can’t speak for her writings on political matters.