Farewell to my Favorite Singer

My all-time favorite singer, baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, died two weeks ago, on Friday May 18 at the age of 86.

I can’t remember precisely when I first heard his recordings. I was bitten by the opera bug during my senior year in high school, and in college, listening to student recitals, I discovered that I loved art-songs (lieder), as well. One of my favorite professors was a huge admirer of Mahler, a composer I’d never heard of till then, and I think the first Fischer-Dieskau recording I purchased was most likely an album of Mahler songs with orchestra.

His voice was like velvet and molten gold, his technique and control extraordinary. He could breathe a barely audible whisper of sound or soar into a full-bodied swell that was never rough or stentorian. But what really drew me was the emotional depth of his singing. This was due in part to his care with words, but also to the musical shading and nuance he brought to every phrase.

We’re fortunate that he recorded extensively. His Don Giovanni purrs with soft, swoon-inducing seduction, his Schubertian heroes pour forth their stories with pathos, his Mahler reaches the heights of religious ecstasy.

The ending of Mahler’s Das Lied von der Erde (The Song of the Earth)  is one of the most beautiful passages in all music, and especially fitting as a memorial because the subtext of final section, “Der Abschied” (The Farewell), is death  It is moving without being morbid, giving a vision of rebirth as well as sorrow, and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s performance always moves me to tears.

Gustav Mahler
Das Lied von der Erde
VI. Der Abschied (only the poem by Wang Wei, final part)
Leonard Bernstein, Conductor
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Baritone
Wiener Philharmoniker
Decca Records
Recorded 1966

Er stieg vom Pferd und reichte ihm den Trunk
Des Abschieds dar. Er fragte ihn, wohin
Er führe und auch warum es müßte sein.
Er sprach, seine Stimme war umflort: Du, mein Freund,
Mir war auf dieser Welt das Glück nicht hold!
Wohin ich geh? Ich geh, ich wandre in die Berge.
Ich suche Ruhe für mein einsam Herz.
Ich wandle nach der Heimat, meiner Stätte.
Ich werde niemals in die Ferne schweifen.
Still ist mein Herz und harret seiner Stunde!

Die liebe Erde allüberall
Blüht auf im Lenz und grünt aufs neu!
Allüberall und ewig
Blauen licht die Fernen!
Ewig… ewig…

‎(Youtube video from nimicide; Translations by Deryck Cooke:)

He alighted from his horse and handed him The drink of farewell.
He asked him where he was going
And also why it had to be.
He spoke, his voice was veiled:
Ah, my friend,
Fortune was not kind to me in this world!
Where am I going?
I am going to wander in the mountains.
I seek rest for my lonely heart.
I journey to the homeland, to my resting-place.
I shall never again go seeking the far distance.
My heart is still and awaits its hour!
The dear earth everywhere
Blossoms in spring and grows green again!
Everywhere and forever the distance shines bright and blue!
Forever… forever…


  1. KB Inglee said,

    June 1, 2012 at 8:03 am

    Ah, another opera lover. I listen to the Met on the radio at work on Saturdays. Most of the people I work witih consider it screeching. Have been a semi-supporter of Opera Delaware. There is nothing like a live preformance. I also love the Serpent in the Thorns, your recent read.

    • Nancy Adams said,

      June 1, 2012 at 8:32 am

      My parents considered it screeching, too. I don’t get out much–too tired from the day job, so I’m grateful for recordings. Always glad to meet a fellow opera fan.

      Thanks, KB, for stopping by!

  2. Gloria Alden said,

    June 1, 2012 at 7:46 pm

    I don’t listen to opera much, but when I do, I enjoy it very much. I’m not familiar with this particular singer, but have CD’s of the Three Tenors, Placido Domingo, Luciano Pavarotti and Paul Robeson, who sang a mixture of classical and folk. I’m particularly fond of folk singers. I always feel saddened when one dies.

    • Nancy Adams said,

      June 2, 2012 at 7:25 pm

      I like folk, too, Gloria, and I’m always glad to find another person who enjoys opera. As KB said, that is not always the reaction! Thanks for stopping by.

  3. May 15, 2014 at 2:07 pm

    […] particular song, but the singer’s website includes samples of several others on the album. Baritone happens to be my favorite category of voice, and any composer sensitive to the nuances of Merton’s poetry is one worth checking out: I […]

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