Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau: Selected Recordings

As I mentioned in a post yesterday, after hearing of his death, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was one of my favorite singers, and the one who introduced me to the lieder genre. Lieder – plural of lied, or song in German – is often translated by “art song” in English. It’s only “arty” in the sense that it’s classical music, rather than popular or jazz. The lied is a form that was perfected by Franz Schubert, and that was very popular in the Romantic era, especially in the German language. Other countries and periods had songs, of course, but in many cases they were part of larger works (such as Mozart’s operas or Bach’s cantatas). The German lied is truly a genre apart.

So here are some of the recordings by Fischer-Dieskau that I appreciate the most. Glancing in my iTunes library, I have more than 3,000 songs of his, by dozens of composers. But those composers whose music he appreciated the most, and where he specialized, were Schubert, Schumann, Liszt, Brahms, Wolf and Mahler.

The first recording I heard – and the one that sold me on lieder and on Fischer-Dieskau as a performer – was his 1965 recording of Schubert’s Winterreise with Jorg Demus on piano. It’s hard to express the effect this recording had on me in my early 20s, but, while it was not instantaneous, it wasn’t long before I was convinced that this was a style of music for me. Fischer-Dieskau recorded Wintereisse many times – I have seven of the more than a dozen recordings available – and another of my favorites is this 1990 recording with Alfred Brendel. Fischer-Dieskau was at the end of his singing career by then, but it’s still a fine performance. There is also a DVD of the two of them performing this live, which seems to be out of print now.

Fischer-Dieskau’s monumental recording of all of Schubert’s lieder for solo male voice remains the most essential recording of this great singer. Recorded in the early 1970s, with the great Gerald Moore on piano, this (very affordable) set of 21 discs of Schubert’s many songs is one of the recordings I return to often.

Fischer-Dieskau recorded some other complete sets of lieder by various composers. There is Schumann, on 6 discs, Liszt on 3 discs, and Wolf on 7 discs.

Two recent collections from EMI – The Great EMI Recordings and Recordings from the Archives – collect recordings of different composers. The former is an 11-disc set, containing some of Fischer-Dieskau’s best recordings of Schubert, including the three song cycles, Die Schöne Müllerin, Winterreise and Schwanengesang; together with a disc each of works by Schumann, Brahms, Mahler, Wolf, Strauss and a final disc with works by Loewe, Mendelssohn, Wagner, Liszt and Cornelius. The “Archives” include some excellent recording of songs by Beethoven, Mozart and Haydn, not available on other sets. Both of these are excellent sets, but if you’re new to this singer, the Great EMI Recordings is an excellent overview to get as a first set.

And then there’s Mahler. Like Schubert, Fischer-Dieskau owned Mahler. His recordings of Das Lied von der Erde and Das Knaben Wunderhorn and other songs are essential.

Fischer-Dieskau also sang Bach and Wagner. I’m not a fan of Wagner, so I can’t recommend much other than his Tristan und Isolde, conducted by Carlos Kleiber. As for Bach, there are many recordings of him singing Bach’s cantatas and passions.

These suggestions are all good places to start discovering Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau’s many recordings. It’s likely that both EMI and DG, for which he recorded a lot, will be putting together big box sets for the near future, and I hope these will include unreleased or out of print recordings. Fischer-Dieskau’s legacy is long and rich, and there is much to discover among his hundreds of recordings.