The great baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau died today, on the anniversary of Gustav Mahler’s death – one of many composers whose songs he pioneered and popularised.
I visited the great singer in his Berlin home in July 2007 for the first series of Lebrecht Interviews on BBC Radio 3.
He was alone in the house – his wife, Julia Varady, was teaching that day – and in rather sombre mood. His English was immaculate and his memory pin-point. Not once did he have to search for a name or a detail.
Open and forthcoming, he was unable to consider alternative scenarios. When I asked whether, when his first wife died, he considered suspending the career for a year to look after their three small boys, he said: ‘No. Why would I?’
I suggested that he was not the most convivial of colleagues. ‘I was correct and friendly with everyone,’ he replied. Did he ever go out with other singers for drink or a meal after a performanxce? ‘No. What would I have had to say to them?’
Late in our conversation, he confided: ‘I achieved too much.’
‘What do you mean by that?’
‘I left too little for my successors.’
He made these statements in a prosaic tone, as plain matters of fact. There was no pride or boastfulness in the vast scope of his work – the complete Lieder of several languages, as well as major operatic roles – merely a regret that he had set too high a benchmark.
Inflexible as he sounded, I obtained a sense of deep personal warmth and moral purpose. I saw no contradiction between this iron man and the infinite subtlety of his indelible interpretations.
UPDATE More here from the same conversation.