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Thomas Quasthoff blames record business for his early retirement

Ever outspoken, the much-loved German baritone was asked in a public forum with Thomas Hampson to explain the reasons for his premature retirement from singing last year, at the age of 52. Quasthoff talked of turmoil in his private life with the death of his brother, but he also voiced frustration at his record label, Deutsche Grammophon, which failed to respond to his artistic vision. Here is the German text. English summary of the salient bits below.

Herr Quasthoff, im letzten Jahr beendeten Sie Ihre aktive Sängerkarriere als weltweit gefeierter Liedinterpret und Operndarsteller aus gesundheitlichen Gründen. Ist es Ihnen schwergefallen aufzuhören? 

Überhaupt nicht. Es war in Ordnung nach über 40 Jahren Bühnenpräsenz. Initiiert war der Abschied durch den viel zu frühen Tod meines Bruders. Ich habe dann fast ein Jahr lang meine Stimme verloren und dachte: Entweder gelingt es, dass ich zu 100 Prozent zurückkehre auf die Bühne, oder ich verabschiede mich. Für mich waren es dann schließlich nicht mehr 100 Prozent – ein Außenstehender hätte das wahrscheinlich gar nicht gemerkt, aber ich habe es gemerkt. So stand der Entschluss fest. Das Geschäft ist in den letzten Jahren auch nicht übersichtlicher oder schöner geworden. Vor allem, wenn man mit Plattenfirmen zusammenarbeitet. Da müssen Sie auch als sehr etablierter Künstler mit Leuten verhandeln, die vielleicht etwas von Marktanalysen verstehen und solch einem Quatsch – entschuldigen Sie, wenn ich das so deutlich sage. Mit denen müssen Sie dann um Musik “dealen”. Das hat sicher alles zu meinem Entschluss beigetragen. 

The music business in recent years has not got either clearer or prettier. Above all, dealing with record companies. As an established artist, you have to deal with people who maybe know a bit bit about market analysis and suchlike crap – excuse my language. You have to ‘deal’ music (in the drug sense of the verb). That certainly contributed to my decision.

 

Since Quasthoff’s retirement, it is only fair to point out that there has been regime change at DG.

Thomas Quasthoff

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Comments

  1. Mark Stratford says:

    >>Ich habe dann fast ein Jahr lang meine Stimme verloren <

    I hadn't heard this before, that he had lost his voice.

    God – he was good !

  2. I’ve always loved his lieder and oratorio work, yet never imagined him as a pop singer, but some of these clips are extraordinary- e.g., My Funny Valentine.

  3. Petros Linardos says:

    Let’s read the statement about the business in context:

    “Initiiert war der Abschied durch den viel zu frühen Tod meines Bruders.. Ich habe dann fast ein Jahr lang meine Stimme verloren und dachte: Entweder gelingt es, dass ich zu 100 Prozent zurückkehre auf die Bühne, oder ich verabschiede mich. Für mich waren es dann schließlich nicht mehr 100 Prozent – ein Außenstehender hätte das wahrscheinlich gar nicht gemerkt, aber ich habe es gemerkt. So stand der Entschluss fest. Das Geschäft ist in den letzten Jahren auch nicht übersichtlicher oder schöner geworden.”

    “The farewell was initiated by the very premature death of my brother. Than for almost a year a I lost my voice and thought: I either succeed to return to the stage, or I say goodbye. For me in the end it wasn’t 100 percent – an outsider wouldn’t have noticed but I did. So the decision was made. The music business in recent years has not got either clearer or prettier. [continue reading in Norman's translation above]

  4. Derek Castle says:

    Great photo, Norman.

  5. I’ll will never forget his performance of Das Lied von der Erde with Ozawa and the Boston Symphony. The way he sang the words “Die Welt schläft an” — as if filled with wonder at something beyond comprehension — brought chills.

  6. Mark Stratford says:

    You really have to hear TQ and “What are you doing the rest of your life ?”.

    Melts your heart….

  7. Roberto Gonzalez says:

    His performance of the Mahler Wayfarer songs with Boulez and the Vienna Philharmonic is sublime… He will be missed… The record companies are owned and run by pigs…

  8. I am not surprised by his criticism of Deutsche Grammophon, as I too, as a buyer and lover of classical music, don’t get the impression that the people running that company nowadays give a damn about the music or the artists. It is a label that has absolutely no focus, a hodgepodge of artists, some good, some extremely mediocre, some outright poor, with no sense of an overall general quality, or brand integrity. It is a hit and miss affair, as there is no general quality level at the yellow label anymore. It is just an outlet for anything that they think will sell quickly at any given moment, with no clear personality. It is mentioned that they changed their management since Quasthoff left the label. I dont think that means a thing, as the corporate destruction of the once great DG has already been done and it is unlikely ever to come back from the onslaught of corporate bean counters.

    • Fabio Fabrici says:

      I vey much agree. The recording business as it is practiced today by the suits in the corporate structures – notable exceptions apply for the smaller owner run labels (e.g. harmonia mundi) – is basically a parasitic happening.

      Artistic vision and quality of production is irrelevant to them. They try to capture some names that made it big or are promising to make it big and then try to make some cash by “dealing” them.

      There is no creation of value in the process. It’s merely “dealing” anymore, Quasthoff is so right about this. It could be potatoes, oil futures, shoe laces, classical music recordings, no difference. That DG is not in the business of trading the former is just that they have traditionally don’t.

      If you don’t love music as much as you do the profit, there is no artistic value in what you do.

  9. Fabio Fabrici says:

    And nobody ever sang Mahler’s “Kindertotenlieder” like Quasthoff. It was a transcendental experience, I will never forget it. I wish time could have stopped back then.

  10. Mark Stratford says:

    >>Great photo,

    Yes, I thought the same. Am sure it’s been put up on NL’s wall somewhere !

    I wonder where it was taken…..

  11. The true of the matter is that he had vocal problems and was singing too much (more than 80 nights a year, I heard), sometimes under insatisfactory conditions, plus the his pérsonal problems/losses. It was wise of him to do that. It shows he doesn’t want to stay in evidence at any cost, like some unfortunate examples of vocal diarrhea out there, Villazon being a perfect example of this. I’m sure he is smart enough to overcome his issues and will come back.

  12. Mark Stratford says:

    Good to read that TQ is active in Berlin. Doing the voice of God in Britten’s Noye’s Flood:

    http://www.berliner-philharmoniker.de/en/konzerte/calendar/details/17322/

  13. Thomas Mowrey says:

    In the last few days I have played the Bach aria posted above at least a dozen times. I’ve known the piece for 50 years, have heard it sung by all the top people, and have never heard it done better. But then, listening to his rendition of “Moon River” and other American pop standards, I can only marvel once more. I have never heard any legitimate operatic/oratorio singer of either sex who comes close to him in rendering their American linguistic and musical idioms with such suave panache. And his jazz/scat singing? He sounds like he was born and raised in New Orleans or St. Louis. If ever there was one, Quasthoff is a Meistersinger, in the broadest sense of that word. Incidentally, I’m an American, but I produced lots of LPs for Deutsche Grammophon and Decca back in the 1960s and 70s.

  14. One of the very few professional baritone on the go until his retirement who could perform his programmes with dignity of vocal technique, expression and musicianship.
    Great esteem for him and for the contribution he has given to the vocal and lieder art!

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