A Cunning Blog

Long words. Short words. Words that say something.

From the archive: Dietrich Fischer-Diskau


A guest post from Jeremy Wilson, archivist to the Dartington International Summer School of Music.

Browsing through past programmes it is striking to see the number of top-flight artists who have taught and performed over the years at the Summer School. Colin Davis, Simon Rattle, Elliott Carter, Tom Ades, Alfred Brendel, Daniel Barenboim and so on. What is easy to forget is that almost all of these came early in their careers, before they became big names.

The artistic directors, William Glock, Peter Maxwell Davies, Gavin Henderson and John Woolrich have all been masterly at recognising potential stars.

Dietrich Fischer-Diskau

Dietrich Fischer-Diskau came to the Summer School in 1953 – the year that it moved from Bryanston to Dartington. He was only 28, had given his first recital only four years earlier, and his first commercial recording only two years earlier. He gave two recitals, accompanied by William Glock, one of Beethoven lieder and the other of Schubert’s Winterreise.

As evidence of how little known he was in the country, concert tickets were selling so badly that Peter Cox, the arts administrator of Dartington Hall, had to circulate the local music society explaining that Fischer-Diskau was someone special. This appeal improved the attendance at the first recital, following which the word got round, so that for the performance of Winterreise we had to put out extra chairs wherever we could.

This performance was extraordinarily moving. Fischer-Diskau’s voice was light for a baritone, much more so than in later years, but extremely flexible. He stood very still, only his face moving, and one hardly needed the translation to understand the emotions being expressed. When he came to the last song, Der Leiermann, ‘the lonely organ grinder with his frozen fingers’, his face and his voice became utterly expressionless, hypnotically conveying the terrifying hopelessness of the end.

There was fully ten seconds of silence before any applause started.

This was the last concert of the first year of the Summer School at Dartington.

Author: harryfiddler

Harriet Cunningham – aka @harryfiddler — is a freelance writer based in Sydney. Harriet wrote her first novel, about a runaway cat, at the age of 7. In the forty year gap between novel 1 and novel 2 she moved from London to Edinburgh to Sydney, ran an opera company, played violin on the opera house stage and sailed from Gove to Darwin. She is now a music critic and writer, best known as the critic who got banned by Opera Australia. She still hangs out at the Sydney Opera House, is still trying to get that novel published, and still plays the violin.

2 thoughts on “From the archive: Dietrich Fischer-Diskau

  1. Harry, I can’t get Opera Critic to load. I’m paid up card carrying. Is it me?

  2. I dunno, but I don’t think so. I’ve had that problem from time to time too. Best email Michael – michael@theoperacritic.com. He responds quick smart.

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