Friday, 18 May 2012

Fischer-Dieskau’s modernist legacy

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who died today at the age of 86, left few corners unexplored in the song output of the Second Viennese School, promoted neglected figures like Winfried Zillig, and early in his career established important creative relationships with Hans Werner Henze and Aribert Reimann. He subscribed to the separation of artistic and political spheres, though his Eisler recordings (with Reimann at the piano) seem to me to pursue an interesting dialectic between his Lieder style and traditional Eisler delivery, and pacifist concerns connect his three other major premieres (Britten’s War Requiem, Hartmann’s Gesangsszene, and von Einem’s An die Nachgeborenen cantata).

But for a Youtube tribute I find myself returning to Reimann, whose composing career Fischer-Dieskau did so much to promote; knowing only the recording of Lear it was interesting to come across clips of the Munich Ponelle production, and the Berg-style Ausschnitt works very well for that kind of thing, really an excellent appetite whetter.


  1. The relationship between DFD and Henze is "interesting" to put it mildly.

  2. You refer to the Das Floß der Medusa controversy, I presume? Astonishing to think that this work finally premiered at the Musikverein of all places.

  3. Yes, I wonder what really went on behind the scenes to inspire Versuch uber Schweine. Henze refers to one person in particular, but not by name.

  4. I wish they'd release the Lear on DVD, my old copy on VHS is about 14th generation and is starting to deteriorate.

    What is the story behind DFD and Henze? I know the Das Floß der Medusa premiere was a scandal but not much beyond that. Thanks!

  5. I'm no expert on Henze's backstory with DFD, I just read up a lot on the Medusa premiere as I was recently at a conference where I expected much discussion of it to arise (sod's law: it didn't). DFD and Henze's accounts certainly at odds though: Henze said he tried to have the red flag brought down so that the performance could proceed, DFD claimed that he wouldn't allow a performance without it on the stage. No such antics were repeated at the Musikverein but then there would still have been the transfer of the singers across the stage with all the mass movement symbolism that entails, and I'm curious about how that was received (I might look into it and report back, actually).

    Doundou Tchil's Versuch über Schweine suggestion sounds interesting but standing behind all of Henze's more cryptic comments are always a few plausible candidates and what in German one would call his Selbstdarstellung seems to be a tremendously complicated matter running the gamut from lay-it-all-bare specificity to myth-mongering, apparent amnesia, and evasion. I was introduced to him a couple of years ago and in the course of a short conversation was rather disarmed by his force of personality; there was a story he told me, possibly apocryphal, about American soldiers after the war and clean white towels which others might recognize (the hand gestures are certainly hard to forget), though don't ask me how we got on to this topic.