Master of the Art Song
Unlike most well-known classical singers, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, who turns eighty on May 28, retired unexpectedly and unobtrusively. Twelve years ago, without making the customary “farewell tour,” the German baritone simply issued a statement declaring that he would no longer sing in public—and kept his word. The performances he had previously contracted for, including what would have been his last American recitals, were canceled, and at the same time he stopped making recordings.1 As a result, his reputation, especially in this country, is now in something of an eclipse. He is by no means forgotten, but he is no longer much talked about, either.
To listeners with long memories, such a thing will hardly seem possible. Not only was Fischer-Dieskau one of the most admired singers of the 20th century, he was also one of the most controversial. For every critic who praised the acute intelligence of his art-song interpretations, another found them fussy. Some thought his soft singing exquisitely sensitive, others limp and croony.
About the Author
Terry Teachout is COMMENTARY’s critic-at-large and the drama critic of the Wall Street Journal. Satchmo at the Waldorf, his first play, runs through November 4 at Long Wharf Theatre in New Haven, Connecticut.