Despite several queasy turns owing to some rough seas (and no doubt also – I should ‘fess up – to my pathetically weak resistance when it came to pre-supper prosecco and dangerous late-night cognac), all of last week’s chamber music concerts aboard Fred Olsen’s Black Watch ran smoothly, and the Norwegian fjords were jaw-droppingly majestic and beautiful.
Following the final performance on the boat, it was time to turn my mind back to all things vocal, the next few months in my diary being almost entirely devoted to song and opera. A sad coincidence for me, then, that it was on this same evening I heard of the death of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. He has been for me an extra special and formative musical influence:
When I arrived at the Royal College of Music in September 1998, an eighteen-year-old Yorkshire lad with a serious obsession for all things pianistic and symphonic, I didn’t know what the German Lied was. I already had a strong urge to explore the field of instrumental accompaniment and duo repertoire – especially in that new and exciting environment, surrounded by all of those excellent players on a daily basis! – but the human voice as I had experienced it thus far in classical music held little or no appeal for me. One chilly February morning, however, in my second term, my Stylistic Studies professor (David Graham) had us analyse the harmonic structure of a Schubert score for voice and piano, and played a recording for the class. The song was ‘Mein!’ from Die schöne Müllerin, and the performers were Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau and Gerald Moore. I was transfixed by this recording. The vocal timbre was so warm and beautifully rich, it struck me as so natural and unmanufactured and intimate compared to what I back then thought of as ‘operatic’ singing, and yet the dramatic impact of this single voice and piano unit was just as powerful as anything I’d heard on a grand, symphonic scale, sending wave after wave of goose-bumps down my spine. I didn’t know any German then, but I desperately wanted to know what these crisp, clear, meaty words meant. Over the coming days and months, I spent more and more time (and more and more student loan!) in HMV, flipping through Fischer-Dieskau’s multiple recordings to make my next discovery. I then spent even more time on repeated listenings in my room at College Hall, headphones on, the neatly printed texts from the little CD booklet on my knee. Fourteen years or so later, this stuff is my biggest passion, and I’m pretty sure it always will be. Thank you Dietrich!