Fischer-Dieskau and Me - Part Five

by Celia Sgroi  
State University of New York College at Oswego  

A week or so before the arrival of the letter from the Schubertiade announcing the cancellation of Fischer-Dieskau's appearances, I got a phone call from Hanne, my elderly acquanitance in Hannover, who had read of F-D's retirement in the newspaper. She wanted to know if I would be all right. Yes, I said. Disappointment or no, I have to admit that it seemed like a silly question to me.

However, as a devoted F-D fan, perhaps my life was now supposed to end. Perhaps I was meant to cast myself on the flaming funeral pyre of Fischer-Dieskau's singing career? A colleague in the German department sent me a copy of an article about F-D's retirement. In the top margin he had written, "Arme Celia!" Poor Celia? No, it didn't seem that way.

I had been expecting F-D's retirement for at least the last five years. It really didn't come as a shock, and after the last two concerts I heard him give, it honestly seemed as if the time had come. The important thing was that I could now no longer avoid the central question: Was I indeed a Lieder fan or merely a Fischer-Dieskau fan? By this time, I thought I knew the answer. I was a Lieder fan, even if Fischer-Dieskau was no longer to be heard. With all the other singers in the world, surely there were those who would move me as Fischer-Dieskau had? And if not, could I still not enjoy what was available?

The 1993 Schubertiade seemed like a good test.I began my Feldkirch fortnight on June 17th, a kind of Lieder Wimbledon, 16 concerts in a two-week period. The theme of this Schubertiade was "Schubert und Goethe." The festival program included concerts by established Lieder "stars" Brigitte Fassbaender and Peter Schreier, not to mention a concert by Christa Ludwig after I would be leaving. Then there were the younger, well-known Lieder singers: Olaf Baer, Andreas Schmidt, Robert Holl, and Barbara Hendricks. Beyond that were a group of singers who were younger still: Oliver Widmer, Christiane Oelze, Christoph Pregardien, Boje Skovhus, and Roman Trekel. And those were just the singers who were giving solo recitals. In addition, there was a host of young singers participating in duets, trios, quartets, and two of Schubert's operatic efforts, including Juliane Banse, Ruth Ziesak, Markus Schfer, and Matthias Goerne. It was true: Fischer-Dieskau was nowhere to be seen or heard, but I was excited and expectant anyway. I will admit that in selecting my concerts I concentrated on the baritones. I prefer low voices, and I joked that I was "auditioning" for a successor to Fischer-Dieskau. It was not entirely a joke, however.

My first concert featured the first baritone of the fortnight, the Swiss Oliver Widmer, accompanied by Roger Vignoles, whose program consisted of alternating groups of Goethe songs by Schubert and Vaclav Jan Tomaschek. Widmer turned out to be a young man in his late twenties with a light, bright baritone voice and excellent diction. He seemed to be intelligent and musical, but not very individual and not very exciting. On the other hand, he was very young and seemed very promising.

That same evening, in the Montforthaus, there was an event called "Franz Schuberts Privatkonzert," which reproduced the program of a concert of Schubert's works given in Vienna on March 26, 1828. This consisted of the first movement of the G major string quartet (D 887), 4 solo songs for baritone and piano, Grillparzer's "Serenade" for alto, women's chorus and piano, the piano trio in E-flat major (D 929), "Der Strom" for tenor, horn, and piano, "Die Allmacht" (baritone/piano), and "Schlachtlied", sung by a men's chorus. It proved to be a very entertaining concert. I particularly enjoyed the Cherubini Quartet, which opened the first half of the concert, and the Trio Fontenay, which opened the second half. In the first half, the 4 solo songs ("Der Kreuzzug," "Die Sterne," "Fischerweise," and "Fragment aus dem Aeschylus") were performed by Roman Trekel and Graham Johnson. Trekel proved to be another very young-looking baritone. I had never seen him before, but I quickly realized that I had heard him before-- He was staying in the room across from me in the hotel and had been warming up there before the concert. He sang the group of songs well enough that I instantly made a mental note to buy a ticket to hear his solo recital later that week.

The next evening, Andras Schiff played Mendelssohn, Beethoven and Schubert in the Montforthaus. Judging by the applause, it was a fine concert. I have to admit that I had a difficult time concentrating on it. This was the evening that Schiff and Fischer-Dieskau had been scheduled to give a Lieder recital. What a strange feeling to sit there looking at the grand piano and miss Fischer-Dieskau standing in the bend of it, leaning on the piano lid as he had done so often in the past. All evening long I was haunted by what wasn't happening. All the time Schiff played, I kept hearing what wasn't there. It was a difficult evening, but I hoped that after that, the "ghost" of Fischer-Dieskau would be exorcized and I would be able to concentrate on the here and now.

I should say that, although F-D was not physically present at the Schubertiade that year, he was very much the topic of conversation. Everyone was talking about the abrupt way he had retired. No prior announcement, no farewell recital(s)--the exact opposite of what Christa Ludwig was doing at that very time. Peter Schreier and Brigitte Fassbaender were both asked on TV whether they had known that F-D was going to retire. They both said no, but Fassbaender said that when the time came, she intended to end her career the same way, with no fanfare at all. F-D's absence from the festival manifested itself in a fair number of empty seats in the concert halls. Financially, the abrupt retirement seemed to have had an effect on the Schubertiade.

At one of the concerts, I heard a British woman complaining, not only about the abruptness of F-D's decision to retire but the arbitrariness of his cancellation of his master class, as well as his Lieder recital. "He could easily have given the master class," she said. "He just didn't have the courage to come here and face everyone." Somehow, I didn't think that F-D was burdened with a need to apologize to us for having retired, and it was obvious that, had he come to Feldkirch, he would have spent all his time explaining to people why he had decided to retire. If I had been in his place, I would have stayed away, too. All during the time the Cherubini Quartet was at the festival, Manuel Fischer-Dieskau, who was their cellist, was fielding questions from all and sundry about his father's retirement: No, he was not ill. Yes, he would be happy to tell his father that Herr und Frau Soundso sent their regards. The man must have been going crazy. It certainly would have been worse if F-D himself had been present. Besides, it soon emerged that F-D's absence from the Schubertiade (and from public performance in general) was only temporary. At the semi-annual meeting of the "Verein der Freunde und Foerderer der Schubertiade Feldkirch," the festival's director, Gerd Nachbauer, announced that Fischer-Dieskau would appear in 1994, both as reader and conductor. There was general relief among the "friends and patrons."

Saturdays and Sundays are always festive days at the Schubertiade. My next concert was in the conservatory church, where it was already quite warm at 11 AM. The concert started with the Overture for String Quartet in C minor, played by the Cherubini Quartet, which also, augmented by a double bass and the organ, accompanied the other numbers on the program, including two scenes from "Faust" and the Mass No. 2 in G major. The singers who made the greatest impression on me were soprano Juliane Banse, Roman Trekel, and another very young singer, this one with a buzz cut and the coldest blue eyes I have ever seen, Matthias Goerne. In the evening, Alfred Brendel played 5 Beethoven sonatas in the Monforthaus, including the "Moonlight" and "Waldstein" sonatas.

My Sunday morning began with the Cherubini Quartet, again augmented by other musicians, playing Schubert's Octet in F major (D 803) in the Montforthaus. In those days, the Cherubinis were a bunch of free spirits. Unlike most string quartets I have heard, they made no particular effort to achieve the same "sound," and they didn't even dress alike. Four extreme individualists got together to make music in a very emotional and dramatic fashion. Their first violinist, Christoph Poppen, is a very showy player, but at that time he was rivaled by Manuel Fischer-Dieskau as cellist. There were times when the whole thing sounded like "dueling strings," but they generated enormous energy and excitement. You can imagine that I was very curious to see Fischer-Dieskau's son, who, it turns out, doesn't look like his father at all. At age 29, he was a tall, slender, very youthful-looking man with a cloud of auburn curls and an angelic face. He looked about 16. On the stage, however, he was all business, and the entire quartet seemed to radiate their pleasure in making music and listening and responding to each other.

On Sunday evening, I was in the Konservatoriumssaal to hear Andreas Schmidt and Rudolf Jansen perform Winterreise. Schmidt had a beautiful voice, but he seemed intent on proving that Winterreise can make a powerful impression even when the singer doesn't do much to help it along. He just didn't sound very emotionally involved, as if he were reacting to a fender bender accident in a parking lot, rather than losing his love and wandering about the countryside in despair. The worst thing was, however, that Schmidt had acquired a whole repertory of Fischer-Dieskau mannerisms and used them liberally. There were times when he actually looked as if he were giving a Fischer-Dieskau imitation--the way he sang "Mut," for example, and the way he stood during the transition from "Die Nebensonnen" to "Der Leiermann." And in "Im Dorfe," when he sang "Und morgen frueh ist alles zerflossen," the accent and coloration of "zerflossen" was so Fischer-Dieskau that I almost laughed out loud. I got the impression that Schmidt had studied F-D's performance style very carefully, trying to figure out what had made F-D such an arresting and dominating recitalist. He certainly had the F-D approach, especially the body language, down pat. Unfortunately, it was all externally applied and didn't have the desired effect. Schmidt studied with F-D briefly, but he is the only F-D pupil I have ever seen do an imitation of the "Meister," (onstage, at least).

In contrast, the next evening Peter Schreier and Andras Schiff gave a Lieder recital in the Montforthaus that was a model of elegant simplicity. The all-Schubert program consisted of a group of Goethe songs, followed by a group of Rckert songs, and closed with another group of Goethe songs. Schreier had only a fraction of the natural voice of Andreas Schmidt, but his performances were internally driven in a way Schmidt could not manage (in Winterreise, at least). One of the most striking things about that concert, however, was the way Andras Schiff played. Under his fingers, songs I had heard a thousand times suddenly sounded new and different. Somehow, Schiff managed to reveal and articulate all the inner voices of the pinao part without ever losing himself in details. It was a great concert.

The arrival of the BF groupies announced that we were now into the Fassbaender section of the Schubertiade. Her first appearance was with a group of younger singers, including Juliane Banse, Christoph Pregardien, and Olaf Br, to sing duets, trios and quartets. Matthias Goerne was ill, so Roman Trekel substituted for him. The program included the four-part versions of "Gesang der Geister ber den Wassern" and "Erlknig," and the Cathedral Scene from "Faust." The concert ended with the "Kantate fr Irene Kiesewetter," accompanied by Wolfram Rieger and Rudolf Jansen. One of the best aspects of this particular Schubertiade was the variety of music performed, and I know I had never before heard any of these pieces performed in a live recital, so it was educational, as well as enjoyable.

The next young baritone I "auditioned" was Boje Skovhus, who was making his Schubertiade debut in an all-Schubert program accompanied by Helmut Deutsch. I found Skovhus to be a real disappointment. His volume started at loud and got louder, but he seemed unable, or unwilling, to sing below mezzo forte. The second half of his program consisted of Goethe songs, and he was better in the more dramatic ones, such as "Prometheus" and "An Schwager Kronos," but taken as a whole I did not find him convincing, much less enjoyable to listen to. The audience, however, thought he was wonderful and gave him great ovations. I found myself wondering how much of the enthusiasm was for his singing, and how much for his blond hair, good looks, and Pepsodent smile. The next evening, Olaf Br and Geoffrey Parsons performed in a sold-out Montforthaus. As befitted the festival's theme, most of the program was devoted to Goethe songs. I have to admit that I am not a devotee of Olaf Br. The basic quality of his voice is very beautiful, but I was horrified at what he went through to produce it. His face got red, his neck seemed to swell--I thought he was about to have an attack of apoplexy. The audience was enraptured, and I went away shaking my head. No F-D successor there, that was for sure.

Actually, for me the "F-D successor" of that Schubertiade was Brigitte Fassbaender, who gave two solo Lieder recitals. In the first, she sang the premiere performance of a cycle by Aribert Reimann to poems by Paul Celan and Schoenberg's "Das Buch der haengenden Gaerten." The groups of songs alternated with recitations of poems by Stefan George performed by celebrated actress Marianne Hoppe. The program certainly stood out in a festival otherwise devoted to Schubert. What struck me, however, was the intensity and individuality of Fassbaender's singing, in contrast to the many younger singers I had heard previously. That impression was confirmed in her Schubert/Loewe recital, accompanied by Wolfram Rieger. All the songs were to poems by Goethe, and the only overlap between Schubert and Loewe was "Erlknig." The mood of the first half of the concert, which consisted of Schubert's settings from "Wilhelm Meister," was very dark. The second half began with Loewe and ended with Schubert, and had a somewhat lighter tone, although both performances of "Erlknig" were intensely dramatic and exciting. Given that the theme of the festival was "Schubert and Goethe," one got to hear many of the same songs in different performances. To my ears, only Schreier and Fassbaender had anything of the intensity and individuality I loved so much in Fischer-Dieskau.

Among the young singers, my favorite proved to be Roman Trekel, whose recital was accompanied by Irwin Gage. In the first half, Trekel sang Schubert songs to a variety of poets, including several I associate particularly with Fischer-Dieskau: "Totengrbers Heimwehe," "Das Zgenglcklein," "Der Zwerg," and "Der Wanderer an den Mond." The first half of his program ended with a lovely rendition of "Die Taubenpost." Trekel was a tall, very slender singer, who, despite his youth, appeared to be rapidly losing his hair. His voice reminded me very much of the young Fischer-Dieskau--dark and a bit unwieldy, but with a tendency to be unbalanced between very bright highs and very dark lows. Over time, F-D learned to exploit that imbalance thoroughly. Trekel was not yet ready to go that far. However, his singing was very much "School of Fischer-Dieskau," and he was at his best in the more extroverted, dramatic songs. His "Der Zwerg" was really exciting. In the second half, devoted to Goethe songs, his bass notes came into their own in the Harper songs and "Grenzen der Menschheit." He also sang a very dramatic and effective "Prometheus." Of all the young singers I heard, he made the greatest impression, and I looked forward to hearing him again.

My other two Schubertiade concerts were a two-hand piano recital by Andras Schiff and Bruno Canino, and an evening devoted to Schubert as opera composer. This concert featured the existing fragment from Claudine von Villa Bella (to a text by Goethe, of course) and the one-act Singspiel "Die Verschworenen," conducted by Peter Screier and with direction and narration by Brigitte Fassbaender. Neither of these is a great work, but the singing was good, especially Christiane Oelze, Juliane Banse, and Christoph Pregardien, and I found it an enjoyable evening. I did hear a lot of grumbling from concert-goers about having to pay over a thousand Austrian Schillings to hear works that would have been better served in a school production, but the point of the Schubertiade is to present all aspects of Schubert's work, and I saw nothing to complain about.

My auditioning of young baritones continued beyond the Schubertiade. At the end of July, I heard Thomas Hampson in the opera house in Munich, accompanied by Geoffrey Parsons. Hampson sang the "original" Schumann Dichterliebe. I had heard all sorts of raves about Hampson, but he didn't make anywhere near as positive an impression on me as had Roman Trekel, for example. I much preferred a duet recital by Felicity Lott and Ann Murray, performed in the gorgeous Cuvilles Theater and accompanied by Graham Johnson. Lott and Murray sang duets by Purcell (arranged by Britten), Mendelssohn, Rossini, Brahms, Gounod, Saint-Saens, and Faure. They brought the house down at the end of the first half with Rossini's "duetto buffo di due gatti," but the whole program was beautifully sung and interpreted, with all the personality I had missed in many of the younger singers I had heard during the Schubertiade. While in Munich, I also heard Julia Varady as Violetta in a Traviata whose staging was annoying and distracting. There were dead leaves on the floor throughout the entire opera, and in act two Alfredo sang "De' miei bollenti spiriti" while standing on a swing. Act four began with Violetta lying on the floor, wrapped in something that looked like a sleeping bag, teetering on the edge of the orchestra pit. Under these conditions, even Varady was not her usual self. In compensation, I got to hear Die Meistersinger again, this time without the warm fuzzy Beckmesser of Hermann Prey.

By the end of 1993, I was congratulating myself on getting through the first year "After F-D" in fine fashion. And I looked forward with great anticipation to encountering Fischer-Dieskau in his new "roles" at the next Schubertiade.

Despite his retirement from singing, it was clear that the rumors of Fischer-Dieskau's demise had been greatly exaggerated. As promised, he gave two performances at the 1994 Schubertiade, both of which I attended.

This was a trip which had not started very well for me. I had planned to make a stop of a week in Feldkirch as part of a month's vacation in Europe with a friend, which we intended to spend in Switzerland, Austria, and Germany. Unfortunately, my friend seriously injured her knee less than three weeks before our departure and was unable to travel, so I scrambled to put together an abbreviated two-week vacation that included several days in Switzerland and a little more than a week at the Schubertiade in Feldkirch.

As a result of the abrupt change of plans, a significant aspect of the Schubertiade was the concert I did not hear: Cecilia Bartoli and Andras Schiff gave a song recital in a packed Montforthaus the night before I arrived. It did not seem like an auspicious way to begin, but I expected other good things to come, and I wasn't disappointed.

The first performance I experienced was a reading from the letters of Goethe and composer Carl Friedrich Zelter, read by Fischer-Dieskau and Gert Westphal, "der Kammersaenger und der Koenig der Vorleser," as they were described in the press. In the first year of his retirement, F-D had given a goodly number of readings with Westphal, and this partnership had continued into 1994. The two readers sat at small desks on the stage of the Konservatoriumssaal and read a selection from the voluminous correspondence between Germany's greatest poet and his favorite composer, arranged roughly chronologically. Gert Westphal was Goethe, and Fischer-Dieskau was Zelter. I had not tried to read any of this correspondence in advance, so I had no idea what to expect. What could have been rather dry turned out to be a kind of extended conversation between the two artists, who described their daily doings, their projects, their friends, their concert experiences, their pleasure in their friendship, which was carried on almost exclusively by letter, and their views on manners and morals. Sometimes the content was amusing, as when Zelter sent a shipment of turnips to Goethe, who duly reported on the excellence of said turnips. At other times, the mood was tragic, as when Zelter reported to Goethe of the death of his son by suicide. Both of them reported hearing Paganini play with excitement and enthusiasm. Finally, Zelter reported the death of his dear friend Goethe, which was followed by his own death a matter of weeks later. At the end, it turned out that more than two hours had flown by while 500 people sat leaning forward in their seats without making a sound. It was interesting, funny, and moving, and the two elegant, white-haired, elderly gentlemen, one tall and one short, enchanted the audience with their gorgeous voices and their uncanny ability to make you experience an entire world through the way they delivered words. The applause at the end was thunderous.

I should say that the audience was a bit distracted at the beginning. Many of them had been present in 1992 at the famous reading during which a woman had disrupted the performance by accusing F-D of being a murderer. For the first ten minutes or so, every little noise had people starting in their seats, wondering if the crazy lady would be jumping up at any moment. Soon that was forgotten, and in fact she did not make a reappearance. However, I am told that Julia Varady, who had not been present when the disruption occurred in 1992 (she was in London to sing Senta at Covent Garden), had appointed herself to be her husband's bodyguard and scrutinized would-be autograph seekers suspiciously after the reading.

The reading took place in the late afternoon, and in the evening Peter Schreier and Andras Schiff performed Die Schne Mllerin in the Montforthaus. Each time I heard him, Schreier was operating with a voice that was a bit more threadbare than the time before, but he was still able to conjure up a convincing miller boy, and Schiff's playing was simply superb.

I was staying at the same hotel as in previous years, but it had changed hands in the meantime and been transformed from the Hotel Illpark to the Hotel Rosenberger. The new management had made sweeping changes in the operation and services of the hotel, including taking on an almost completely new staff just before the festival began. The new employees struggled to accommodate the demands of a full house of festival visitors, generally unsuccessfully. None of the "Stammgste" was very impressed with the new arrangements. Among the least impressed, as it turned out, were Mr. and Mrs. Fischer-Dieskau. It seemed as if every time I walked into the lobby of the hotel, Julia Varady was parked in front of the reception desk complaining about something. She was not the only one. Each day there were new dramas to witness--guests complaining that their rooms were not being cleaned, guests complaining about room service orders that never arrived, departing guests complaining about errors in their bills. In my leisure hours, I often sat in the lobby and enjoyed the spectacle.

I had made last-minute plans to share a room at the Rosenberger with a woman I had first met in Feldkirch in 1992 and gotten to know better in the following year. She was a freelance music journalist who had spent a good deal of time in Europe and seemed to know just about everybody. She proved to be a very amusing companion. The first thing she did was introduce me to Andras Schiff, who, when he wasn't practicing or performing, seemed to be devoting all his time to watching World Cup soccer matches on television. We chatted about soccer and traded scores for the next week.

One morning, as we were preparing to take a walk, I waited at the reception desk while my friend did some business. I looked up to see Julia Varady tiptoeing up behind my friend, raising her finger to her lips to warn me to stay quiet. She then proceeded to run her car key down my friend's back, startling her, much to Varady's delight. They were old acquaintances, and Varady was in the mood to chat. I was introduced as "a friend from America," and I saw Varady take a deep breath, readying herself to take the plunge into English. Assured that this was not necessary, she returned to German with obvious relief and proceeded to share an inordinate amount of her personal business with us. This included a litany of complaints. The people in the hotel didn't know what they were doing. There were no flowers in their suite, they had not received a fruit basket, as they were accustomed to, nobody seemed to be able to fulfill any of their requests in a competent manner--and the list went on.

Somewhere along the line, she digressed long enough to describe how a little girl of about five had presented herself in the green room after the reading and announced: "Today is my birthday and I want Fischer-Dieskau's autograph," which she duly received. We told her that Nikolaus Walter, the photographer who sold Schubertiade photographs, had captured this on film. Varady immediately wanted to see the photographs. We agreed to meet again in the lobby to show her the photos, which included a shot of Varady holding the beaming little girl by the hand while Fischer-Dieskau signed her program, another shot of my friend getting an autograph from Fischer-Dieskau, and a third of Fischer-Dieskau alone, which Varady liked very much.

"You'll want to get them signed, of course," she said to us. "Come backstage after the orchestra concert and Dieter will sign them for you." My friend offered to order copies of the photos for her, and this was arranged. Our meeting came to an end as Julia Varady turned toward the entrance to the hotel restaurant. "I've got to get some apples from the salad bar," she informed us, then stopped short and pulled out the waistband of her slacks. "I've lost weight!" she said triumphantly, "But," she continued, "my skin is breaking out. See?" We were given a closeup. "It's stress!" she said, and prepared to review her complaints, then apparently thought better of it and disappeared into the restaurant. It was like having a conversation with a whirlwind.

The weather was unusually hot for late June and everyone was suffering. The much-touted airconditioning in the Hotel Rosenberger did not appear to be functioning, and the concert halls were also hot. Neverthless, the round of concerts took its usual course. I heard fewer concerts than usual, since my plans had been changed at the last minute. Even so, I heard Oliver Widmer and Heinz Holliger perform Schumann's Kerner-Lieder Op. 35 and the Eichendorff Liederkreis Op. 39, and Robert Holl and Rudolf Jansen performed a program entitled "Schubert im Freundeskreis," which consisted of Lieder to poems by Schubert's friends and acquaintances, most notably Mayrhofer and Schober.

One evening, Peter Schreier and Andras Schiff performed Winterreise in sweltering heat in the Montforthaus. As had been the case the year before, I marveled at the contrast between Schreier and the younger recitalists. He had a great deal less natural voice to work with than they, and what he did have was diminished by age, but he was markedly more capable of creating a mood and holding an audience's attention. I prefer a somewhat angrier, more bitter Winterreise, whereas Schreier conveyed a more gentle, resigned grief, but it was a riveting performance. After the concert, my journalist friend and I went backstage. Somewhere in her travels she had picked up some little plastic schedules that listed all the World Cup soccer matches, and she had given one to Andras Schiff. He had shown it to Schreier, who had admired it. Our mission was to deliver another one of these little plastic things to Schreier, who was holding court after his concert. People, mostly ladies, came with their flowers and gifts and tons of praise. Schreier was gracious,and talked to them, accepted the flowers and gifts, and signed countless programs. While this was going on, we stood next to Schiff, who was currently unoccupied. He reported the latest World Cup scores as if he had never heard of Winterreise. Finally Schreier was free. My friend explained why she was there and handed him the little plastic schedule. His face lit up, and for the first time he showed genuine enthusiasm. "Oh this is great! Thank you!" he said amidst all the gifts and flowers that surrounded him.

The following evening, Alfred Brendel gave a piano recital, for which I did not have a ticket. I sat in the hotel lobby, which was much cooler than my room, and read while my friend attended the concert. The elevator doors opened and Julia Varady made her way to the reception desk. All the desk staff made themselves small, preparing for whatever complaint was forthcoming. Instead, Varady inquired whether my friend was in the hotel. In obvious relief, they said no and directed her to me, clearly pleased to get her off their hands. A moment later, Varady was stationed at my elbow, initiating a conversation that began "I don't want to disturb you, but--" Go ahead and disturb me, I thought, this will be interesting. It turned out that my friend had left a message for her that the photos she had ordered had arrived, and she wanted to pay for them and complete the transaction. I explained that my friend was at the concert. Well, could she pay me and arrange for the pictures to be delivered later? Of course. "I'll be back," said she, and she disappeared into the elevator. The desk staff grinned at me from across the lobby. This was my problem now.

Julia Varady returned promptly with an envelope full of Austrian currency but without her glasses. She eventually identified the bills she wanted, but then we discovered that I couldn't make change. "I'll get it at the desk," I offered, and the desk staff ducked as one, but Varady waved it away. "Don't worry about it." The desk staff reappeared cautiously. I was instructed to put the photos in an envelope and leave them outside her door. On the sixth floor, she told me: "Dieter's in 601 and I'm in 603, and there's a sitting room in between." Hmmmm. . . . I have to admit I was tempted. "Do you have an envelope?" she wanted to know. "We can get one from the desk." The desk staff disappeared again. "No problem," said I. "We have an envelope." The heads rose again. "Well, thank you so much, " Julia Varady concluded. "I'm sorry to have put you to so much trouble." I assured her that it had been no trouble at all. "Then good night," she said, offering her hand with something of an air of dismissing me, and turned back to the elevator. I shot the desk staff a triumphant glance. My encounter with Frau Kammersnger Fischer-Dieskau had been a lot more painless than theirs.

After the concert, we duly packed the photos and prepared to deliver them. Varady had ordered multiple copies of the photo of her husband she had admired so much, but my friend proposed to substitute a different photo of him for one of them.

"I wouldn't do that," I said. "She might not like that one."

"Of course she will. It's a nice photo, and she didn't see this one." My friend replied.

"You do as you like," said I. "I'm only telling you that I wouldn't do it."

My friend waved that away as inconsequential and finished packing up the pictures.

"Are you going to put in her change?" I inquired. She gave me a dirty look.

We took the envelope upstairs (you didn't think I was going to miss this, did you?) and found that the rooms in question were dark and quiet, each with a "do not disturb" sign prominently displayed. I heroically resisted the urge to knock at F-D's door and wish him goodnight, and we left the envelope propped against the door of 603. But, of course, the saga was not yet over.

The next day, Brigitte Fassbaender and Wolfram Rieger performed Brahms' Die Schne Magelone. Fassbaender read the narration as well as singing the songs. The Konservatoriumssaal was packed with Fassbaender groupies, with a few of us civilians tucked in around the edges. I had heard F-D sing this cycle live on two previous occasions and owned the recorded version with F-D and Sviatoslav Richter, but I had never warmed up to it much. When this concert was over, I had enjoyed it but was still not converted. Fassbaender had sung beautifully, however, and if someone had told me at that moment that this was the last Lieder recital I would ever hear from her, that by this time next year she would be retired from singing, I simply wouldn't have believed it.

The last day of the festival began with an orchestra concert that marked Fischer-Dieskau's conducting debut at the Schubertiade. The program consisted of Beethoven's piano concerto No. 4 in G major and Schubert's "Great" C major symphony. The orchestra was the Camerata Academica Salzburg, and the soloist was Andras Schiff. Rehearsals had been going on for the past several days, and Andras Schiff's mother, Clara, had expressed concerns about the piano concerto, since neither the orchestra nor the conductor had performed it before. It turned out that Fischer-Dieskau conducted sitting down, and with the grand piano in place before the orchestra, he could not even be seen by the audience during the concerto. People were not pleased. However, the performance was fine, and it looked to me as if Schiff was doing nearly as much conducting as Fischer-Dieskau anyway, so maybe it didn't matter that the audience couldn't see the conductor.

In the intermission, we talked briefly to Julia Varady, who, as I had guessed, was not happy about the substitution among her photos. I looked away because I couldn't trust myself not to laugh. In the second half of the concert the conductor was again visible, and the orchestra played beautifully and with great energy and enthusiasm. The audience was pleasantly surprised at how good the performance was, myself included.

Afterwards, Julia Varady, miffed about the photos or not, made good on her promise to take us into the presence to get autographs. Unlike the other artists, F-D did not appear in the backstage area of the Montforthaus that served as green room. Instead, the elect waited there to be invited upstairs to his dressing room. I think the order of priority was bigwigs, friends, and "others." As "others," we waited our turn, then were shepherded up the narrow stairs to file in and out of the rather cramped dressing room. This was not a time for an intimate chat, but it was nice to be able to say hello and get my photo signed (the nice one that Julia liked, by the way). We lingered for a bit while my friend tried to sort out her difficulty with Varady, so I continued to observe Herr Kammersaenger as he completed his autograph-signing duties. Finished at last, he stood up, suddenly filling the room. Someone asked how he was enjoying his retirement. "Very much," he replied. "Now I only do what I want to do, not what other people want me to do." It was said lightly, but he looked as if he meant it.

That afternoon, I visited the Jewish Museum in Hohenems with friends. It is a beautiful collection of books, pictures, and ceremonial objects, but I was a bit disturbed that the citizens of Hohenems take with such equanimity the constant re-telling of how their Jewish neighbors were dispossessed of all their goods, taken away, and never returned. The synagogue was turned into a firehouse, which it remains today. People file in and out, looking at the exhibits, but no one looks very upset by it all.

In the evening, the festival ended with Edith Mathis, Brigitte Fassbaender, Peter Schreier, and Andreas Schmidt singing Brahms' Liebeslieder-Walzer and some other quartets. The pianists were Graham Johnson and Wolfram Rieger. It was a pleasant way to end my stay at the Schubertiade, and the next day I left for Zurich and my plane home. The program for the next festival had already been distributed, and I had ordered my tickets and reserved my hotel room. In 1995, we would celebrate Fischer-Dieskau's 70th birthday, albeit a month late, at the Schubertiade Feldkirch.

Back to Index << Previous article Next article >>