Wednesday, 28 January 2009

Respect for Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf is the target of the hate-mobs that poison the opera world. So much so that her real achievements are obscured. This was a woman who was very young when the Nazis were around, too young to have actually done anything to be compromised about. Karajan and even Furtwangler and many, many others have more to explain, but Schwarzkopf is the magnet of all blame. It says more about the haters than the hated.

Usually, also, the less people actually know about her work, the more the vindictiveness. Those who know her work and the woman have different perspectives. Matthias Goerne who trained with her and with Fischer-Dieskau, said she was a good influence because she taught him to be himself. Apart from opera, she was also seminal in advancing late 20th century attitudes to art song. If she seems mannered today, listen to singers of the 1920's and 30's. She brought intellectual and emotional rigour to song, particularly needed in soprano repertoire, where prettiness of voice is treasured, sometimes above depth. Living with an egomaniac like Walter Legge must have been hell, but she stuck with him because he did promote art, despite his personality. And if she was tough on others she was infinitely tougher on herself. She knew how much dedication goes into song and had no time for fakes or posers.

Here is an obituary written by a singer who knew her. (English translation at the bottom of the page). It's not so unusual as there are others who echo what he says. But it's a reminder of who she was.

Here is a clip of her singing Hugo Wolf's Kennst du das Land, still the most achingly wonderful version around. She pioneered the Wolf revival of the 1950's and 1960's although her recordings came fairly late in her career. But they've never been surpassed, even with the abundance of Wolf performance after his centenary in 2003. For the words and translation visit the site on the bottom of the list at the right.

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