Friday, August 04, 2006

R.I.P., Elizabeth Schwarzkopf

I may write more later, for now, I regret to note that one of the finest voices in the history of music has been silenced until the New Day: Elizabeth Schwarzkopf has died at age 90. Ms. Schwarzkopf established the "gold standard" for the performance of almost anything she sang -- Mozart's grand dames, Anna and Elivara and the Countess; Strauss' Marschellan (one of her greatest roles); Strass' "Four Last Songs" (who Renee Fleming told me was also her favorite singer to record the part); I could go on.

Schwarzkopf distinguished herself (in part because of the very able support and guidance of her husband, the legendary record producer Walter Legge, whom she adored) by her obvious intelligence, the depth of her insight into the roles she undertook and lieder she chose to sing, the ability to incarnate the persona and not just sing the notes, the beauty and flexibility of her voice (which she always controlled immaculately), her own physical beauty (which made her acting the parts of countess and marschallin even more touching!) . In her memoir, she recounts a wonderful story of dining when Maria Callas came in. La Callas came over (Legge was her producer, too, so the women knew each other somewhat) and asked Mdme. Schwarzkopf how to solve some vocal issue. She said that she knew Schwarzkopf did it better. But when Schwarzkopf demurred, preferring to take the matter up later, Callas insisted and proceded to sing, full voice, so that Schwarzkopf could guide her to the proper technique. It was apparently quite the scene.

When Mdme. Schwarzkopf retired from the stage, she continued to guide and mentor some of the finest singers around today. (I think Thomas Hampson, e.g., was her student.)

Even though she had not performed for decades, her albums continue in press (yes, as CDs, though the vinyl is still better) -- and with very good reason. Hers was an artistry that will not be denied.

Eternal rest grant her, O Lord;
and let perpetual light shine upon her.


Anonymous said...

Grand Dame of music, example of musiclal excellence, to be sure Elizabeth Schwarzkopf was indeed all of this and artistically more. Amidst the lauds for her artistic life, let us not neglect the stain of original sin and forget her affirmation of National Socialism.

Dwight P. said...

I think we must be fair and honest about that history. She admitted that she applied for membership in the Nazi party. She argued, with at least some justification, that to do so was equivalent to joining an artists' union in a no-right-to-work environment. My teacher in Reformation history was a member of Hitler youth in his teens -- but in his time and place, what teen was not (except for Jews, of course)? Many of the great artists of the WWII era were stained by the scourge called Nazism (Schwarzkopf's musical colleague in her husband's stable of artists, Herbert von Karajan, comes immediately to mind), and certainly we ought not to forget. But we must also not neglect forgivenness and reconciliation.