Fritz Wunderlich - The Great German Tenor

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on Fritz Wunderlich

from "Reverberations: the memoirs of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau", 1989.
Translated by Ruth Hein, ISBN 0-88064-137-1

Click here for the original German version!

The tour of Das Lied von der Erde was not the first time I sang with the "wonder tenor", Fritz Wunderlich, who lost his life at such a tragically early age after a fall down a flight of stairs. But on this occasion we had the opportunity to blow a "lip-horn duet" together. Before we mounted the stage of the Hanover Stadthalle, I heard Fritz humming the Hunter Chorus from Freischütz in his dressing room. I immediately added the second voice, imitating a horn, and what followed was a walk through the horn literature. Finally even Keilberth, whose attention had been caught, began to listen and nearly exploded with laughter. Wunderlich had in fact been a professional horn player before he chose to sing.

In 1956 during the Bach Week in Ansbach we stood side by side for the first time, performing in two secular cantatas by the cantor of the Thomas Kirche. After Werner Egk had rehearsed the introductory chorale, "Auf, schmetternde Töne", Wunderlich rose to sing. I was startled when I heard him, for his voice had a bewitching sweetness combined with the necessary amount of steel, such as had not been heard from a German tenor for a long, long time.

In the intermission I went up to Wunderlich, who was waiting quietly in a corner of the hall, and asked him where he came from and how long he had been singing. So far he had appeared in public in only a few concerts (mostly accompanied by Hubert Giesen) (1). This situation was to change with his engagement at the Württemberg Staatsoper. (2)

In Berlin I made certain to rave to Fritz Ganss, the record producer of Electrola, about this new phenomenon. Perhaps the remarks I repeatedly let drop shortened the time before Wunderlich's first important recording was made. When I sang in Wagner's Flying Dutchman with Franz Konwitschny, Wunderlich sang the Steuermann, his voice fresh and enormously musical. Not long after, he sang the role of Walther von der Vogelweide in Tannhäuser with the same conductor. But his next recording, the Evangelist in Bach's Saint John Passion, was his first major one. I was impressed with the relaxation with which the young man with a glint of mischief in his eye let the whole process of rehearsal and retakes run off his back. Karl Forster, the conductor (priest of the podium and head of the Hedwigs-Chor, with which I had been connected since its first Berlin orchestral concert), had an easy time with him. Once I sat in on a dress rehearsal of Werner Egk's Verlobung von San Domingo at the Bavarian Staatsoper, and there, in the running and cackling atmosphere of a chicken yard, I saw Wunderlich, utterly composed, waiting to see what else might be going to happen.

Though this outward calm did not particularly contribute to his performance, it did preserve the smooth and flawless sound of his voice. This superlative musician quickly and surely grasped both notes and presentation, and occasionally - though rarely - he would make a suggestion for some improvement to a colleague. In Bamberg we recorded scenes from Albert Lortzing's Zar und Zimmermann. He did not approve of my very broad tempo for the czar's song. I accepted his criticism and profited from it.

(1) DFD is wrong here. Wunderlich first met Giesen in 1963. (A.P.)
(2) the Stuttgart Opera (A.P.)

Thanks to Ted Davidson for providing this text.
Andreas Praefcke, 1998.

Fritz Wunderlich Homepage