Charlotte Higgins, Arts correspondent
Thursday August 3, 2006
Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, arguably the greatest soprano of the postwar years, died peacefully in her sleep on Wednesday night at her home in Schruns on the Austrian-Swiss border. She was 90.
She was loved for her matchless lieder singing as well as for her operatic work. In the opera house, she was particularly feted for her Mozart roles – especially her Countess, Donna Elvira and Fiordiligi – as well as her Marschallin. She created the role of Anna Trulove in Stravinksy’s The Rake’s Progress, and entered British folklore when, asked to appear on Desert Island Discs, she chose eight of her own recordings. She was also tinged with notoriety after it was revealed she had been a member of the Nazi party.
According to Edward Greenfield, the Guardian’s music critic emeritus: “She was one of the very greatest of all singers. She combined every quality you wanted in a great soprano. What made her so special was the unique timbre of her voice and her unique responsiveness to words, particularly German – together with her great charisma and beauty. She was also a wonderful actress.”
Her unflinching brand of Prussian perfectionism was well known. Her longtime recital partner, pianist Gerald Moore, called her “the most cruelly self-critical person imaginable”, marking her scores with “arrows, stabs, slashes and digs”.
She joined the Nazi party in 1938, as a young singer in the Deutsche Oper ensemble in Berlin. However, according to Greenfield: “She said that she was blackmailed – unless she joined the party, she was told, her contract would not be renewed. If that had happened, she would have had to find work in a munitions factory. Her singing career would have been at an end.”
After the war, she met Walter Legge, the famous, and, to some, dominating, British record producer, who signed her to the label HMV. She later made a prodigious number of great records under his auspices. “They had some amazing rows, but it was true love between them,” said Greenfield. “He never openly praised her.”
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