Mr. Fischer-Dieskau was one of the great musicians of the 20th century. He pursued excellence with a single-minded intensity that led to such epithets as “the thinking man’s baritone,” and he documented the results on more than 1,000 LP’s, according to the Christian Science Monitor.
This prolific activity meant that for many listeners, Mr. Fischer-Dieskau became the veritable voice of German music. He used that voice — light and clear and wide-ranging — like an instrument to achieve myriad subtle shades of tone and color along with crisply enunciated texts.
He returned again and again to the core of his repertory, particularly where German art songs, or lieder, were concerned. He sang them, wrote books about them and recorded them as many as — in the case of Schubert’s magisterial song cycle “Winterreise” — eight times.
Although lieder were Mr. Fischer-Dieskau’s calling card for many music lovers, the range and breadth of his musical interests was impressive. He was as well known for opera as for song. He never sang at the Metropolitan Opera, but he was a fixture on German opera stages from the very beginning of his career.
He sang everything from Verdi (the title role of “Rigoletto”) to Wagner (Wolfram in “Tannhäuser,” Amfortas in “Parsifal”) to contemporary composers who wrote for him, including Benjamin Britten (“War Requiem”) and Aribert Reimann (“Lear”).
Mr. Fischer-Dieskau aburptly retired from singing in 1992 after a performance of Verdi’s “Falstaff.” Singing “All the world’s a joke,” he realized that this was the perfect note on which to exit, and he canceled all future engagements the next morning. He continued his life in music as a writer, conductor and teacher, and he brought the same exacting standards to young singers that he brought to his own singing.
Tall and handsome, with big features that worked well on the stage, Mr. Fischer-Dieskau projected a certain dry reserve. Although he sang as if discovering each song for the first time, his supreme control struck some as too controlling.
He could sing with warmth, but he didn’t always seem to be a warm person. His unsparing directness could come across as arrogance.
“I achieved too much,” he told the British journalist Norman Lebrecht, matter-of-factly, during an interview in 2007. “I left too little for my successors.”
Albert Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was born in Berlin on May 28, 1925, the third son of Albert Dietrich Fischer, a classicist and teacher. His mother, Theodora Klingelhöffer, loved the piano and was a formative influence in his life. (In 1934, his father added the “Dieskau” to the family name in a salute to forebears on the maternal side.)
Mr. Fischer-Dieskau was 12 when his father died. After the Nazis came to power, his older brother Martin, physically and mentally disabled, was removed to an institution, where he died.