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The Fischer-Dieskau Book of Lieder by…

The Fischer-Dieskau Book of Lieder (1968)

by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Dietrich Fischer- Dieskau (Editor)

Other authors: George Bird (Translator), Richard Stokes (Translator)

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The Fischer-Dieskau Book of Lieder

The original texts of over seven hundred and fifty songs

chosen and introduced by
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau

with English translations by
George Bird and Richard Stokes

Alfred A. Knopf, Hardback, 1977.

8vo. 435 pp. First American Edition. Introductory essay by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau [pp. 11-28]. Index of composers [pp. 415-420]. Index of Poets and Translators [pp. 420-425]. Index of Titles and First Lines [pp. 425-435].

First published in German as Texte Deutscher Lieder, 1968.
First published in English, 1976.


Translators' Note
A Note of Arranging and Indexing
German Song: An Essay by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau
The Lieder Texts
Index of Composers
Index of Poets and Translators
Index of Titles and First Lines


This is the perfect book for the aspiring Lieder lover.

The dustjacket boasts more than 750 texts and this is no joke. More than 150 of them are among those set to music by the indisputable king of the Lied: Franz Schubert (1797-1828). Other masters in the genre are also given a prominent place here: Schumann, Brahms, Mahler, Richard Strauss and Hugo Wolf. In fact, however, the list of composers is quite an extensive one, ranging from famous (Mozart, Beethoven) and obscure (Carl Friedrich Zelter, Johann Friedrich Reichardt) predecessors all the way to composers who were very much alive at the time when this book was first published, such as Ernst Pepping, Kurt Hessenberg and, surprisingly, the famous pianist Wilhelm Kempff who, few people remember today, was also a prolific composer. Chauvinistically or not, the Lied is considered as an entirely German invention and other composers but those from the German speaking world appear only by way of pure chance; to my mind the songs of Mussorgsky or Tchaikovsky are every bit as outstanding combination of music and text as any Lied by Schubert or Schumann, but their presence here is limited to those few of their works which had texts translated from German. But this, of course, is to be expected: the Russian song would require a separate volume of equally immense proportions. Another slight, but understandable, disappointment is the small number of Liszt's songs, including the omission of his famous Liebesträume, but that's to be expected too, since in the middle 1970s the songs of Franz Liszt were almost completely neglected.

But these are minor faults; indeed, they are inevitable considering the time of publishing and especially the vastness of the Lied literature. The book has several great strengths. Every text is supplied with the name of the man who composed the music to it together with year of composition and opus number, if known (pity that the rather more common numbers from the Deutsch catalogue were not used for Schubert's songs, but it's no big deal). The beautiful thing is that, in case of multiple versions, a list of composers is given which does seem to be pretty exhaustive. It's a rare pleasure, and a most illuminating experience indeed, to compare settings by different composers of one poem; the book has a lot to offer in this respect. Did you, for example, know that Heine's Du bist wie eine Blume was set to music by Hugo Wolf, Robert Schumann and Franz Liszt, and that the last two compositions even date from the same time, ca. 1840? I didn't. Another truly beautiful thing is that song cycles are invariably given complete. I don't know about the seasoned Lieder lovers, but as a novice to the genre I am deeply impressed by the number of famous Liederzyklen which are reprinted here in full:

Ludwig van Beethoven (1770-1827)
An die ferne Geliebte

Franz Schubert (1797-1828)
Die schöne Müllerin
Die Winterreise

Robert Schumann (1810-1856)
Liederkreis (Eichendorf)

Richard Wagner (1813-1883)

Johannes Brahms (1833-1897)
Die schöne Magelone

Hugo Wolf (1860-1903)
Italienisches Liederbuch
Spanisches Liederbuch

Gustav Mahler (1860-1911)
Das Lied von der Erde

Richard Strauss (1864-1949)
Vier letzte Lieder

By the far the greatest thing in the book, at least for those who are unfortunate enough to have only very scant knowledge of deutsche Sprache, is the fact that all German texts have line-to-line translations made by George Bird and Richard Stokes. (In the rare cases when Italian or French texts were set to music, only the English translation and no German version is provided of course.) Since neither German nor English is my native language, I am certainly the last man to pass any judgement on any translation from German to English, let alone one of poetry, but I should like to point out that the book contains a charming Translators' Note in which Messrs Bird and Stokes explain their working method in a delightful and witty manner that could hardly be surpassed:

In these translations we have tried to convey the full sense, and as much as possible of the tone, of the originals. To this end, we chart a middle course between, on the one hand, the extreme of literal prose translation in which all poetic semblance is stifled, and on the other, the extreme of verse translation in which sense and the order of lines are distorted for the sake of the metre and rhyme. We prefer green grass to verdant sward but do not suppress poetic diction or archaisms or even rhythm and rhyme, where we think they help convey the tone. So far as possible, we observe the German line order.

In consequence, the translations of Messrs Bird and Stokes are almost always lucid and easy to understand. Moreover, they can quite nicely be used to improve your amateurish knowledge of German language.

Probably the most outstanding feature of the book is the Appendix apparatus which allows the avid listener, after a little practice, to follow the Lieder on a CD without even the slightest delay. Needless to say, the book is not as convenient as any CD booklet you might come across and there is a certain, not negliglible, chance that it would not contain anything on the CD you're currently listening to. On the other hand, the font size is much easier for reading and infinitely more merciful to your eyes.

The book contains three extensive Appendices which allow searching for a certain song by composer, by poet or translator, and by title or first line. The only drawback of these is that in the composers' Appendix the names of the individual songs from the cycles are not mentioned; so if you want to find, say, Schubert's Aufenthalt, you are bound to fail since this particular Lied is part of the cycle Schwanengesang. Fortunately, in the Appendix of Titles and First Lines every single song is mentioned and can be found in no more than a few seconds. The only other improvement in terms of easy navigation through the pages that comes to mind, and could have been a very nice addition to the very helpful alphabetical listing of the poems, is an indication in the upper corner of each page of the first and last syllable, on the left and on the right page respectively, as is usually done in dictionaries. But let me not succumb to ridiculous nit-picking.

Surprisingly or not, the only real disappointment in The Fischer-Dieskau Book of Lieder is the introductory essay by Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau himself. It is supposed to be an overview of the historical development of the Lied, but it actually is incoherent rambling from one poet or composer to another, often in unduly formal and vastly turgid language. The piece lacks any structure altogether and the few shrewd points it does have must be sieved through lots of pompous nonsense. Great singer as he was, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was a very poor writer indeed. One possible reason is that the English translation might have been done by the German author himself; certainly, it is not clear whether Messrs Bird and Stokes translated the introductory essay in addition to the poems. If Fischer-Dieskau himself was the translator, this may possibly account for the elaborate and far from lucid prose of his so called essay. Another putative, and far more probable, reason is that to expect the greatest Lieder singer of the twentieth century to be a talented writer as well is, perhaps, to expect a little too much from human nature.

But as far as I can judge, the selection of Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau is masterfully done and, whatever his lack of merit as a writer, his knowledge of the enormous Lied repertoire must indeed be staggering. Apart from Liszt's, I can speak with some superficial understanding only of Schubert's songs, and here Herr Fischer-Dieskau's selection hardly leaves something to be desired. In addition to his three famous song cycles - which include some of Schubert's most popular and most beautiful creations, like the enchanting Ständchen with the passionate text of Ludwig Rellstab or the singularly haunting and disturbing epitome of hopelessness and desolation Der Leiermann, to name but two - the book also contains more or less all famous songs by the great master: An die Musik, Auf dem Wasser zu Singen, An Schwager Kronos, Der Tod und das Mädchen, Die Forelle, Erlkönig, Du bist die Ruh, Heidenröslein, Gretchen am Spinnrade, Ave Maria, Prometheus, Rastlose Liebe, Ständchen (after Shakespeare), Wanderers Nachtlied (I and II), Der Wanderer (both texts too), you name it.

All in all, a truly magnificent book; the perfect one to start the exploration of the stupendously vast Lieder literature, that singular symbiosis of great poetry and great music. One last piece of advice in the form of a simple four-step protocol: 1) skip the introduction; 2) do some training with the Appendices; 3) provide yourself with a modest collection of CDs; 4) transport yourself straight into another world. ( )
3 vote Waldstein | Dec 7, 2010 |
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Author nameRoleType of authorWork?Status
Dietrich Fischer-Dieskauprimary authorall editionsconfirmed
Dieskau, Dietrich Fischer-Editormain authorall editionsconfirmed
Bird, GeorgeTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
Stokes, RichardTranslatorsecondary authorall editionsconfirmed
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Amazon.com Product Description (ISBN 0879100044, Paperback)

(Limelight). This new translation of the original texts of over 750 songs allows the reader to follow, line by line, the English directly opposite the German. "Will no doubt become the standard lieder-resource for the English-speaking world..." Choice

(retrieved from Amazon Thu, 12 Mar 2015 18:25:13 -0400)

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