Sat, Aug 05, 2006 - Page 6 News List

Austrian soprano Schwarzkopf dies at home, aged 90


Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, arguably the greatest soprano of the postwar years, died peacefully in her sleep on Wednesday night at her home in Schruns in Austria, aged 90.

She was known for her matchless Lieder singing; in the opera house, she was particularly feted for her Mozart roles.

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 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 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 wistfully. "He never openly praised her."

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