Sunday, May 20, 2012

The Fischer-Dieskau Dilemma

One of the most important performers in the field of classical music died yesterday. And that's going to be a problem for a lot of classical radio stations (at least in the US).

This has been a rough week for recording artists. Donna Summer died, prompting stations that play either light rock, urban, or Top 40 to air her songs in tribute. Chuck Brown, the father of Go-Go also died this week. Although not as well-known nationally, in the Washington DC area, where Go-Go originated, urban stations played and replayed his many recordings.

Now there was a reason for those retrospectives: although Summers and Brown weren't considered current artists (and therefore not usually included in the mix), their music was aired back in the day, and was familiar to audiences.

Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau died earlier today. This German lyric tenor was a giant in the field, and considered one of the all-time greatest performers of lieder. He was also renowned for his opera roles, and (to a lesser extent) for his conducting. I haven't been able to find a definitive list of the original recordings he made, but most sources put it into the hundreds.

Hundreds of recordings, and many of them set the standard for performance of the works (or at least a benchmark other artists measure themselves by). So just as the light rock station is playing Donna Summer, and the urban radio station is playing Chuck Brown, classical stations will be airing Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, right?

Welllll, there's a problem. You see, Fischer-Dieskau sang. And most classical stations avoid programming any type of vocal or choral works -- at all. I started a series called the CE Classical Challenge to examine in a quantitative way how much vocal music was being programmed on a typical day. It usually hovered around 0%.

So how will most classical stations honor one of the most important figures in the classical world? Make that one of the most important figures in the field of recorded classical music?

I think I already know the answer.

But I would love to be proved wrong.

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