Memories of

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

I never was attracted to her until I heard the Salzburg recital of Hugo Wolf lieder accompanied by Wilhelm Furtwängler on the Seraphim label. That won me over as to her capability and, in spite of Furtwängler's occasional stumblings and his slow tempi, Nachtzauber became my #1 favorite art song (but now in 2006, this performance is hard to tolerate). Then I heard of how Legge tortured her in recording sessions, getting it exactly the way he wanted.


In '76 or '77, I heard her give a farewell recital at Goucher College in Baltimore. Bigger to the eye than I expected, I remember feeling I was hearing better than half of what she used to be, vocally speaking. As she walkd out for the second half, from stage left, half way onto the stage, she stopped, turned around and exitted. A pause... Then Mme. Returns and explains to the audience that she had taken off her shoes and forgot to put them back on. As Mme. probably planned.

After the recital I went backstage for the autograph and while I was waiting, up walked Rosa Ponselle. She immediately greeted Schwarzkopf and the two of them marched over to an out of the way corner of the backstage area and whispered like two sparrows for a couple of minutes. Then Schwarzkopf returned to us fans.


In 1982, I was informed about master classes she would be giving at American University, Washington, D.C. They required a cassette so I, being poor as a church mouse and precocious to boot, made a tape accompanying myself in 3 Wolf lieder, Fussreise, Verborgenheit and Nachtzauber. No knucklebusters.

I was very satisfied with the recording and sent it in. Then we had to do a live audition for Mme. Schwarzkopf. I did and was accepted.

My first selection was Fussreise. As I began "Am frisch" she abruptly stopped me and corrected my accentual clarity. Then came tons of artistic micro-surgery on all three songs - "We're here to work!". This and Verborgenheit one day and Nachtzauber the next. Very rough going for me and my pianist, but in the end, I firmly adapted everything she said about German diction into my singing of lieder for the rest of my life. I had learned so much.

I got out the cassette days later and it was the most boring thing I'd ever heard. The content of what she says is the gem of working with her. But her attitude, delivery and general constant mood of, dare I say anger? So abrasive.. I've always said she's taking it out on us for the intense partnership with her husband in the recording studio...


Winifred Cecil, philanthropist and founder of New Yorik's Joy in Singing, told me in 1983 that she heard Schwarzkopf's recital debut in Rome: all Hugo Wolf. Cecil said it was the most breathtakingly beautiful experience. Then Cecil moved to New York and a few months later, Schwarzkopf made her New York recital debut with the same program. She was shocked to see a near-carbon copy. The same timed gestures. As Mme. planned.


Schwarzkopf was the Head of the (Finals only) Jury for the '84 Paris Competition. During the introductions of each jury member, the order grew in stature and prestige. Then, after a small pause, we hear "Mmes. Mady Mesplê and Rêgine Crespin!" lumping their names together and thereby combining the applause. Then, after a long pause, "Mme. Elisabeth Schwarzkopf!" and she received a huge ovation from the Champs Elysêe audience. As Mme. probably planned.

As I had won the French Song Prize, I wanted to make our acquaintance again. While waiting in line in a special room just for Mme. Schwarzkopf, the person in front of me brought his copy of her Karajan Rosenkavalier, and nastily quipped something like "Look how BIG his name is on the cover!"


My final experience was during the 1987 Hugo Wolf Lieder Competition in Stuttgart where Mme. Schwarzkopf was the head of the jury. After the announcement of the winners, the finalists were allowed to greet the jury onstage while the audience was filing out of the hall. I saw the winner in the female division with Mme. Schwarzkopf. I couldn't hear a word that was being said bu the winner was definitely getting an earfull. A dressing down, an attack n some way. I felt so sorry for the young lady who deserved first place hands down. I guess Mme. Schwarzkopf was not about to relinquish her crown.