Fritz Wunderlich
Fritz Wunderlich
 
After our Edinburgh recital, I said to him:
"Fritz, you sang so wonderfully, and we got on so well - I think you've been just perfect. I cannot tell you anything else."
He was furious at me and shouted:
"What are you talking about? Don't you want to tell me anything anymore? I will be your pupil as long as you live! You will teach me everything you know, and whenever I sang a little worse, you will have to play even better, so that nobody notices...
 
That's how the pianist Hubert Giesen explains in his autobiography one of his last conversations with Fritz Wunderlich. The recital he refers to took place in Edinburgh on 9th of September 1966 and Wunderlich died just a few days later, on 17th of September. That "as long as you live" that he says at the quotation reminds me of the sadness of Mozart when he said goodbye to Haydn, who was moving to London: "We are probably saying our last farewell in this life"; both Giesen and Haydn were much older than their friends but both outlived them many years.

When someone dies at 35 it's always a tragedy for his family and his friends. If the person has a public presence and is as talented as Wunderlich was, we all wonder (probably with a bit of egoism) what he could have done if he would have had more time. I wonder if Wunderlich had reached perfection, as Giesen suggests. Where would his career have headed? It's difficult to say; his operatic career was impressive, he played many, many roles during the ten years it lasted, but he still had a long way to go in Lied.

If we understand that his Lied repertoire pretty much matches his released recordings, then, we should say that it's not too extensive. Schubert was the composer that Wunderlich sang the most: there are five recordings of Die schöne Müllerin (from 1957 to 1966) and in addition to this cycle he sang about twenty more Lieder. Also, he sang few more of other composers: Dichterliebe by Schumann; Beethoven's only cycle, An die ferne Geliebte, and seven or eight more songs; and the same for Haydn, Strauss and Wolf. Just that. Would he have sung Winterreise? Would he have kept on working the cycles of Schumann? Strauss suited perfectly his voice and his singing, he didn't sing Mahler (except by Das Lied von der Erde)... So many things left!

Last year I told you I am in the habit (as many of you are) of recalling Fritz Wunderlich on the anniversary of his death. Back then we listened to a Lied by Beethoven, this year we are hearing one of the Lieder by Schubert included in our list of happiest Art songs: An Silvia; even if your name is not Silvia, it's an invigorating song. The original text in English is an excerpt from Shakespeare's The Two Gentlemen of Verona; the German text is a translation by Eduard von Bauernfeld.
There are four recordings of An Silvia performed by Fritz Wunderlich and Hubert Giesen; I've chosen to share with you the one from Edinburgh, Wunderlich's last recital. The guality of the sound is not too good, but I think that its symbolic value makes it worth it.
 
An Silvia
 

Was ist Silvia, saget an,
Daß sie die weite Flur preist?
Schön und zart seh ich sie nah'n,
Auf Himmelsgunst und Spur weist,
Daß ihr alles untertan.

Ist sie schön und gut dazu?
Reiz labt wie milde Kindheit;
Ihrem Aug' eilt Amor zu,
Dort heilt er seine Blindheit
Und verweilt in süßer Ruh.

Darum Silvia, tön, o Sang,
Der holden Silvia Ehren;
Jeden Reiz besiegt sie lang,
Den Erde kann gewähren:
Kränze ihr und Saitenklang!

Who is Silvia? what is she,
That all our swains commend her?
Holy, fair and wise is she;
The heavens such grace did lend her,
That she might admirèd be.

Is she kind as she is fair?
For beauty lives with kindness.
Love doth to her eyes repair,
To help him of his blindness,
And, being helped, inhabits there.

Then to Silvia, let us sing,
That Silvia is excelling;
She excels each mortal thing
Upon the dull earth dwelling;
To her let us garlands bring.

 
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