Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, perhaps the 20th century's greatest singer of art songs, died yesterday at home in Bavaria, the New York Times reports. He was 86. The German son of a classical scholar and a schoolteacher, Fischer-Dieskau (pronounced FEE-sher DEES-cow) studied voice in Berlin and had two years of unexpected practice singing for fellow POWs during World War II. Returning to Germany at age 22, he quickly became a singing sensation. "I passed my last exam in the concert hall," he said.
Fischer-Dieskau excelled at infinitely shaded, flawless interpretations of songs by Schubert, Shumann, and Brahms, and lent his voice to operas as diverse as The Magic Flute and Das Rheingold. Married four times, he also found time to paint acclaimed portraits and write biographies of classical composers. In his memoir, he attributed his musical artistry in part to a life-long love of poetry: "Music and poetry have a common domain, from which they draw inspiration and in which they operate: the landscape of the soul." (Read more opera stories.)