Elisabeth Schwarzkopf · The Complete 78 rpm Recordings, a 5-CD collection of recordings made between 1946 and 1952, follows and complements the 31-CD set, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf – The Complete Recitals 1952-1974, which was released in Autumn 2015 to mark the 100th anniversary of the soprano’s birth.
Schwarzkopf was one of the reigning sopranos of the second half of the 20th century and her recordings are timeless treasures of the Warner Classics catalogue. Like her contemporary and friend, Maria Callas, she represents a golden era of recording.
Schwarzkopf re-recorded a number of the items later in her career. Her maturity brought greater vocal richness and still more interpretative insight, but these recordings from the 78 era – and the years which saw her establish a major international reputation – show her voice and artistry at their freshest.
In 1946, the German-born singer was making a career in Vienna – she had joined the company of the Staatsoper in 1942. The British record producer Walter Legge visited the Austrian capital to establish contact with Herbert von Karajan and to scout out new talent. He heard Schwarzkopf at the Theater an der Wien in Rossini’s II barbiere di Siviglia, and judged that she had ‘a brilliant fresh voice shot with laughter … admirably projected with enchanting high pianissimo’. Karajan recommended her to him as “potentially the best singer we have”. Schwarzkopf auditioned for Legge and her recording career for HMV/EMI was launched with sessions in the famous Musikverein for ‘Martern aller arten’ from Mozart’s Die Entführung aus dem Serail.
That meeting between Schwarzkopf and Legge launched an important professional and personal relationship that was to be central to the soprano’s career. Every track in this collection was produced by Legge and in 1953 he became Schwarzkopf’s husband. As the British music critic Edward Greenfield – who knew Elisabeth Schwarzkopf well – wrote in Gramophone in 1976: “If Elisabeth Schwarzkopf has established herself as a positive artist of unrivalled magnetism, she is the first to attribute to Walter Legge a dominant share in that success. ‘If I say I’m His Master’s Voice, people think I’m joking,’ she says, ‘but I’m not’. That first audition [in Vienna] proved at the very start that Schwarzkopf’s firm will could stand up to Legge’s insistence, that her all-demanding artistic standards could blossom from the most searching scrutiny, that their talents, and indeed their strong and vital personalities, were complementary.”
The songs of Hugo Wolf were one of Legge’s musical passions and Schwarzkopf became a supreme interpreter of his songs. Nineteen of them feature on this set, as do songs by Mozart, Schubert, Schumann, Brahms, Strauss, the Russian composer Nicolai Medtner (14 in all, accompanied by Medtner himself) and the English composers John Dowland, Thomas Morley and Thomas Arne. A number of traditional songs are also included, among them the Swiss ditty ‘Gsätzli’, closely identified with Schwarzkopf. The collection also features numbers from sacred works by Bach, Brahms and Mozart, Handel’s secular ode L'allegro, il penseroso ed il moderato and Johann Strauss’s Frühlingsstimmen
In 1947 Schwarzkopf joined the opera company at Covent Garden in London, where she remained for four seasons. Later in her career she restricted her stage appearances in opera to the roles of Mozart’s Donna Elvira and Strauss’s Marschallin, but as a young singer, initially making her reputation in Berlin and Vienna as a lyric-coloratura soprano, she was active in a wide repertoire. This breadth is reflected in the arias and duets in this collection, taken from operas by German (Beethoven, Humperdinck, Strauss), Austrian (Mozart), Italian (Verdi, Puccini) and French (Bizet, Charpentier) composers, many of which she sang in the theatre.
Appearing with Schwarzkopf on these recordings are, among others: conductors Herbert von Karajan, Karl Böhm and Joseph Krips; pianists Gerald Moore and, as already mentioned, Nicolai Medtner; soprano Irmgard Seefried; baritone Erich Kunz, and the Vienna Philharmonic and Philharmonia Orchestras. All the recordings were made in either Vienna or London.
Moreover, CD5 comprises material previously unreleased on CD - no less than 25 tracks - remastered to the highest standards at Abbey Road; it includes two recordings of Wolf lieder made available here for the first time ever.
'If you examine Walter Legge's work from beginning to end, you will experience something extraordinary and grand. You will hear the work of a man with god-given musicality and imagination, and you will know that all the great artists who appear on these albums worked alongside Walter, with his attentive ears, with the greatest satisfaction.' -Elisabeth Legge-Schwarzkopf
That Walter Legge was a consummate musician is obvious to anybody who knows his work. Yet he received no formal education in music. The source of his knowledge was a local public library in west London. He played the piano, and before heavy smoking took its toll he possessed a good baritone voice; but poor eyesight and a certain lack of physical coordination prevented him from mastering any musical instrument. On one occasion he conducted an orchestra, but after a few minutes he put the baton down, realising that he could never obtain results to satisfy his own acute musical sensibilities.
If he could not reach great heights in making music himself, then he would create great music-making by inspiring others; in later years he referred to himself, with perhaps a touch of irony, as 'a midwife to music'. His first employment within the record industry came in 1929 through the help of the manager of the HMV shop in London's Oxford Street, who recommended him to senior company colleagues. Soon Legge was writing analytical notes for HMV album sets. He then became editor of the company's trade magazine, The Voice.
In the early 1930s, he formed the London Lieder Club, and made contact with some of the finest singers of the day. Early in 1934, he met Sir Thomas Beecham, who was sufficiently impressed to insist that the 27-year-old should produce all his Columbia recordings (HMV, Columbia and Parlophone had amalgamated in 1931 to form EMI Records Ltd). In 1938 Beecham appointed him as his Assistant Artistic Director for two international opera seasons at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden.
The outbreak of war in September 1939 brought radical change to his working life. EMI continued to make recordings, though on a reduced scale, and Legge (rejected for war service on account of his poor eyesight) found himself responsible for all of the company's classical output. Among Beecham's last recordings before he departed for America in 1940 was one in which unusually he played the piano accompaniment for a young contralto, Nancy Evans, who was to become Legge's first wife the following year.
By June 1940, enemy forces occupied most of Europe, and Legge could only use British-based artists for his recordings. With young musicians returning from the fighting services, plus the pick of the players from other orchestras, Legge founded his Philharmonia Orchestra in October 1945. Almost immediately the new ensemble started to make recordings.
In 1946, Legge visited Vienna to renew contact with established artists and to seek new talent. Over the course of the next five years he made many recordings in Vienna, Lucerne, Prague, Berlin and Geneva, besides running his orchestra and maintaining a busy recording schedule in London. In 1951 he made recordings at the first post-war Bayreuth Festival, and in 1953 he made the first of a series of opera recordings in Milan's La Scala theatre. It was also in 1953 that he married his second wife, the soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, whom he had met in Vienna seven years previously.
A flow of recordings for EMI (now Warner Classics) continued until 1964; he continued to supervise all of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's recordings until her last sessions, three months before his death in March 1979. His recordings with Callas, Schwarzkopf, Karajan, Furtwängler, Klemperer, Lipatti and many of the greatest artists in the post-war era remain legendary today. He supervised some 3,500 recordings of separate works, large and small. Even in the most unpropitious circumstances, such as an unheated wartime town hall with a leaking roof, or when electrical power had to be provided via a power-driven generator in early post-war Vienna, he strove for the highest possibile artistic standards. He usually achieved his end. -Alan Sanders, 1996
Fono Forum magazine celebrates its 60th anniversary this year, with a great start to the year: legendary soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf on the cover. The article focuses on the boxed set of painstakingly remastered recordings released late 2015 to coincide with the centenary of her birth, a collection which continues to command the spotlight in 2016, a decade after her death.
“It was high time for Warner Classics, who are in charge of EMI’s legacy, to release Schwarzkopf’s complete recitals from the years 1952 to 1974 for her centenary – on 31 technically brilliantly revised CDs,” write the Fono Forum critics.
Warner Classics has also released a limited-edition LP of Schwarzkopf's lustrous Strauss Four Last Songs, recorded 50 years ago in 1966.
"Recording sessions have been the happiest times of my life," Schwarzkopf has said of her time in the studio and listening back to the glorious results.
The 60th-anniversary edition of Fono Forum with Elisabeth Schwarzkopf on the cover is out now.
"Preparing for Elisabeth's 100th on December 9th, with her music stand and silver rose from the Salzburg Rosenkavalier..."
Charles Scribner, USA
"As an accompanist I worked with Elisabeth for many years in Zurich. She would regularly fly me in and out of Zurich, or anywhere else where she wanted me to play for one of her students in auditions. She became patron for my Lieder group here in the Netherlands. She often cooked dinner for me after a long day which was rather strange, but my funniest memory was taking her to the local supermarket on a Saturday morning. I pushed the trolley around (watched by many students) and then at the checkout she paid and just walked out leaving me to pack everything etc. It was not done with any malice or lack of thought; it was just her way and I loved her more for it. I learnt so much from her which I continue to pass on in my own masterclasses, but the discipline she had in her work is sadly becoming a thing of the past. I miss her!" -Kelvin Grout, Holland
"At last giving her farewell recital in Paris, with the Four Last Songs of Richard Strauss. Standing ovation, the great Elisabeth's ankles riddled with roses thrown onto the stage by her admirers..."
Enfin présente pour le récital des adieux à Paris, avec encore d'ultimes 4 derniers lieder de Richard Strauss. Ovation finale, la grande Elisabeth les chevilles criblées de roses lancées par des admirateurs..." -Sibylle Bindé, France
"For me Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was and is one of the greatest singers of all time. I had the opportunity to speak with her on phone. The first thing she asked me was why did I like her, even though I was not yet born when she retired from the stage and I had never had the chance to see her live. I said, 'since my teens I have been buying your recordings and love very much your Marschallin and Donna Elvira'. A silence from the other end of the line...Then with a strong and clear voice which resonates still in my brain she told me to write her a letter. I did... Four weeks later she sent me a signed pic and invited me for a tea at her house in Zumikon." -Jose Lopes"After intermission in an exquisite master class and recital at Goucher College, in what turned out to be the last time I heard her live, Schwarzkopf breezed in with her usual glamour, then realised she was still wearing her fluffy pink dressing room slippers. She giggled through an adorable 'Entschuldigen Sie,' went backstage, returned smiling in high heels and sang the most touching Morgen! I will ever hear. She was perfect." -Octavio Roca
"I never had the pleasure of hearing Madame Schwarzkopf Live, but she was kind enough to send me an autographed photo, when I was in my early teens. I am a first generation Canadian, My family immigrated from Europe in the late 1960s. My exciting grandmother (Think Zsa Zsa Gabor) instilled in me not only an appreciation of opera and music, but an appreciation for the culture and elegance from her past.
"Operetta was my first exposure to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, eventually hearing all of her studio-recorded operettas as well as my favorite of her albums, the operetta recital disc. Schwarzkopf infuses every word and every phrase with magic. Hearing her is like a time capsule back to the glittering past of Vienna. Later I discovered her Strauss and Mozart, falling in love even more. Now I think I have heard almost everything she recorded, which makes me thrilled that Warner Classics has made this amazing investment in her legacy. I was born in 1980, these historic recordings still inspired, challenged and shaped my appreciation for not only the composers, but of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf as well... YEARS after they were recorded. I am pleased that future generations will continue to be inspired -in remastered sound - by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf and her peers. Thank You." -David Anné, CanadaThank you to all who shared tributes and memories. You can read them all here.
The revered director Luchino Visconti told a marvellous story about a performance of Il trovatore at La Scala in 1953. He arrived late and hardly noticed a woman seated behind him in his usual box. He was eager to hear Maria Callas.
Just as the great soprano finished singing D'Amor sull'ali rosee at the end of Act Four, he heard a voice exclaim, "That woman is a miracle!" He turned around and realised it was Elisabeth Schwarzkopf - the German soprano renowned for her formidable perfectionism - with tears streaming down her face.
This photo of the two sopranos together was taken in 1957 (Erio Piccagliani, courtesy of Teatro alla Scala). Both became elegant icons, immortal voices of their time, recording for the same label, EMI Classics (now Warner Classics) under the guidance of legendary producer Walter Legge - Schwarzkopf's husband.
In 2014, Warner Classics completed a monumental project at Abbey Road Studios in London: re-mastering the complete Maria Callas studio recordings in high definition from the original master tapes.
This year, for the Elisabeth Schwarzkopf centenary on 9 December, the same award-winning mastermind behind the Callas project has restored Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's complete recital recordings (1952-1974) to their original glory in luminous sound for a 31-CD collectors' boxed set.
Visit the official Elisabeth Schwarzkopf Facebook page and post your tribute, memories or photos, and fill in the competition form below; the best entry wins the Elisabeth Schwarzkopf boxed set: The Complete Recitals 1952-74.
The runner-up prize is the newly issued vinyl LP of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf's Strauss Four Last Songs.
Almost all Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s recordings have been included in the various CD editions of her legacy that have appeared over the years. Indeed, some of these have remained in the catalogue ever since they were first published. Mining the wonderfully rich
archive of her recorded art, EMI, her lifelong and almost exclusive label, has with the development of technology produced a large number of anthologies reissuing her heritage, and in some cases
these have been replenished by the addition of previously unpublished material.
Generations of music lovers have thus been able to access Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s recorded art almost exhaustively — and yet this very availability has, paradoxically, hidden a vital element of the legacy. While the perfectionism of Schwarzkopf and her
husband, the legendary EMI producer Walter Legge, has long been famous, the CD reissues have rarely if ever taken into account the meticulous care they both took in the planning and polishing of the programmes they chose for their recorded recitals: the complete and integrated musical sequences that they devised for
each particular original release.
As we celebrate the centenary of an artist who will always be hailed as one of the greatest sopranos of the twentieth century, Warner Classics, the inheritor of the EMI Classics catalogue, has decided to offer the public the entire recital recordings of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf in a 31-CD set, with each disc exactly mirroring
the content and sequence of a particular recital as it first appeared on LP. The resulting relatively short duration of each CD is a small price to pay for the reincarnation of the true concept and sentiment of an oeuvre that is without parallel in the history of recorded music.
All the CDs in this box set, beginning with the original Columbia tracks and then progressing to the His Master’s Voice recordings, have been produced with the most fastidious restoration process,
meticulously respecting the authentic balances of the indigenous tapes. These have all been preserved and stored since their making with the greatest care in the archives at Hayes, the birthplace and central hub of the recording industry in
the United Kingdom.
Our restoration here of this exceptional artist’s recorded art in its original design as well as its legitimate sonority is for us the most appropriate centenary tribute we can offer to the enduringly venerated Elisabeth Schwarzkopf.
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: The Complete Recitals 1952-74, available 6 November.
The sublime and moving culmination of Richard Strauss’s love affair with the soprano voice, the Vier letzte Lieder (Four Last Songs) are interpreted by Elisabeth Schwarzkopf with insight, wisdom and gentle radiance.
In the early years of his career George Szell was mentored by Richard Strauss himself, and he provides Schwarzkopf with an exquisitely sensitive orchestral context for all nine songs in this classic anthology.
For the Elisabeth Schwarzkopf centenary year, Warner Classics reissues this timeless recording on limited-edition, high-quality vinyl.
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: Strauss Four Last Songs: LP is out now.
The 100th birthday of Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, one of the reigning sopranos of the second half of the 20th century, falls on 9 December 2015. She died in 2006, but her recordings are timeless treasures of the Warner Classics catalogue. Like her close contemporary and friend, Maria Callas, Schwarzkopf is a representative of a golden era of recording; but while Callas is closely identified with Italian composers and specifically with opera, Schwarzkopf is admired above all in music of the Austro-German tradition, both opera and song.
The 31-CD deluxe box set, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: The Complete Recitals 1952-1974, to be released on 6 November, gathers together all the recital programmes of song, opera and operetta that Schwarzkopf recorded for EMI between 1952 and 1974 with Walter Legge – who became the soprano’s husband in 1953 – as producer. Schwarzkopf and Legge conceived each programme with the greatest of care, and this collection respects and retains the integrity of every recital, with no recoupling or reorganisation of the tracks. In addition, the recordings have been remastered to the highest standards in 24-bit/96kHz: Schwarzkopf’s art emerges in all its beauty, refinement and detail.
The collection comprises programmes of song, with both piano and orchestra, and programmes of operatic, operetta and concert arias. The emphasis is on Austro-German composers such as: Mozart; Richard Strauss – notably with two different versions of his sublime Vier letzte Lieder – conducted by Otto Ackermann (1953) and George Szell (the 1965 studio recording, often regarded as the greatest in the catalogue); Schubert; Schumann; Brahms; Wolf; Mahler; Wagner; Johann Strauss and Lehár. The recitals also showcase Schwarzkopf in arias and songs by Italian, Russian, Czech, British and Nordic composers.
Encouraged by Walter Legge, Schwarzkopf developed into the leading female lieder-singer of her time, perhaps famed above all for her interpretations of the sophisticated songs of Hugo Wolf, and this box contains a programme of Wolf recorded in Salzburg in 1953 with none other than the great conductor Wilhelm Furtwängler at the piano. She remains unrivalled for her attention to the meaning of the words and to expressing it through subtleties of phrasing and tonal coloration. Such was her fame as a recitalist that she could sell out large venues such as New York’s Carnegie Hall and London’s Royal Festival Hall for a programme of lieder with piano. Her final appearance as a recitalist came in Zurich in 1979, but she continued to be active as a (sometimes redoubtable) teacher and her students included Thomas Hampson and Renée Fleming.
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: The Complete Recitals 1952-1974 presents the soprano in collaborations with some of the other greatest artists of her time, such as: sopranos Irmgard Seefried and Victoria de los Angeles; baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau; pianists Walter Gieseking, Edwin Fischer, Gerald Moore (Schwarzkopf’s favoured accompanist), Geoffrey Parsons and Alfred Brendel, and conductors Herbert von Karajan, George Szell, Charles Mackerras, Otto Ackermann and William Walton – who originally composed the role of Cressida in his opera Troilus and Cressida for Schwarzkopf, though she never sang it in the theatre. The recording of scenes from the opera constitutes one of the more unexpected CD in this landmark collection.
Each individual recital in the box is presented in a sleeve with its original artwork. The comprehensive illustrated booklet features essays by three distinguished writers, all acknowledged experts on Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: Alan Sanders (English); André Tubeuf (French) and Thomas Voigt (German).
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: The Complete Recitals 1952-1974, out 6 November, 2015.
Elisabeth Schwarzkopf’s complete 78rpm recordings are to be released by Warner Classics in 2016.