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Classical Notes

Elisabeth Schwarzkopf

Posted at 3:39 PM on August 4, 2006 by Rex Levang

The German soprano Elisabeth Schwarzkopf died earlier this week, at 90. I won’t attempt an obituary; those of the BBC, the Guardian, the Washington Post, and L. A. Times are a few among many. William Butler Yeats says that

The intellect of man is forced to choose
Perfection of the life or of the work

and in these and other obits and assessments I’ve seen, the theme, variously handled, is how Schwarzkopf strove for perfection in one area and fell far short of it in the other.

During the period of her stardom (1950s to ‘70s) the revelations about the imperfection of the life lay in the future -- it was the perfection side that we were mostly exposed to, and responded to. Most musicians are lucky to be associated with one enduring recording – in Schwarzkopf’s case, there are half a dozen or more:

Strauss: Four Last Songs, Rosenkavalier, Capriccio, Ariadne auf Naxos
Mozart: Marriage of Figaro, Don Giovanni
Brahms: German Requiem
Hugo Wolf: Songs (e.g. the Salzburg recital with Furtwängler at the piano)
Operetta Arias (Otto Ackermann conducting)