Elisabeth Schumann

These days, Schumann is seen as a connoisseur’s singer, but her name was once inseparably linked with such Mozart roles as Susanna, Blonde and Despina, and Strauss’s Sophie.

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My introduction to historic recordings came through Elisabeth Schumann, and there could not have been a better one. My mother, who had never forgotten a Johannesburg recital Schumann (left) gave shortly before her untimely death in 1952, cherished her records; and though as a young boy I first found the non-stereo sound a little off-putting, the soprano’s special tone quality shone through. She brought tangible human spirit to everything she sang. No less a discerning lover of the soprano voice than Richard Strauss adored her, persuading her to join the Vienna State Opera in 1919. He also accompanied her in his songs on a 1921 tour of the US, the country in which she was to settle when she decided to leave Nazi-occupied Vienna. Though the sadness of exile combined with some inevitable loss of bloom may have affected her 1938 recordings of Brahms Lieder, these remain among her most haunting monuments on disc.

John Allison.

In her own words: ‘The masterworks of song embody within themselves some secret powers.’

Greatest recording: Brahms Lieder (1930-38) Naxos 8.111099 

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