Baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was in his mid-30s when he sang at the premiere of the War Requiem. He performed alongside tenor Peter Pears and the chamber orchestra, conducted by Britten himself, while Heather Harper, the chorus and main orchestra were conducted by Meredith Davies.
‘The first performance of the Requiem was a really marvellous and great occasion for me – one of the milestones in my life. It was, though, partly a difficult occasion because of me, because I was a West Berliner!
‘At the time of the Cold War, the Russians wouldn’t allow a West Berliner to stand next to a famous Russian soprano. I found that strange, because that was exactly what the Requiem wants to say in the text – that everyone has to come together. But I think it was a marvellous thing to have Heather Harper.
‘Everything else was easy, though, and it was also a very important concert for me. I had the chance to get to know Benjamin Britten, who was so kind and modest in asking me to take part in it – I was quite astonished, and don’t think that any other composer of his rank would have asked me in that way.
‘I only wished that he would have conducted the whole thing himself, as it would have been better. The next three or four performances also had different conductors, but it wasn’t the best solution.
‘The part itself was difficult for me, only in that every first performance is difficult. But on the other hand, Benjamin Britten knew exactly how to write for the human voice, so there was no difficulty with that. He also set words so well. I felt wonderful!’
This interview with Dietrich Fischer-Diskau originally appeared in the May 2012 issue of BBC Music Magazine, just weeks before his death at the age of 86.
What's on at the Proms tonight?
Prom 72, Thursday 6 September, 7pm
Britten War Requiem
Erin Wall (soprano)
Allan Clayton (tenor)
Russell Braun (baritone)
Huddersfield Choral Society
RSNO Junior Chorus
Royal Scottish National Orchestra/Peter Oundjian
The Prom will be broadcast live on BBC Radio 3