Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau (1925-2012) — German singer, baritone, considered to be one of the greatest vocal individualities in the twentieth century, especially in the domain of song performance, to which he devoted most of his attention. Having at his command a voice of great elasticity, beautiful tone, and extraordinarily wide expressional possibilities, he applied great care to textual interpretation. For a long time his performances created controversies and were often considered too ‘manneristic’. The artist gained fame through his unparalleled interpretations of the passions and cantatas of Bach, oratorios, and – above all – nineteenth- and twentieth-century song. He performed and recorded nearly all of Schubert’s songs, among those of others. His achievements have written an important chapter in the history of vocal art.
Fischer-Dieskau was also active as a pedagogue, conductor, and popularizer of music, as well as author of books devoted to the subject of song and its composers. He gave world premieres of a number of outstanding contemporary composers’ works. Witold Lutosławski wrote for him Les espaces du sommeil. The composer has said to Zofia Owińska when referring to the history of the work’s creation:
“I first met him after the recital with Sviatoslav Richter. It was a Hugo Wolff evening which took place at the National Philharmonic, and in the same building was followed by a reception given by the German ambassador. During this reception Fischer-Dieskau asked me if I have anything for the baritone. Taken by surprise, I replied that at the moment I don’t, but his inquiry is a great encouragement for me — eine große Erregung. And it really happened that I put on the back burner everything on which I had been working, and I began searching for German texts. I wasn’t concerned with a cycle of songs, but some type of symphonic piece with baritone. Finally, by chance I came upon a record with Fischer-Dieskau’s recital devoted to the music of Debussy and Ravel, and I decided that his French is very lovely, so I could look for a French text. I easily found a wonderful text by Robert Desnos — it was so good, in fact, that it would be difficult to imagine a work more suited to having music composed to it.”
The composition was completed in 1975, and was dedicated to the soloist. The world premiere of Les espaces du sommeil was given in Berlin on April 12, 1978, at Witold Lutosławski’s compositional concert. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau performed the solo part, with the Berlin Philharmonic playing under the direction of the composer. The work was memorialized on a Philips record with the same group of performers. (kt/mk)