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Dame Elisabeth Schwarzkopf, DBE (9 December 1915 3 August 2006) was a German-born Austrian/British opera singer and recitalist. She was amongst the most renowned and beautiful opera singers of the 20th Century, much admired for her performances of Mozart, Strauss and Hugo Wolf.

Early life

Olga Maria Elisabeth Friederike Schwarzkopf was born in Jarotschinmarker in the province of Posenmarker in Prussia (since 1919 part of Poland) to Friedrich Schwarzkopf and his wife, Elisabeth née Fröhling. Schwarzkopf showed an interest in music from an early age. She performed in her first opera in 1928, as Eurydice in a school production of Gluck's Orfeo ed Euridice in Magdeburgmarker, Germany. In 1934, Schwarzkopf began her musical studies at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik. However at the suggestion of the baritone Karl Schmitt-Walter, she switched teachers and started working with the celebrated coloratura soprano Maria Ivogün as well as with Ivogün's husband, the noted pianist Michael Raucheisen. Ivogün's advice to her new pupil was, "Be noble, my child!"

Early career

Schwarzkopf made her professional debut at Berlin's State Operamarker on 15 April 1938, as the Second Flower Maiden (First Group) in Act II of Richard Wagner's Parsifal. She sang in Berlin for four years, during which time she became a member of the Nazi Party (a decision which later caused her to be boycotted in the United States for several years). However, she was always welcomed and acclaimed in countries other than the U.S.

In 1942, she joined the Vienna State Operamarker, where her roles included Konstanze in Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail, Musetta and later Mimì in Giacomo Puccini's La bohème and Violetta in Giuseppe Verdi's La traviata.

Post-war career

In 1945, Schwarzkopf was granted Austrian citizenship to enable her to sing in the Vienna State Operamarker (Wiener Staatsoper). In 1947 and 1948, Schwarzkopf appeared on tour with the Vienna State Opera at London's Royal Opera Housemarker at Covent Gardenmarker on 16 September 1947 as Donna Elvira in Mozart's Don Giovanni and at La Scalamarker on 28 December 1948, as the Countess in Mozart's Le nozze di Figaro, which became one of her signature roles.

Schwarzkopf later made her official debut at the Royal Opera House on 16 January 1948, as Pamina in Mozart's Die Zauberflöte, in performances sung in English, and at La Scala on 29 June 1950 singing Beethoven's Missa Solemnis. Schwarzkopf's association with the Milanese house in the early 1950s gave her the opportunity to sing certain roles on stage for the only time in her career: MĂ©lisande in PellĂ©as et MĂ©lisande, Jole in Handel's Eracle, Marguerite in Gounod's Faust, Elsa in Wagner's Lohengrin, as well as her first Marschallin in Richard Strauss's Der Rosenkavalier and her first Fiordiligi in Mozart's Così fan tutte at the Piccola Scala. On 11 September 1951, she appeared as Anne Trulove in the world premiere of Stravinsky's The Rake's Progress. Schwarzkopf made her American debut with the San Francisco Opera on 20 September 1955 as the Marschallin, and her debut at the Metropolitan Opera on 19 December 1964, also as the Marschallin.

In March 1946, Schwarzkopf was invited to audition for Walter Legge, an influential British classical record producer and a founder of the Philharmonia. Legge asked her to sing Hugo Wolf's lied Wer rief dich denn? and, impressed, signed her to an exclusive contract with EMI. They began a close partnership and Legge subsequently became Schwarzkopf's manager and companion. They were married on 19 October 1953 in Epsommarker, Surreymarker; Schwarzkopf thus acquired British citizenship by marriage. Schwarzkopf would divide her time between lieder recitals and opera performances for the rest of her career.

When invited in 1958 to select her eight favourite records on the BBC's Desert Island Discs, Schwarzkopf chose seven of her own recordings as they evoked fond memories of the people she had worked with. This apparently narcissistic choice was due to the influence of her husband Walter Legge. In private, she remarked that she disliked many of her recordings.

In the 1960s, Schwarzkopf concentrated nearly exclusively on five operatic roles: Donna Elvira in Don Giovanni, Countess Almaviva in Le nozze di Figaro, Fiordiligi in Così fan tutte, Countess Madeleine in Strauss' Capriccio, and the Marschallin. She also was well received as Alice Ford in Verdi's Falstaff. However, on the EMI label she made several "champagne operetta" recordings like The Merry Widow and The Gypsy Baron.

Schwarzkopf's last operatic performance was as the Marschallin on 31 December 1971, in the theatre of La Monnaiemarker in Brusselsmarker. For the next several years, she devoted herself exclusively to lieder recitals.

On 17 March 1979, Walter Legge suffered a severe heart attack. He disregarded doctor's orders to rest and attended Schwarzkopf's final recital two days later in ZĂĽrichmarker. Three days later, he died.

After retiring, Schwarzkopf taught and gave master classes around the world, notably at the Juilliard Schoolmarker in New Yorkmarker. She was well-known for being an extremely demanding, exacting teacher. Some even called her methods unnecessarily harsh. After living in Switzerland for many years, she took up residence in Vorarlbergmarker, Austria.

She was made a doctor of music by Cambridge Universitymarker in 1976, and became a Dame Commander of the Order of the British Empire (DBE) in 1992.

Schwarzkopf died in her sleep during the night of 2–3 August 2006 at her home in the village of Schrunsmarker, in Vorarlberg, western Austria, aged 90.

Immediately following her death, an urban myth resurfaced: that she was an aunt of Norman Schwarzkopf. This myth was published in several obituaries. However, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf was an only child, and thus had no nieces or nephews.


During her career, Schwarzkopf was much admired for her artistry and for her timeless beauty.

She leaves a discography that is considerable both in quality and in quantity and will be mostly remembered for her Mozart and Strauss operatic portrayals, her two commercial recordings of Richard Strauss's Four Last Songs, and her countless recordings of Lieder, especially those of Hugo Wolf.

The Elisabeth Schwarzkopf/Walter Legge Society, chaired by Dr Daphne Kerslake, continues to keep her name alive.



  • (After being asked about Peter Sellars) "There are names I do not want mentioned in my home. Do not say that name in my presence. I have seen what he has done, and it is criminal. As my husband used to say, so far no one has dared go into the Louvre Museummarker to spray graffiti on the Mona Lisa, but some opera directors are spraying graffiti over masterpieces." — Newsweek interview, 15 October, 1990

  • "Many composers today don't know what the human throat is. At Bloomington, Indianamarker, I was invited to listen to music written in quarter tones for four harps and voices. I had to go out to be sick." — Newsweek interview, 15 October, 1990

Further reading

  • Jefferson, Alan Elisabeth Schwarzkopf Northeastern University Press (August 1996) ISBN 1-55553-272-1 Chapter One extract
  • Legge, Walter; postscript by Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth; ed. Sanders, Alan Walter Legge: Words and Music Routledge (1998) ISBN 0-415-92108-2
  • Sanders, Alan and Steane, John B Elisabeth Schwarzkopf: A Career on Record Amadeus Pr (January 1996) ISBN 0-931340-99-3
  • Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth Les autres soirs Tallandier (Aug 16 2004) ISBN 2-84734-068-8
  • Schwarzkopf, Elisabeth On and Off the Record: A Memoir of Walter Legge Faber and Faber Ltd (Dec 31 1982) ISBN 0-571-11928-X; Scribner (March 1982) ISBN 0-684-17451-0; (paperback) ISBN 0-571-14912-X; University of British Columbia Press (Jan 1 2002) ISBN 1-55553-519-4
  • Liese, Kirsten, Elisabeth Schwarzkopf. From Flower Maiden To Marschallin. Molden, Vienna 2007. ISBN 978-3-85485-218-6


Recordings include the following.

Humperdinck Lehár Mozart Strauss II, Johann Strauss, Richard Verdi
  • Messa da Requiem (Di Stefano, De Sabata) (1954) Naxos 8.111049-50
Wagner, Richard

Notes and references

External links

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