(b Basle, 6 Oct 1886; d Zürich, 24 Jan 1960). Swiss pianist and conductor. From 1896 to 1904 Fischer attended the Basle Conservatory, where he was a pupil of Hans Huber. He then studied for some years with the Liszt pupil Martin Krause at the Stern Conservatory in Berlin. By the 1920s he was established as one of Europe's leading pianists, playing both 19th-century repertory and the then relatively little-played music of Bach and Mozart. He also formed a trio with the cellist Enrico Mainardi and the violinist Georg Kulenkampff (replaced after his death in 1948 by Wolfgang Schneiderhan). As a conductor he directed the Lübeck Musikverein and the Munich Bachverein in the late 1920s, and then founded his own chamber orchestra in Berlin, with which he conducted concertos from the keyboard. He taught at the Stern Conservatory and later at the Berlin Hochschule für Musik, and after returning to Switzerland in 1943 held masterclasses in Lucerne. Among his pupils were Conrad Hansen, Reine Gianoli, Paul Badura-Skoda, Alfred Brendel and Sequeira Costa. Health problems forced him to give up regular concert appearances after 1954. He provided for the establishment of the Edwin-Fischer-Stiftung, a foundation to help young musicians and those in need.
He composed songs, short piano pieces and cadenzas to some of the piano concertos of Mozart and Beethoven, and edited Mozart's piano sonatas, Bach keyboard works, and (with Kulenkampff) Beethoven's violin sonatas.
Fischer's repertory was wider than has sometimes been thought, but it was centred on a selection of composition of particular importance to him. His records, still admired today, are mainly devoted to these works; they include concertos and solo works by Bach, Mozart and Beethoven, Schubert's Impromptus, Moments musicaux and ‘Wanderer’ Fantasy, and the first complete recording of Bach's Das wohltemperirte Clavier. This legacy is supplemented by a number of live recordings, including some with his trio, which have been issued since his death.
Fischer's playing was not technically flawless, but he was noted for his integrity, expressiveness and beauty of tone. In the context of his time he was a progressive and scholarly interpreter, insisting on fidelity to the text and accurate editions, and he welcomed the influence of Busoni and Toscanini. He considered that one of the greatest secrets of interpretation lay in understanding a composition’s harmonic progressions; but, he wrote, ‘our aim should not be pure soil and sterile air in which nothing will grow’.
Johann Sebastian Bach: eine Studie (Berne, 1947; Eng. trans., 1951, in Reflections on Music)
Musikalische Betrachtungen (Wiesbaden, 1949; Eng. trans., 1951 as Reflections on Music)
Ludwig van Beethovens Klaviersonaten (Wiesbaden, 1956, 2/1966; Eng. trans., 1959)
(b Brunswick, 13 June 1838; d Hamburg, 11 Aug 1914). American bass of German birth. He studied with his parents (both opera singers) and made his début in Graz as the Seneschal (a tenor role) in Boieldieu’s Jean de Paris (1857). He sang baritone roles with the Danzig Opera (1863–70); at some point during the 1870s he began to sing even lower roles. After seasons with the Rotterdam Opera (1875–80) and the Königliche Sächsische Oper, Dresden (1880–85), he made his Metropolitan Opera début in November 1885 and became a mainstay of the company during its German seasons. He sang Hans Sachs in the first American Meistersinger (4 January 1886); his was long considered the definitive portrayal. Although renowned for Wagnerian parts (including Wotan, Hagen, King Henry and King Mark), he was equally comfortable in the French and Italian repertory: he sang Boito’s Mephistopheles and Verdi’s Ramfis; he also sang the High Priest in Goldmark’s Die Königin von Saba and the title role in Cornelius’s Der Barbier von Bagdad. After Fischer retired from the Metropolitan in 1898, he taught singing in New York until he returned to Germany shortly before his death.
(b Iowa City, IA, 5 July 1903; d Wilmette, IL, 7 May 1977). American composer, conductor and organist. He took an arts degree at the University of Chicago (1924) and then studied at the American Conservatory in that city (MMus 1930). In 1928 he began to teach at the American Conservatory, where he was appointed dean in 1974. His later studies were with Boulanger in Paris (1931), with Kodály in Budapest (1936), and with Malko and Paumgartner at the Salzburg Mozarteum (1937). Active in the musical life of Chicago, he conducted several orchestras in the area and held important organ posts. Though basically conservative, his compositional style is quite individual. In the 1930s he developed a polytonal technique that he termed ‘biplanal’. The Piano Sonata of 1960 marked a turning towards systematic serial structures, to which his work had long pointed. Fischer’s orchestral works show the full extent of his range; also of importance are the songs, which display an extraordinary variety of styles and techniques. His writings include contributions to Clavier and A Handbook of Modal Counterpoint (New York, 1967, with S. Roberts).
Orch: Rhapsody on French Folk Tunes, c1933; Pf Conc., 1935; Marco Polo, fantasy ov., 1937; Hungarian Set (The Pearly Bouquet), 1938; Lament, vc, orch, 1938; Chorale Fantasy, org, orch, 1940; NYA Film Music, c1941; Sym. no.1, 1943; Idyll, vn, orch, 1949; Variations on an Original Theme, c1950; Legend, 1956; Mountain Tune Trilogy, 1957; Poem, vn, orch, 1959; Short Sym. [version of Pf Sonata], 1960; Passacaglia and Fugue, 1961; Ov. on an Exuberant Tone Row, 1964; Conc. giocoso, cl, orch, 1971; Sym. Adventures of a Little Tune (Fischer), narrator, orch, 1974
Over 60 songs, v, pf, incl. Lullaby (P. Worth), 1927, A Sea-Bird (W.A. Percy), 1933, Communion Hymn (M.B. Eddy), 1952, Come unto Me (Bible: Matthew), 1956, Increase (E.C. Howes), 1959, When from the Lips of Truth (T. Moore), 1960, If Ye Love Me, Keep My Commandments (Bible: John), 1962, Feed My Sheep (Eddy), 1965, Let the Beauty of the Lord be upon us (Bible: Psalms), 1969, Ye Shall Know the Truth (Bible: 1 John)
Org: Recitative and Aria, 1930; Prelude on Franconia, c1946; Toccata, c1948; chorale-preludes, transcrs.
Chbr works, incl. Str Qt, 1972
Principal publishers: De Luxe, Fitzsimmons, Summy-Birchard
E. Borroff: ‘Spelling and Intention: a Setting of William Alexander Percy’s Lyric A Sea Bird (1931) by Irwin Fischer’, Notations and Editions: a Book in Honor of Louise Cuyler, ed. E. Borroff (Dubuque, IA, 1974/R), 172–81
E. Borroff: Three American Composers (Lanham, MD, 1986)