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When I came across the Philips CD of
“Lieder, Four-Hand Piano Works and a Melodrama”
by Friedrich Nietzsche (Yes, that Nietzsche!), I knew
that I had to check it out, because of the novelty
of it. After all, how many recordings exist of
music by “non-musicians” who are famous
and influential in other endeavors? It was all the more
attractive when I noted that the music was performed
by none other than baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau.

The accompanying liner note essay by Roger Hollinrake
doesn’t provide much insight regarding Nietzsche’s
musical training, which led me to conclude that he
was largely self-taught. Unfortunately, I’m not
multilingual and I was unable to translate the German
essay by pianist and musicologist, Professor Elmar
Budde, or the French essay by Professor Pierre Brunel.

At any rate, this 62-minute disc consisted of a
1989 recording of the songs and a melodrama,
along with a 1993 recording of the two four-hand
piano pieces. The 14 songs on this disc were
written between 1861 and 1865, and they provided
an interesting overview of Nietzsche’s compositional
career. To be blunt, they’re the work of a young
man who is earnestly attempting to be accepted
as a composer, while clearly familiar with the lieder of
Robert Schumann. I didn’t find these works to be
particularly laudatory, but I felt that they were
worth checking out. Nietzsche even set a couple of
the songs to his own texts! Interestingly, his 1863
melodrama for speaker and piano,
“Das zerbrochene Ringlein,” was referred to by
Hollinrake as “. . . a medium unprecedented in the
literature of Classical song,” making Nietzsche
somewhat of a trailblazer in light of subsequent
melodramas by noted composers, such as
Franz Liszt and Richard Strauss.

The two four-hand piano works he composed
between 1871 and 1872 were sort of ambitious
“tone poems.” The first one, “Nachklang einer
Sylvesternacht,” had a running time of 15 minutes
and was followed by “Manfred Meditation,” which
was the more successful of the two. Both of these
pieces were rambling affairs which were
performed for Richard and Cosima Wagner,
as Nietzsche was a strong Wagner devotee at
that time.

Vocally, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau has certainly
sounded better, particularly in his upper register.
Nevertheless, his lower register sounded quite
nice and he made a valiant effort to bring this admittedly
second-tier music to light, for curious listeners like me.
I’m not certain if any other singer has recorded any
of these songs. Earlier, composer and pianist
Aribert Reiman (1936 – ) had written an opera, “Lear,”
for Fischer-Dieskau. Here, Reiman provided
the baritone with more than adequate piano
accompaniment.

In fact, Fischer-Dieskau was one of the two pianists
performing the four-hand pieces in conjunction
with Professor Budde. This meant that I could also
experience Fischer-Dieskau’s pianistic skills. As the
second piano part was quite simple, it’s difficult to
assess his abilities.

For now, at least I can state that I’ve heard some
music by Nietzsche! This disc is for true “fringe seekers.”

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