Fritz Wunderlich, tenor. Born September 1930. Died September 1966, thirty-six years old. What happened? We will never really find out. He was hunting with his best friend, the baritone Hermann Prey. They’ve been drinking. Officially he tripped over his shoelaces and fell down the stairs. That may be true, although the rumors and gossip about his death are very harsh. But: does it really matter? One of the best tenors in the world was, just like that, dead at the age of thirty-six.
Fritz Wunderlich and Hermann Prey sing Bizet’s Pearl Fishers duet, in German:
We, the ‘surviving relatives’, we can consider ourselves lucky, because he left us quite a few recordings. Lots of songs (his Dichterliebe is to cry, so beautiful!), but also operas. Lots of operas. More than you could imagine.
The first thing you notice when you listen to Wunderlich is its great naturalness and total lack of artificiality. His diction was clear but nowhere too emphatic – a flaw that most lieder singers of his generation were guilty of. He knew how to find a perfect balance between word and music and any form of mannerism is foreign to him. In many ways he remains the ideal interpreter of… of everything actually. Schubert, Schumann, Mahler… But also Rossini, Tchaikovsky and Puccini.
Fritz Wunderlich sings Lensky’s aria from Evegeny Onegin. The recording is from 1962
And then suddenly, just out of the blue we are surprised with a box with three CDs filled with previously unreleased recordings. At least not officially. That makes a little collector’s heart beat faster. And if it’s not enough: the CDs contain fragments of rarely performed pieces of music, all composed in the twentieth century. I imagined myself in a real candy store because I had not even heard of many of the composers.
Below, Wunderlich sings Günter Raphael’s Palmström Sonate: