20 July 2023

P.R. Jenkins

Karajan artists: Peter Schreier – the voice of Dresden

The photo above shows Peter Schreier as the Evangelist in a Bach “St Matthew Passion” performance conducted by Karajan in 1977, a part that he performed 500 times.

“The Evangelist pulls all the strings. He sets the stage for everything, the dynamics and the tempo. It’s all in his hands. That’s why I love the part. The Evangelist is comparable to Loge. He’s a string-puller too. But I didn’t know that. Herbert von Karajan said to me after a “St Matthew Passion” that I had to sing Loge. When I did it in Salzburg the audience was enthusiastic. I thought, why had I spent all my time singing Mozart? I never got such applause before. Wagner is more spectacular.”

Peter Schreier

Peter Schreier was one of 20th century’s greatest German singers, not only for sacred music. Schreier was born in Eastern Germany in 1935 and was a citizen of the German Democratic Republic (GDR) until its demise in 1990. He later explained that he would never have left Dresden and the rich musical tradition of Saxony. Like many other singers, Peter Schreier started his career in a boys’ choir, the “Dresdner Kreuzchor”, and he must have heard a lot of jokes about his name (“Schreier” means “screamer” in German). Although he wasn’t member of the official socialist party SED, Schreier was allowed to travel and carved out an international career for himself without leaving the GDR.

In an interview in 2015, he mentioned that Karajan himself had asked the “Zentralkomitee” of the socialist party for Schreier to come to West Berlin for studio recordings. The Committee was flattered that Herr von Karajan wanted a “GDR man” and let him go.

“Peter Schreier Sings Christmas Carols” was the most successful record ever made in the GDR, selling 1.4 million copies. Schreier died on Christmas Day 2019.

Karajan’s and Schreier’s first collaboration was the legendary “Meistersinger” studio recording in 1970 with Schreier as David. He appeared in the same role at the Salzburg Easter Festival in 1974 (3rd from left), with Karl Ridderbusch (Sachs), Kerstin Meyer (Magdalene), Gundula Janowitz (Eva) and René Kollo (Stolzing).

He also appeared in the first ever production (and recording) of Orff’s “De temporum fine comoedia” and in almost every important sacred work in Karajan’s repertoire – Bach’s “St Matthew Passion”, Mass in B minor and “Magnificat”, Haydn’s “Creation”, Mozart’s Mass in C minor and Requiem, Bruckner’s “Te Deum” and Beethoven’s “Missa Solemnis”. His most prominent opera part in a Karajan production was Loge in the 1978 “Rheingold” film.


We’ve prepared playlists with Karajan and Peter Schreier. Listen to them here.

Sächsische Zeitung, 27 December 2019

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