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Peter Schreier

Peter Schreier

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Peter Schreier is a German tenor
The tenor is a type of male singing voice and is the highest male voice within the modal register. The typical tenor voice lies between C3, the C one octave below middle C, to the A above middle C in choral music, and up to high C in solo work. The low extreme for tenors is roughly B2...

 and conductor
Conducting is the art of directing a musical performance by way of visible gestures. The primary duties of the conductor are to unify performers, set the tempo, execute clear preparations and beats, and to listen critically and shape the sound of the ensemble...


Early life

Schreier was born in Meissen
Meissen is a town of approximately 30,000 about northwest of Dresden on both banks of the Elbe river in the Free State of Saxony, in eastern Germany. Meissen is the home of Meissen porcelain, the Albrechtsburg castle, the Gothic Meissen Cathedral and the Meissen Frauenkirche...

, Saxony
The Free State of Saxony is a landlocked state of Germany, contingent with Brandenburg, Saxony Anhalt, Thuringia, Bavaria, the Czech Republic and Poland. It is the tenth-largest German state in area, with of Germany's sixteen states....

, and spent his first years in the small village of Gauernitz, near Meissen
Meissen is a town of approximately 30,000 about northwest of Dresden on both banks of the Elbe river in the Free State of Saxony, in eastern Germany. Meissen is the home of Meissen porcelain, the Albrechtsburg castle, the Gothic Meissen Cathedral and the Meissen Frauenkirche...

, where his father was a teacher, cantor and organist. In June 1945, when Schreier was almost ten years old, and just a few months after the destruction of Dresden
Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the Czech border. The Dresden conurbation is part of the Saxon Triangle metropolitan area....

, he entered the boarding school of the famous Dresden
Dresden is the capital city of the Free State of Saxony in Germany. It is situated in a valley on the River Elbe, near the Czech border. The Dresden conurbation is part of the Saxon Triangle metropolitan area....

 boys' choir, the Dresdner Kreuzchor
Dresdner Kreuzchor
The Dresdner Kreuzchor is the boys' choir of the Kreuzkirche in Dresden. It has a seven century history. Today the choir has about 150 members from the age of 9-19 from Dresden and the surrounding region. Most of the boys live in a boarding school. The Choir Boys are also called "Kruzianer". The...

 (Choir of the Kreuzkirche
The Church of the Cross in Dresden is the largest church in Saxony, and home to the Dresdner Kreuzchor boy choir. Known since the early 12th century, it was officially dedicated on 10 June 1388 to the Holy Cross. Since 1491, it has burned down five times...

 or Church of the Cross). The choir had just been re-established. The young Peter and the few other choir members and teachers lived in a cellar in the outskirts of Dresden.

The conductor of the Kreuzchor, Rudolf Mauersberger
Rudolf Mauersberger
Rudolf Mauersberger was a German choral conductor and composer.-Professional career:...

, soon recognized Peter Schreier's great talent. He let him sing many solo alto parts and also created compositions that perfectly fitted Peter's boy voice. Solo recordings of Peter Schreier were made at the time (1948-1951) and are obtainable on compact disc
Compact Disc
The Compact Disc is an optical disc used to store digital data. It was originally developed to store and playback sound recordings exclusively, but later expanded to encompass data storage , write-once audio and data storage , rewritable media , Video Compact Discs , Super Video Compact Discs ,...

 even today.

Schreier was 16 years old when his voice broke, and he became a tenor, as he had passionately wished, because of the several Evangelist
Evangelist (Bach)
The Evangelist in the music of Johann Sebastian Bach is the tenor part in his oratorios and Passions who narrates the exact words of the Bible, translated by Martin Luther, in recitative, namely in the works St John Passion, St Matthew Passion, and the Christmas Oratorio, also in the St Mark...

s - all tenors - in J.S. Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach
Johann Sebastian Bach was a German composer, organist, harpsichordist, violist, and violinist whose sacred and secular works for choir, orchestra, and solo instruments drew together the strands of the Baroque period and brought it to its ultimate maturity...

's Passions
Passion music
In church music, Passion is a term for sung musical settings, normally at least partly choral, of the Gospel texts covering the Passion of Jesus, the events leading up to the Crucifixion of Jesus, and emphasising his suffering...

 and in his Christmas Oratorio
Christmas Oratorio
The Christmas Oratorio BWV 248, is an oratorio by Johann Sebastian Bach intended for performance in church during the Christmas season. It was written for the Christmas season of 1734 incorporating music from earlier compositions, including three secular cantatas written during 1733 and 1734 and a...

. After he had decided to become a professional singer he took lessons, at first privately, then later on at the Dresden Academy of Music. He had enough time to also study choral and orchestral conducting.

Musical career

Peter Schreier made his professional debut in August 1959, playing the role of the First Prisoner in Fidelio
Fidelio is a German opera in two acts by Ludwig van Beethoven. It is Beethoven's only opera. The German libretto is by Joseph Sonnleithner from the French of Jean-Nicolas Bouilly which had been used for the 1798 opera Léonore, ou L’amour conjugal by Pierre Gaveaux, and for the 1804 opera Leonora...

by Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven
Ludwig van Beethoven was a German composer and pianist. A crucial figure in the transition between the Classical and Romantic eras in Western art music, he remains one of the most famous and influential composers of all time.Born in Bonn, then the capital of the Electorate of Cologne and part of...

. In the years that followed he was successful as Belmonte in Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Die Entführung aus dem Serail
Die Entführung aus dem Serail is an opera Singspiel in three acts by Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart. The German libretto is by Christoph Friedrich Bretzner with adaptations by Gottlieb Stephanie...

(Abduction from the Seraglio) and somewhat later as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), both opera
Opera is an art form in which singers and musicians perform a dramatic work combining text and musical score, usually in a theatrical setting. Opera incorporates many of the elements of spoken theatre, such as acting, scenery, and costumes and sometimes includes dance...

s by Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart
Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart , baptismal name Johannes Chrysostomus Wolfgangus Theophilus Mozart , was a prolific and influential composer of the Classical era. He composed over 600 works, many acknowledged as pinnacles of symphonic, concertante, chamber, piano, operatic, and choral music...


In 1963 he was employed by the Berlin State Opera
Berlin State Opera
The Staatsoper Unter den Linden is a German opera company. Its permanent home is the opera house on the Unter den Linden boulevard in the Mitte district of Berlin, which also hosts the Staatskapelle Berlin orchestra.-Early years:...

 at Unter den Linden. Starting in 1966 he was for many years an annual guest of the Vienna State Opera
Vienna State Opera
The Vienna State Opera is an opera house – and opera company – with a history dating back to the mid-19th century. It is located in the centre of Vienna, Austria. It was originally called the Vienna Court Opera . In 1920, with the replacement of the Habsburg Monarchy by the First Austrian...

. That same year he made his debut in Bayreuth
Bayreuth Festspielhaus
The or Bayreuth Festival Theatre is an opera house north of Bayreuth, Germany, dedicated solely to the performance of operas by the 19th-century German composer Richard Wagner...

 as the young seaman in Tristan und Isolde
Tristan und Isolde
Tristan und Isolde is an opera, or music drama, in three acts by Richard Wagner to a German libretto by the composer, based largely on the romance by Gottfried von Straßburg. It was composed between 1857 and 1859 and premiered in Munich on 10 June 1865 with Hans von Bülow conducting...

with Karl Böhm
Karl Böhm
Karl August Leopold Böhm was an Austrian conductor. He is widely considered to be one of the greatest symphonic and operatic conductors of the 20th century.- Education :...

 as conductor. For 25 years, beginning in 1967, he took part in the program of the annual Salzburg Festival
Salzburg Festival
The Salzburg Festival is a prominent festival of music and drama established in 1920. It is held each summer within the Austrian town of Salzburg, the birthplace of Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart...

. In 1969, he starred as The Witch in Engelbert Humperdinck
Engelbert Humperdinck
Engelbert Humperdinck was a German composer, best known for his opera, Hänsel und Gretel. Humperdinck was born at Siegburg in the Rhine Province; at the age of 67 he died in Neustrelitz, Mecklenburg-Western Pomerania.-Life:After receiving piano lessons, Humperdinck produced his first composition...

's Hansel und Gretel, in a CD recording that featured the Staatskapelle Dresden.

He also sang Loge
In Norse mythology, Loki or Loke is a god or jötunn . Loki is the son of Fárbauti and Laufey, and the brother of Helblindi and Býleistr. By the jötunn Angrboða, Loki is the father of Hel, the wolf Fenrir, and the world serpent Jörmungandr. By his wife Sigyn, Loki is the father of Nari or Narfi...

 in Das Rheingold
Das Rheingold
is the first of the four operas that constitute Richard Wagner's Der Ring des Nibelungen . It was originally written as an introduction to the tripartite Ring, but the cycle is now generally regarded as consisting of four individual operas.Das Rheingold received its premiere at the National Theatre...

& Mime in Siegfried
Siegfried (opera)
Siegfried is the third of the four operas that constitute Der Ring des Nibelungen , by Richard Wagner. It received its premiere at the Bayreuth Festspielhaus on 16 August 1876, as part of the first complete performance of The Ring...

by Wagner
Richard Wagner
Wilhelm Richard Wagner was a German composer, conductor, theatre director, philosopher, music theorist, poet, essayist and writer primarily known for his operas...

. It was important to him to sing the title role of Palestrina
Palestrina (opera)
Palestrina is an opera by the German composer Hans Pfitzner, first performed in 1917. The composer referred to it as a Musikalische Legende , and wrote the libretto himself, based on a legend about the Renaissance musician Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina, who saves the art of contrapuntal music ...

, the opera by Hans Pfitzner
Hans Pfitzner
Hans Erich Pfitzner was a German composer and self-described anti-modernist. His best known work is the post-Romantic opera Palestrina, loosely based on the life of the great sixteenth-century composer Giovanni Pierluigi da Palestrina.-Biography:Pfitzner was born in Moscow, Russia, where his...

, not only in Munich but also in East Berlin
East Berlin
East Berlin was the name given to the eastern part of Berlin between 1949 and 1990. It consisted of the Soviet sector of Berlin that was established in 1945. The American, British and French sectors became West Berlin, a part strongly associated with West Germany but a free city...

 — a controversial issue at the time in East Germany.

He recorded Bach cantata
Bach cantata
Bach cantata became a term for a cantata of the German Baroque composer Johann Sebastian Bach who was a prolific writer of the genre. Although many of his works are lost, around 200 cantatas survived....

s with Adele Stolte
Adele Stolte
Adele Stolte is a German soprano singer in concert and Lieder, and an academic voice teacher.- Biography :...

, Annelies Burmeister, Theo Adam
Theo Adam
Theo Adam is a distinguished German classical bass-baritone who had an active international career in operas, concerts, and recitals from the 1940s through the 1990s. He particularly excelled in portraying roles from the operas of Richard Wagner...

, the Thomanerchor
The Thomanerchor is a boys' choir in Leipzig, Germany. The choir was founded in 1212. At present, the choir consists of 92 boys from 9 to 18 years of age...

 and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra
The Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra is one of the the oldest symphony orchestras in the world...

 conducted by Erhard Mauersberger
Erhard Mauersberger
Erhard Mauersberger was a German choral conductor, conducting the Thomanerchor as the fourteenth Thomaskantor since Johann Sebastian Bach...

, such as the cantata for Pentecost Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten! BWV 172
Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten! BWV 172
Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten! , BWV 172, is a church cantata of Johann Sebastian Bach, written for Pentecost Sunday in Weimar, first performed there in the Schlosskirche on 20 May 1714.- History :In Weimar, Bach was the court organist of Johann Ernst von Sachsen-Weimar...

in 1970. Recordings of the Bach's St Matthew Passion have included the version conducted by both Rudolf and Eduard Mauersberger, Claudio Abbado
Claudio Abbado
Claudio Abbado, Cavaliere di Gran Croce OMRI , is an Italian conductor. He has served as music director of the La Scala opera house in Milan, principal conductor of the London Symphony Orchestra, principal guest conductor of the Chicago Symphony Orchestra, music director of the Vienna State Opera,...

 and Herbert von Karajan
Herbert von Karajan
Herbert von Karajan was an Austrian orchestra and opera conductor. To the wider world he was perhaps most famously associated with the Berlin Philharmonic, of which he was principal conductor for 35 years...

. He recorded Bach's St John Passion with Helmuth Rilling
Helmuth Rilling
Helmuth Rilling is an internationally known German choral conductor, founder of the Gächinger Kantorei , the Bach-Collegium Stuttgart , the Oregon Bach Festival , the Internationale Bachakademie Stuttgart and other Bach Academies worldwide, and the "Festival Ensemble Stuttgart"...


In June 2000, Schreier left the opera stage. His last role was Prince Tamino in Die Zauberflöte; he argued that he could no longer act as if he were still a young prince. He ended his singing career on December 22, 2005, combining the roles of evangelist and conductor in a performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio in Prague.

Throughout his career Schreier has been famous as a singer of German Lied
is a German word literally meaning "song", usually used to describe romantic songs setting German poems of reasonably high literary aspirations, especially during the nineteenth century, beginning with Carl Loewe, Heinrich Marschner, and Franz Schubert and culminating with Hugo Wolf...

er, including the songs of Schubert
Franz Schubert
Franz Peter Schubert was an Austrian composer.Although he died at an early age, Schubert was tremendously prolific. He wrote some 600 Lieder, nine symphonies , liturgical music, operas, some incidental music, and a large body of chamber and solo piano music...

 and Schumann
Robert Schumann
Robert Schumann, sometimes known as Robert Alexander Schumann, was a German composer, aesthete and influential music critic. He is regarded as one of the greatest and most representative composers of the Romantic era....


Since 1970 Schreier has also been a conductor with a special interest in the works of Mozart, J.S. Bach and Haydn
Joseph Haydn
Franz Joseph Haydn , known as Joseph Haydn , was an Austrian composer, one of the most prolific and prominent composers of the Classical period. He is often called the "Father of the Symphony" and "Father of the String Quartet" because of his important contributions to these forms...

. During his singing career, in the performances of Bach's Oratorios, he would often combine the roles of Evangelist and conductor.

Peter Schreier has lived in Dresden since 1945, in the district of Loschwitz on the right bank of the river Elbe
The Elbe is one of the major rivers of Central Europe. It rises in the Krkonoše Mountains of the northwestern Czech Republic before traversing much of Bohemia , then Germany and flowing into the North Sea at Cuxhaven, 110 km northwest of Hamburg...



Particularly in his later years, Schreier would not be considered to have the most beautiful of tenor voices. Rather, it is the intelligence of his musical expression, as well as the intensity which he projects into the meaning of the text, that have secured his reputation.

For example, the Penguin Guide to Compact Discs says of Schreier's recording of Franz Schubert's Schwanengesang
Schwanengesang is the title of a posthumous collection of songs by Franz Schubert.Unlike the earlier Die schöne Müllerin and Winterreise, it uses poems by three poets, Ludwig Rellstab , Heinrich Heine and Johann Gabriel Seidl . Schwanengesang has the number D 957 in the Deutsch catalogue...

, "Schreier's voice may no longer be beautiful under pressure, but ... the range of tone and the intensity of inflexion over word-meaning makes this one of the most compelling recordings ever." Of his recording of Schubert's Winterreise
Winterreise is a song cycle for voice and piano by Franz Schubert , a setting of 24 poems by Wilhelm Müller. It is the second of Schubert's two great song cycles on Müller's poems, the earlier being Die schöne Müllerin...

, the same authors say "this is an intensely involving reading, with changes of mood vividly conveyed, positive, electrifying."

Honours and awards

  • Sonning Award (1988; Denmark)
  • National First Class Prize of the GDR
  • Bundesverdienstkreuz
    The Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany is the only general state decoration of the Federal Republic of Germany. It has existed since 7 September 1951, and between 3,000 and 5,200 awards are given every year across all classes...

     (Order of Federal Republic of Germany)
  • Ernst von Siemens Music Prize
    Ernst von Siemens Music Prize
    The international Ernst von Siemens Music Prize is an annual music prize given by the Bayerische Akademie der Schönen Künste on behalf of the Ernst von Siemens Musikstiftung , established in 1972. The foundation was established by Ernst von Siemens...

  • Honorary membership of the Musikverein Wien (Vienna Society of Music)
  • "Wiener Flötenuhr"
  • "Georg Philipp Telemann" Prize
  • European Church Music Prize
  • Title of Kammersänger
    Kammersänger , abbreviation: "Ks.", literally means "Chamber singer." It is a German honorific title for distinguished singers...

     (a title conferred to singers of outstanding merit) by the governments of the GDR, Bavaria and Austria
  • Honorary citizen of the town of Meissen because of his efforts in fund-raising for the restoration of the town.
  • He was awarded the Royal Academy of Music/Kohn Foundation Bach Prize
    Royal Academy of Music Bach Prize
    The Royal Academy of Music Bach Prize is an award given by the Royal Academy of Music and sponsored by the Kohn Foundation to performers and scholars who have made an outstanding contribution to the music of Johann Sebastian Bach....

    in 2009.


  • The quotation from the Penguin Guide to Compact Discs, by Ivan March, Edward Greenfield, and Robert Layton, is from the 1996 edition, published by Penguin, ISBN 0-14-051367-1.

External links