Aksel Schiotz

Biography

Born: September 1, 1906; Roskilde, Denmark   Died: April 19, 1975; Copenhagen, Denmark  
A musician of the utmost integrity and musicality, tenor Aksel Schiřtz was a symbol of Danish resistance in the face of Nazi rule during WWII in addition to being one of Scandinavia's most accomplished lyric singers. Exemplary in opera, oratorio, and recital, he recorded extensively, preserving on disc interpretations seldom equaled since and scarcely surpassed. Before he had reached his mid-forties, however, Schiřtz was diagnosed with a brain Read more tumor. While the operation was successful, the singer's voice suffered and his public appearances diminished. Following an early retirement, Schiřtz established himself as a singing teacher of exceptional gifts.

After graduating in 1930 from the University of Copenhagen, where he had concentrated on the study of modern languages, Schiřtz became a schoolmaster. For the next eight years, he taught languages and music in several Danish schools, pursuing his interest in music as an avocation. Denmark's most prominent choral conductor, Mřgens Wöldike, offered him membership in Copenhagen's foremost male chorus and soon began to assign him solo work. In 1936, Schiřtz gave his first recital as a non-professional and, by 1939, he had decided to forego teaching and devote himself to singing full-time. Following a brief period of study with the Swedish baritone John Forsell in Stockholm, Schiřtz made his debut that same year with the Royal Opera in Copenhagen, singing Ferrando in Mozart's Cosě fan tutte. A final accomplishment in 1939 was his professional recital debut in Copenhagen.

Numerous other opera, recital, and oratorio engagements followed, notably Gounod's Faust and Sverkel in J.P.E. Hartmann's Liden Kirsten for the Royal Opera. One adulatory review after another followed as the tenor soared to unprecedented popularity in his native country. When the Nazis invaded Denmark, Schiřtz refused requests to sing German lieder, realizing that such performances would be used for German propaganda. He sang, instead, the music of Denmark, both art songs and folk music, his research significantly adding to the store of published Danish song. In addition to maintaining his singing career, Schiřtz became active in the Resistance, a choice which led to his being knighted by King Christian X in 1947.

In the years immediately after the war's end, Schiřtz's reputation spread abroad, largely through his many radio broadcasts. He recorded with accompanist Gerald Moore memorable performances of Die Schöne Müllerin and Dichterliebe in 1945 and 1946, respectively. In 1946, Schiřtz was engaged by the Glyndebourne Festival Chorus to alternate with Peter Pears as the Male Chorus in Benjamin Britten's The Rape of Lucretia.

Just as his career was achieving international scale, Schiřtz was diagnosed with the tumor whose excision left his face partially paralyzed. With intense application, he retrained, enabling himself to return to the concert stage in Copenhagen in September 1948, this time as a baritone. His New York debut a month later, however, confirmed that while his artistry was unimpaired, his voice had suffered greatly in tone and volume. Over the next few years, Schiřtz made ever fewer appearances before the public and eventually retired to devote himself to teaching in Minnesota, Toronto, Colorado, and finally, in his native Copenhagen. A 1969 text on singing, The Singer and His Art, reveals Schiřtz as an astute and considerate observer of singers and the vocal literature; the wise, unpretentious volume warrants a place in every singer's collection. Read less