BBC Four presents Thomas Quasthoff’s guide to one of the great loves of his life - the German Lied song. Drawing on his multiple roles as maestro, teacher and founder of an international Lied singing competition, Professor Quasthoff takes audiences on a thrilling personal journey into this short but intensely expressive art form.

Lieder, which comes from the German word for ‘song’, are poems of nature, love, and death for solo voice and piano. One of the premier baritones of his generation, Thomas Quasthoff, used to perform these songs around the world. Now that he has turned from practitioner to teacher, he is passing on this two century old tradition to a new generation of young singers. These are little songs filled with huge emotions.

Featuring a wide range of contributors, including musicians and academics, the documentary focuses on Franz Schubert as the first great Lieder writer. In the early 19th century Schubert, who died tragically young, seized the new possibilities of the piano and created over 600 songs. Thomas unlocks the factors that came together to create an explosion of Lieder - the rise of the German Romanticism and the role that personal, emotional poetry played in the homes of the growing German middle class, the spectacular popularity of the domestic piano and an emerging philosophical imperative to explore the soul.

Lied is often considered the most intimate music of the great composers. In Hamburg Thomas delves into the life and work of Johannas Brahms, a composer he feels a great empathy with, and discovers the grave of a little-known poet who inspired a masterpiece of Lied song.

The documentary then takes us to Heidelberg to the Das Lied International song competition which was founded by Thomas. Here 26 young Lied singers and their pianists spend five days performing before an international Jury, which includes singers Brigitte Fassbaender, Bernarda Fink and Dame Felicity Lott.

The programme includes rare archive footage of Thomas performing with pianist András Schiff in 2003 (before his retirement from the classical stage) as well as a newly restored tele recording of Thomas’s Lied singing hero, Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. In the most personal section of the film Thomas will take audiences on a late night vocal excursion to the island of Sicily where he performs an intimate Jazz concert.

Thomas is part of the jury for BBC Cardiff Singer of the World, 11th – 18th June and will appear at the BBC Proms with the LSO and Sir Simon Rattle on 19th August.


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