The Frida Leider Archive
My discovery of a copy of Frida Leider's autobiography Das war mein Teil (the English version was published as Playing my Part) in a Berlin antiquarian book store in the late 1990s after a long search was destined to have wide-ranging consequences for me and, I hope, for Frida Leider's posthumous fame. It turned out by chance that the singer was born and spent her childhood only a few streets away from my Berlin apartment.
I quickly realized that the unbroken reverence and admiration that the vocal art of Frida Leider enjoys even today among singing experts, Wagnerians and, in general, among lovers of great voices has not met with a corresponding perception and recognition of her impressive personality among the broader public.
Her autobiography, which is written without any vanity, and reports of contemporaries portray a woman who, even apart from her artistic stature, can be seen as exemplary for Germany and also, in particular, for Berlin from the late 19th century until the cold war.
The City of Berlin has not treated the memory of its famous daughter very lovingly. Numerous attempts in the past and present to have a street, a square or a cultural institution named after her have so far been unsuccessfull. At least she has been given a grave of honour (although long past her death in 1975), but the current practice of the Berlin government to limit this status in time can only make one fear for the worst in the future.
As soon as I had definitely identified the house in which Frida Leider was born as the daughter of a carpenter on 18 April 1888, I attempted to win over various persons to the idea of placing a memorial plaque on this building. It was extremely helpful to have made the acquaintance of Frau Hilde Bahl, a long-time friend and companion of the singer, who was able to tell me about many details of the later years of Frida Leider and also put me in touch with many other contemporaries.
The editors of the opera periodical Orpheus also made a significant contribution to the project; the editor-in-chief Geerd Heinsen had known Frida Leider and had been deeply impressed by her.
In November 2002 the time had finally come, and the memorial plaque was unveiled.
In order to give these activities a sensible legal structure, at this time the "Frida-Leider-Gesellschaft" was founded, a non-profit foundation with many artists and opera fans from Germany, Europe and the US as members, which tries to stimulate interest in the memory of this exceptional artist in many different ways.
Thus, in the scope of the "Frida Leider Edition" all of the singer's available live recordings are being meticulously restored an issued. Until now several of these documents were available only on the EJS label, which is hard to obtain and includes some dubious additions and editings.
Leider's biography is now available in both the German and English versions on CD-ROM. Other books by great singer personalities that have long been out of print are also being made available in this form: Aus meinem Leben by Rosa Sucher is already available, and Lilli Lehmann's Mein Weg is in preparation.
A CD/DVD with radio and television interviews of Frida Leider is also planned: this will probably be published in the course of 2006.
Of course, the foundation also has a website. At http://www.frida-leider.de one can order the CDs, and in addition the site contains information about the foundation's current activities.
When it became possible in 2004 to rent space in the house where Frida Leider was born, the foundation decided to establish there the "Frida-Leider-Zentrum". In addition to the archiving of documents concerning the artist's life and career, a music library and recording collection are also being built up. The basis of this collection is the estate of Peter Hofmann, a music lover from Kassel, who died in 2004 and left his extensive collection to the foundation.
In addition there are regular events, mostly talks by experts about particular singers, but sometimes also exhibitions on music-related themes; at present, there is an exhibition about the rebirth of Berlin's opera houses immediately after 1945. There is also a permanent exhibition with texts and photographs called "The World of Frida Leider".
Unfortunately, in a time of great government austerity there is no hope of subsidies for our activities. The foundation is thus always searching for sponsors who can support our goals by donations of money or in kind. For example, we are urgently looking for a small grand piano that would allow us to hold chamber concerts and Liederabende.
We are always very grateful for new members, ideas and contacts to similar institutions!
(Peter Sommeregger is Chairman of the Frida-Leider-Gesellschaft e.V., Berlin
The Editor is grateful to Christopher Kuner, who translated this article.)
The Record Collector, September 2006