Franz Völker (March 31, 1899, Neu-Isenburg, Grand Duchy of Hesse – December 4, 1965, Darmstadt, Hesse) was a dramatic tenor who enjoyed a major European career. He excelled specifically as a performer of the operas of Richard Wagner.
He was discovered by the conductor Clemens Krauss and he studied singing at Frankfurt, where he made his début as Florestan in Beethoven’s only operatic work, Fidelio, in 1926. Engagements followed in Vienna, Munich, Berlin, and London, where he appeared at the Royal Opera House, Covent Garden, in 1934 and 1937. He also performed often at the Salzburg Festival and the Bayreuth Festival, earning considerable public and critical acclaim.
Although he was considered to be a Heldentenor, his voice was not as large as others, such as Lauritz Melchior. Volker did not take on the heavier Wagnerian roles that Melchior did. I have to say that this Prize Song, which is probably a studio recording, is the best Prize Song that I have ever heard.
Völker had the ability to take a dramatic voice and control it enough to sing Lieder. Some examples are presented below.
What is truly remarkable about Völker’s singing is the ease of the legato. It seems as if he were a poet singing as he enjambs one line of lyric into the next. His vocal production is extraordinary, and the sound seems to beam right out of the top of his head (that is in the resonating cavities of his head). This was a remarkable 20th century musician.
There is one other thing that I should like to mention. Völker was most likely a Nazi. I go into this a bit below. He stayed in Germany during WWII, and he sang in productions that would have entertained the Nazis, especially at Bayreuth. If this bothers you, then please don’t listen to this post. I have come to terms with it, but I still won’t listen to Elisabeth Schwarzkopf!
Völker’s having stayed in Germany during WWII and its aftermath probably prevented him from having an international career.