Aksel Schiøtz (1906-1975) was a remarkable Danish tenor…and later, baritone. Born in Roskilde, he spent most of his formative years in the town of Hellerup, just north of Copenhagen. The young man had always had an interest in music and began singing Danish songs and German lieder while still in high school. His architect father, however, felt that the boy should concentrate on something more practical. With that in mind, Schiøtz earned his Masters of Arts in languages and literature (with a Minor in singing and pedagogy) from the University of Copenhagen in 1930 and set about earning a living as a schoolteacher. When he wasn’t in the classroom, however, the young teacher continued singing, albeit as an amateur. Schiøtz was cantor at Copenhagen’s Helligåndskirken and the Christiansborg Slotskirke and also soloed with the Copenhagen University Choir.
Schiøtz’s professional operatic debut didn’t come about until 1939…when he was nearly 33 years of age. The role was Ferrando in Mozart’s Così fan Tutte at Copenhagen’s Royal Danish Theater. Schiøtz was never offered a long term contract with the company and he only made a few infrequent guest appearances. The tenor travelled to the U.S. later that year for appearances at the World’s Fair in New York and San Francisco. By the time he returned to Europe, war had broken out, restricting travel. As a consequence, Schiøtz remained in Scandinavia for the duration of the war. He made his mark as an oratorio specialist, with appearances in Handel’s Messiah and Samson, Haydn’s The Seasons and The Creation, Mozart’s Requiem, Bach’s St. Matthew Passion, Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis and others. During the German occupation of Denmark, he also became popular with radio audiences for his broadcasts as “The Masked Tenor”.
Following the war, Schiøtz was ready to resume his international career. In July of 1946, he accepted an invitation to Glyndebourne to sing in the world premiere of Britten’s The Rape of Lucretia, alternating the role of Male Chorus with Peter Pears. Shortly after the production, Schiøtz began to suffer from hearing loss and complained of dizziness. Doctors diagnosed a tumor on the acoustic nerve. Surgery, albeit risky, was necessary to save the tenor’s life. Schiøtz underwent the operation in September of 1946 and although he survived, he was left with permanent paralysis of the right side of the face. Resumption of his singing career seemed out of the question…but Aksel Schiøtz refused to give up easily.
After a two-year recovery period, the courageous tenor made a comeback of sorts, with a solo recital at Copenhagen’s Oddfellows Hall…the site of his very first solo recital a dozen years earlier. The concert, consisting of Schubert’s Dichterliebe and several sets of Danish art songs, was a tremendous success and an encore performance had to be quickly scheduled. Concert appearances in New York, Montreal and Edinburgh followed, with a curious public flocking to see and hear the Danish tenor. Schiøtz was able to extend his career for a few years by switching his vocal range to baritone. The paralysis, however, left Schiøtz in a slightly impaired state and he never completely recovered his voice. By the mid-1950s, he had returned to his original profession, teaching, and held several collegiate positions including Professor of Voice at the University of Minnesota, Royal Conservatory of Music in Toronto and University of Colorado in Boulder. In 1968 he was appointed Professor at the Royal Danish School of Educational Studies in Copenhagen but continued to give masterclasses in the U.S. During the final years of his life, Schiøtz battled cancer, a souvenir of the radioactive contrasting dye used in the treatment of his brain tumor some three decades earlier. He succumbed to the disease on April 19, 1975 at the age of 68.
In spite of the cruel tricks that fate had played on him, Aksel Schiøtz was a remarkable artist who refused to let adversity stand in his way. Even after the effects of his illness had stripped the voice of much of its luster, the artistry and musicality remained intact. Schiøtz made hundreds of recordings, mostly between 1933 and 1946, consisting of arias from opera and oratorio, lieder, Danish art songs and even American standards. In this recording, Schiøtz sings Belmonte's aria "Hier soll ich dich den sehen, Konstanze" from Mozart's Die Entführung aus dem Serail. This was recorded in Copenhagen for HMV on August 31, 1943.