Born on November 9, 1959 near Hildesheim in Germany; son of Hans (a civil servant) and Brigitte Quasthoff (a homemaker); brother Michael a journalist.Education: studied voice with concert singer Charlotte Lehmann for 17 years; studied music theory with Professor Ernst Huber-Contwig. Education: studied voice with concert singer Charlotte Lehmann for 17 years Addresses: Record company(Deutsche Grammophone, 825 Eighth Avenue, New York, NY 10019; Phone: (212) 333-8000.

Bass-baritone Thomas Quasthoff demonstrated an aptitude and appreciation for music before the age of one. According to People magazine's Patrick Rogers, he lay in the children's ward of a hospital in Germany near his home in Hildesheim, where nurses played recorded music to calm the young patients. The following day, Quasthoff was singing one of the melodies and the nurses informed his mother that he had musical talent. New York Philharmonic guest conductor Sir Colin Davis said, "[Quasthoff] is one of the great bass-baritones of our time. To me, he is a lesson in life." Quasthoff told Rogers, "I don't like recording. I love audiences," and by the time Quasthoff was thirty-nine years old in 1999 with more than twenty CDs to his credit, it was clear that this star of the classic music realm was equally loved by his audiences.

Quasthoff was born on November 9, 1959 near the industrial city of Hildesheim in the Hannover region of Germany, where his father, Hans, worked as a civil servant. His mother, Brigitte, was a homemaker who took the drug thalidomide for morning sickness when pregnant with him. As a result of the drug, Quasthoff's hands are attached to his shoulders and he stands barely four feet tall. As an infant, he spent a year and a half in a plaster body cast that helped straighten his twisted feet. At age six, he was placed in a hospital for mentally and physically disabled children by German authorities, but eventually after a prolonged battle his father persuaded authorities to allow Quasthoff to live at home. When speaking with Rogers, he explained how he seemed unfazed by these early experiences: He said, "I learned to look around and realize there are people whose situation is worse than mine."

When Quasthoff was thirteen, he was refused a place at a school for the performing arts because it was physically impossible for him to play the piano. Though always small in stature, Quasthoff has always had a sturdy, exuberant personality and strong sense of self. His older brother, Michael, a journalist living in Hannover, told Rogers that his brother was never shy or timid. When other children taunted him because of his birth defects, he held his own. Michael said; "One couldn't exactly call him shy. He had such a big mouth, he didn't put up with much." Quasthoff's parents began recording his renditions of pop songs when he was still in diapers. His hopes for a musical career, however, were temporarily dashed when his application to the Hannover Hochschule fur Musik und Theater was rejected because of his disability. Resilient and determined, his parents arranged for daily lessons in Hannover with concert singer Charlotte Lehmann, a well-known soprano, with whom he studied voice for 17 years. Quasthoff gives her full credit for his extraordinary technical proficiency. He also studied music theory with Professor Ernst Huber-Contwig. Quasthoff's first big break came in 1988 when he received Germany's prestigious ARD International Musical Competition, spurring a rush of concert bookings and recording deals. Oregon Bach Festival conductor Helmuth Rilling heard him perform in Germany and thought, "Outstanding voice, outstanding person," and invited him to sing at the annual summer event in Eugene, OR in 1995. Quasthoff held on to his day job for a while, however, until his confidence grew. He continued to work as a popular Hannover radio announcer for six more years after that turning point in Munich.

Quasthoff rose to the apex of the musical world by utilizing his remarkably resonant voice. A Wall Street Journal reviewer described his delivery as "Gutsy, declamatory...," and Tower of Babel reviewer Pat Barnes described his voice as "large and resonant, both on top and on the bottom. He is in complete control of this voice, both in its shading and its dynamic effect, which he uses to its full advantage in the interpretation of songs.... ["Des Knaben Wunderhorn" was] sung with rollicking humor chilling in its impact phrasing and diction were exceptional." Quastoff recorded "Des Knaben Wunderhorn" for the first time with mezzo-soprano Anne Sofie von Otter and the Berlin Philharmonic, conducted by Claude Abbado, and Byrnes described it as "an exciting debut from a wonderful artist".

Quasthoff, who resides in Hannover, discovered that his frequent concerts in the U.S. have left him appreciative of Americans. He told Rogers, "Americans respect accomplishment," and he recalled that a German critic once referred to him as a "gnome". Quasthoff, however, is not the type of person to let thoughtless slights deter him from happiness. He also told Rogers, "I think it's important to accept your disability. If you don't love people and that includes yourself you shouldn't be in this business." In April of 1999, he sang works by Bach and Mozart with the Los Angeles Chamber Orchestra, and has a seemingly limitless career ahead of him. His versatility and gusto, combined with his obvious enjoyment of the material, render him a memorable, unique performer. He has been undaunted by hurdles that would have left most people back at the starting gate decades ago, and his prolific output serves to underscore his success.

Since 1988, when he earned first prize in voice at Munich's ARD music competition the same competition that earlier launched the career of Americana soprano Jessye Norman Quasthoff has been winning over audiences. Time magazine's Elizabeth Gleick wrote of Quasthoff, "He is ... poised on the brink of world renown....With an impish sense of humor and an almost boisterous conviviality, Quasthoff presents a picture of a man who has never struggled and indeed, he lives alone, and often travels alone, needing little or no assistance. Beyond such nuts and bolts, though, there is the all-important matter of soul and Quasthoff has that in abundance." In addition to performing, Quasthoff teaches special master classes and has been made a professor for life at the Musikakademie in Detmold. In a beautiful twist of fate, the conservatory that turned him away as a child later invited him to do a temporary instructorship, which he graciously accepted.

by B. Kimberly Taylor

Thomas Quasthoff's Career

Radio announcer in Hannover; performed at venues across the globe, beginning in the early-to-mid 1990s; taught special master classes; professor for life at the Musikakademie in Detmold, Germany; released many recordings including Carl Loewe: Ballads, EMI, 1989; Robert Schumann: Dichterliebe, Liederkreis Op. 39, RCA, 1992; Franz Schubert: Goethr-Lieder, RCA, 1994; Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Mozart Arias, RCA, 1994; Ludwig von Beethoven-Fidelio, RCA, 1995; Georg Frideric Handel: The Messiah, Hanssler Classic, 1997;Gustav Mahler: Des Knaben WunderhoKrzysztof Penderecki: Credorn , Duetsche Grammophone Gesellschaft, 1998; , Hanssler Classic, 1998; Franz Schubert: Winterreise, RCA, 1998.

Famous Works

Further Reading



Visitor Comments Add a comment…

over 13 years ago

Dear Mr. Quasthoff, Thank you indeed for your beautiful gift to us, mankind. Since I first saw you in a rendition of my beloved Weinterreisse in CUNY TV Program in NYC I was captivated by your enchanting,and resonating voice.I have you right up there with Dietrich Fisher and Herman Prey as my favorites Lieder's Singers. When I read your biography, my admiration for you went through the roof. You are a superior human being and an inspiration for us all. I shall look at your CDs as gold. It is a privilege and a gift to be in this world with people like you. Thank You.

over 14 years ago

Mr. Quasthoff, My children gave me a cd of Aaron Copeland's where I first heard you sing. I thought I had died and gone to heaven. But, I just recently heard you at a live performance where you sang "Ole Man River". It was the most wonderful sound I have ever heard. Thank you for sharing your amazing gift. Happy Holiday's to you and yours.

over 15 years ago

Dear Mr Quasthoff, I teach Religion in the Arts to senior students and I have two favourite videos of you singing. One is with the Vienna Phil and Simon Rattle when they did the bicentennial concert in Mauthausen and the other is with Karl Friedrich Beringer ,orchestra and chorus on the Bach Christmas Oratorio about ten years earlier. These are great vehicles for teaching and I am eternally grateful to you. You are a great musician and an inspirational human being.

almost 16 years ago

Mr. Quasthof, I was introduced to your music recently on the cable opera station. You possess an instrument of rare beauty.Your recording of Wolfram's lied from Tannhauser brings me to tears. The world is a much more beautiful place because you are in it. I have your Fidelio cd.The love that you have for the music you sing is evident with each listening. Much continued success to you. I hope I have an opportunity to hear you in person some day. Sincerely, an apperciative admirer