The German tenor (and later, counter-tenor), Helmut Krebs, is historically significant in the field of Early Music. Having a most commanding speaking voice, Helmut Krebs possessed a singing voice of incredible range, accuracy, agility and beauty. He was born on the birthday of Heinrich Schütz in Aachen (also known as Aix-La-Chapelle); but of Dortmund parentage, and raised in Dortmund about 80 miles northeast. Then, as a teen, Krebs moved to Berlin. As a Berlin Highschool student, he followed the tradition of the Kapellmeisters, coming under the tutelage of Dr. Paul Lühmann.
The [late] Swiss tenor, Max Meili, inspired Helmut Krebs to a new vocal technique which Krebs called “rübergesungen”; and he began his career at the Kantstrasse Berlin Volksoper in 1937 as Monosotos in the Magic Flute. In 1938 he performed at the Städtische Oper of Berlin. Then “war-service” interrupted his plans…
Helmut Krebs made his re-debut in 1945 at Düsseldorf. During this period at the Spieloper, he sang the part of Fenton in Nicolai’s Merry Wives of Windsor [as well as in Verdi’s Falstaff], and played Chateauneuf in Lortzing’s Czar and the Zimmermann. In 1948, he was tested for the Berlin Staasoper by Joseph Keilberth, as David in Die Meistersinger. Then in 1949, he performed there alongside baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau. From then on, his career became prominent vocal history. [in May 1953, both Krebs and Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, over the South West German Radio, performed Nicolaus Bruhns’ Easter cantata Erstanden ist der Heilige Christ, for tenor, baritone, 2 violins and bass continuo. This is but one of many performances they did together.] Under the Northwest German Radio conducted by Zellig, as well as the Berlin Radio under Early Music conductor/restorer-editor Helmut Koch and the Hungarian conductor Ferenc Fricsay (whom he quickly befriended in Salzburg 1949), Krebs performed the works of Glück (as Achilles in Iphigenie in Aulis recorded live with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau on Jan.12, 1951), Benjamin Britten (Les Illuminations conducted by Walther Rother and the German premiere of Albert Herring in the title role), Carl Orff (as the Watchman in Antigonae, 1949), Nikolai Rimsky-Korsakov (as the Astrologer in Le Coq D’Or), Igor Stravinsky (Oedipus Rex alongside tenor Richard Lewis [for I. Stravinsky had a favoritism for the “heroic-tenor” voice of Richard Lewis, and so used Krebs in the recording only as the Shepherd]), Werner Egk (Ferdinand in Columbus ), Schreker (“The Branded” as Count Salvago), Pfitzner (Abdisu in Palestrina), Richard Strauss (as Brighella in Ariadne auf Naxos in 1955 under Herbert von Karajan, and later as the Dancing Master, as well as in Capriccio & Intermezzo on stage), von Weber (in Oberon), Monteverdi (Apollo and the First Shepherd, and later the title role in Orfeo under August Wenzinger), Kodaly (Psalmus Hungaricus ), Béla Bartók (Cantate Profana ), Arnold Schoenberg (as Aaron in Moses und Aaron), and created an historical moment just days after the notorious building of the Berlin Wall in Verdi’s Requiem (which soon after was repeated in Israel). He also sang as Don Pizzaro, the Captain in L.v. Beethoven’s Fidelio, and in the 9th Symphony under Otto Klemperer. Shortly thereafter he was invited to sing at La Scala, the State Opera of Vienna, in Covent Garden, the State Opera House of Munich, and the State Opera of Hamburg. On September 9, 1958 at the Festival of Darmstadt, under Ernest Bour, Krebs performed Pierre Boulez’ Le Soleildes eaux with words by René Char. Krebs sang the Magnificat of Andre Jolivet aired over the WDR Radio. With Rita Streich he performed Liebermann’s Lenore, Millöcker’s Gasparone, as well as The 1001 Nights of Johann Strauss.
With the Pro Arte Orchestra of Munich under Kurt Redel, Helmut Krebs toured performing the famous W.A. Mozart Concert Arias for high-tenor voice and solo songs, and comic-ensembles (originally sung by W.A. Mozart himself). In 1949, when singing W.A. Mozart’s Abduction from the Seraglio in Berlin, he sang the role of Pedrillo (also recorded). Gaining fame as an outstanding Mozartian tenor, Glyndebourne Festival then engaged him as Belmonte in Abduction from the Seraglio, Ferrando in Cosi fan tutte, Tamino in The Magic Flute, Don Octavio in Don Giovanni, as Idamamte with Ernst Haefliger as Idomemeo in Idomeneo (at Edinborough). In recital he performed impeccably Schubert’s Die Schöne Mullerin. The famous concerts at St. Helwig’s began also around 1949, and were to become most famous for: the Evangelist roles in the Heinrich Schütz’ Passions and motets, as well as virtually all the major choral works of J.S. Bach [under Fritz Lehmann and Fritz Werner], the Mass in b minor (BWV 232), numerous cantatas, as well as the Christmas Oratorio (BWV 248), and the Magnificat (BWV 243). In this capacity, he toured Holland, Belgium and Switzerland.
Helmut Krebs recorded extensively for the DG Archiv label in authentic early-music reconstructions of Lassus [at the Aachen Cathedral, under Rudolph Pohl], Michael Praetorius, Samuel Scheidt, Dietrich Buxtehude, and the early Italian Baroque masters such as Caccini and Viadana. By the beginning of the 1960’s he recorded for Erato/Barclay under Louis Fremeaux in the Church of the Marionites, the French Baroque masterpieces exclusively for counter-tenor by François Couperin, Fathers Brossard and Campra, etc. Still, Krebs found time to perform the traditional lyric-tenor repetoire as the Helmsman in Wagner’s Flying Dutchman, and as Alfred (1949) in Johann Strauss’ Die Fledermaus (later recorded under Herbert von Karajan). He premiered in two Henze masterpieces: King Hirsche (1956), and the fine comic-tenor role as Prof. von Mucker (1965) in Der Junge Lord which was also filmed. In 1965, under Ferdinand Leitner, he portrayed the Drum Major [but personally Krebs preferred the role of Andres] in Alban Berg’s Wozzeck. More than any other styles, in the 1960’s Krebs was performing the 17th century hautecontre repertoire in natural voice [when most others were singing in falsetto] which proved to be musicologically correct. In 1966, Krebs became a professor at the Musikhochschule in Frankfurt.
In 1981, Helmut Krebs performed the part of the old prisoner in Janacek’s From the House of the Dead at the Deutschen Oper Berlin. He also performed as the Simpleton in Boris Godunov. After leaving public performance, under the auspices of the Berlin Astoria Verlag, Helmut Krebs, became an active composer. In 1982 (the most notable of his compositions) modeled after Heinrich Schütz, was his Small Holy Concerto for Soloist, Violin and Organ, Op. 24 #1 with Primary or Boyschoir.
In December 2000, at the Berlin Gala “Emuettiges Wohlwollen fur den neuen Ehrenbuerger”, Helmut Krebs made a special honorary appearance along with Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau, Lauren Driscoll and other Berlin dignitaries of past repute. In May 2002 [at Berlin’s Tonstraeg 2002 Festival], in tribute to the centennial of Mark Lother’s birthday, Helmut Krebs sang his Oboen-Lieder, Op.47 [after the poems of Georg Schwarz], with Karl Steins at the oboe, and his friend Kurt Kiermeir at the piano. These SFB pieces ran a straight thirteen minutes and thirty-six seconds; and, were originally given through the RSO of Berlin in 1959. Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau was also on this concert.
In his last years Helmut Krebs resided in Grunewald-Berlin.