Born in Prussia, Schwarzkopf showed a musical talent from an early age, singing in a production of Gluck’s Orfeo while still at school. Her early mentors were the coloratura soprano Maria Ivogun & the latter’s husband the noted accompanist Michael Raucheisen.
Making her debut as a flower-maiden in Parsifal (April 1938), she spent four years with the Berlin State Opera. During this time, she joined the Nazi Party, a decision that would cause controversy in later years, especially in the United States.
In 1942 she moved to the Vienna State Opera, appearing at Covent Garden in 1947 during their visit to London. She subsequently appeared often at Covent Garden as a guest of the regular company, beginning with The Magic Flute.
In 1951 she created the role of Anne in the premiere of Stravinsky’s The Rake’s Progress, although contemporary works appealed less to her than the classics (Walton was unable to persuade the role of Cressida in his opera, although she recorded excerpts for LP later).
Her husband Walter Legge persuaded her to return to lieder, and she divided her career between the twin repertoire of opera & song-recital. Under Legge’s guidance, and through his work as a producer at EMI, she left many recordings of operas by Mozart & Richard Strauss, and several operettas by Johann Strauss & Lehar.
After Legge’s death in 1979, she retired from the stage, but gave master-classes throughout the world, notable for her exacting standards. Although to some her interpretations were mannered, her contribution to the Austro-German repertoire was considerable.