Schreier was born in Meissen, Saxony, Germany, and spent his first years in the small village of Gauernitz, near Meissen, where his father was a teacher, cantor and organist. In June 1945, when Schreier was almost ten years old, and just a few months after the destruction of Dresden, he entered the boarding school of the famous Dresden boys' choir, the Dresdner Kreuzchor (Choir of the Kreuzkirche or Church of the Cross). The choir had just been re-established. The young Peter and the few other choir members and teachers lived in a cellar in the outskirts of Dresden.
The conductor of the Kreuzchor, Rudolf Mauersberger, soon recognized Peter Schreier's great talent. He let him sing many solo alto parts and also created compositions that perfectly fitted Peter's boy voice. Solo recordings of Peter Schreier were made at the time (1948-1951) and are obtainable on compact disc even today.
Schreier was 16 years old when his voice broke, and he became a tenor, as he had passionately wished, because of the several Evangelists - all tenors - in J.S. Bach's Passions and in his Christmas Oratorio. After he had decided to become a professional singer he took lessons, at first privately, then later on at the Dresden Academy of Music. He had enough time to also study choral and orchestral conducting.
Peter Schreier made his professional debut in August 1959, playing the role of the First Prisoner in Fidelio by Beethoven. In the years that followed he was successful as Belmonte in Die Entführung aus dem Serail (Abduction from the Seraglio) and somewhat later as Tamino in Die Zauberflöte (The Magic Flute), both operas by Mozart.
In 1963, he was employed by the Berlin State Opera at Unter den Linden. Starting in 1966, he was for many years an annual guest of the Vienna State Opera. That same year he made his debut in Bayreuth as the young seaman in Tristan und Isolde with Karl Böhm as conductor. For 25 years, beginning in 1967, he took part in the program of the annual Salzburg Festival. In 1969, he starred as The Witch in Engelbert Humperdinck's Hansel und Gretel, in a CD recording that featured the Staatskapelle Dresden.
He also sang Loge in Das Rheingold & Mime in Siegfried by Wagner. It was important to him to sing the title role of Palestrina, the opera by Hans Pfitzner, not only in Munich but also in East Berlin — a controversial issue at the time in East Germany.
He recorded Bach cantatas with Adele Stolte, Annelies Burmeister, Theo Adam, the Thomanerchor and the Leipzig Gewandhaus Orchestra conducted by Erhard Mauersberger, such as the cantata for Pentecost Erschallet, ihr Lieder, erklinget, ihr Saiten! BWV 172 in 1970. Recordings of the Bach's St Matthew Passion have included the version conducted by both Rudolf and Erhard Mauersberger, Karl Richter, Claudio Abbado and Herbert von Karajan. He recorded Bach's St John Passion with Helmuth Rilling.
In June 2000, Schreier left the opera stage. His last role was Prince Tamino in Die Zauberflöte; he argued that he could no longer act as if he were still a young prince. He ended his singing career on 22 December 2005, combining the roles of evangelist and conductor in a performance of Bach's Christmas Oratorio in Prague.
Since 1970, Schreier has also been a conductor with a special interest in the works of Mozart, J.S. Bach, and Haydn. During his singing career, in the performances of Bach's Oratorios, he would often combine the roles of Evangelist and conductor.
Peter Schreier is married and has lived in Dresden since 1945, in the district of Loschwitz on the right bank of the river Elbe.
Particularly in his later years, Schreier would not be considered to have the most beautiful of tenor voices. Rather, it is the intelligence of his musical expression, as well as the intensity which he projects into the meaning of the text, that have secured his reputation.
For example, the Penguin Guide to Compact Discs says of Schreier's recording of Franz Schubert's Schwanengesang, "Schreier's voice may no longer be beautiful under pressure, but ... the range of tone and the intensity of inflexion over word-meaning makes this one of the most compelling recordings ever." Of his recording of Schubert's Winterreise, the same authors say "this is an intensely involving reading, with changes of mood vividly conveyed, positive, electrifying."
Honours and awards
- Kammersänger (title conferred to singers of outstanding merit) by the governments of the GDR, Bavaria and Austria, 1963, 1980, 1992
- National First Class Prize of the GDR, 1967
- Robert-Schumann-Preis of the city of Zwickau, 1969
- Händel-Preis of the city of Halle, 1972
- National Prize of the GDR, 1972
- Gold Vaterländischer Verdienstorden, 1984
- Ernst von Siemens Music Prize, 1988
- Léonie Sonning Music Prize, Denmark, 1988
- Honorary membership of the Musikverein Wien (Vienna Society of Music), 1986
- Großer Stern der Völkerfreundschaft, 1989
- Member of the Royal Swedish Academy of Fine Arts, 1989
- Bundesverdienstkreuz (Order of Merit of the Federal Republic of Germany), 1992
- Member of the Academy of Arts, Berlin, 1993
- Wiener Flötenuhr, 1994
- "Georg Philipp Telemann" Prize of the city of Magdeburg, 1994
- German Bible Prize, for service in the great Passions and Interpretation of the work of J.S. Bach, 1998
- European Church Music Prize, 2000
- Honorary membership of the "Europäische Kulturwerkstatt" (EKW) - International society of music, theatre and art, 2005, Berlin
- Honorary citizen of the city of Meissen for efforts in fundraising for the city's restoration
- Royal Academy of Music/Kohn Foundation Bach Prize, 2009
- Hugo Wolf Medal, Hugo Wolf Academy, Stutggart, 2011
- International Mendelssohn Prize of the Felix Mendelssohn Bartholdy Foundation, Leipzig, 2011
- Bach Medal, Bach Festival Leipzig, for interpretation of Bach, 2013
- Sächsischer Verdienstorden, 2016
- Kunstpreis der Landeshauptstadt Dresden, 2016
- 80th Anniversary Edition, Berlin Classics (Edel) 2015
- Johann Sebastian Bach: Matthäus-Passion, conducted by Karl Richter, Archiv Produktion (Universal Music) 1989
- Johann Sebastian Bach: Johannes-Passion, conducted by Hans-Joachim Rotzsch, Rca Class. (Sony Music) 1998
- Johann Sebastian Bach: Weihnachtsoratorium, conducted by Martin Flämig, Dresdner Philharmonie, Dresdner Kreuzchor, Lukaskirche 1974
- Johann Sebastian Bach: Weihnachtsoratorium, conducted by Martin Flämig, Berlin Classics (Edel) 1993 (CD der Aufnahme von 1974)
- Ludwig van Beethoven: An die ferne Geliebte, with András Schiff, piano, Decca (Universal Music) 1996
- Hector Berlioz: Requiem, conducted by Charles Munch, Deutsche Grammophon (Universal Music) 2009
- Johannes Brahms: Die schöne Magelone, with András Schiff, Belvedere (Harmonia Mundi) 2015
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Opera Arias, Polygram Records 1990
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Die Zauberflote, conducted by Wolfgang Sawallisch, EMI (Warner Classics) 1987
- Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart: Requiem, conducted by Karl Böhm, Philips (Universal Music) 1984
- Der Odem der Liebe. Peter Schreier als Mozart-Tenor, conducted by Otmar Suitner, Eterna 1973
- Prokofjew - Hindemith: Lieder, Berlin Classics (Edel) 2004
- Franz Schubert: Die schöne Müllerin (wioth Konrad Ragossnig, guitare), Berlin Classics (Edel) 2004
- Franz Schubert: Die Winterreise (setting for voice and string quartet), Profil (Naxos) 2015
- Franz Schubert: Schubert Songs, with András Schiff, Wigmore Hall Live (CODAEX Deutschland) 2006
- Heinrich Schütz: Johannes-Passion SWV 481 / Psalmen Davids, Dirigent: Martin Flämig, Berlin classics (Edel) 1997
- Robert Schumann: Dichterliebe op. 48, with Christoph Eschenbach, Teldec Classics International GmbH 1991
- Robert Schumann: Dichterliebe Op. 48 / Liederkreis Op.39, with Norman Shetler, Berlin Classics (Edel) 2007
- Vom Knabenalt zum lyrischen Tenor, Berlin Classics (Edel) 1995
- Richard Wagner: Tristan und Isolde, conducted by Herbert von Karajan, EMI - His Masters Voice, 1988
- Hugo Wolf: Goethe-Lieder, with Wolfgang Sawallisch, Ariola Eurodisc 1986
- Hugo Wolf: Mörike-Lieder, with Karl Engel, Orfeo (Naxos Deutschland) 1998
- Johann Sebastian Bach: Weihnachtsoratorium (selections), Staatskapelle Dresden. MC, Eterna-Digital,1985
- Johann Sebastian Bach: Johannes-Passion, Staatskapelle Dresden, Newton Classics (Membran), 2011
- Johann Sebastian Bach: Zwei Hochzeitskantaten, BWV 202 & 210. (Weichet nur, betrübte Schatten / O holder Tag, erwünschte Zeit), Kammerorchester Berlin, Brilliant Classics (ca. 2000)
- Johann Sebastian Bach: Weltliche Kantaten, BWV 204 & 208. (Was mit behagt, ist nur die muntre Jagd / Ich bin in mir vergnügt), Brilliant Classics (ca. 2000)
- Peter Schreier – Alles hat seine Zeit. 83 Min., directed and produced by Heide Blum. D 2006.
- Peter Schreier – Ein Film von Wolf-Eberhard von Lewinski. 60 Min., A production of Saarländischer Rundfunk, broadcast by ARD-1 on April 30, April 1978.
- Peter Schreier singt – Lieder von J. S.Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Schubert und Brahms. Aufzeichnung eines Liederabends im Sendesaal des SR, November 20, 1977. Norman Shetler, piano; Peter Rocholl, conductor. Broadcasts on ARD-1 and -3, 1978.
- Gottfried Schmiedel: Peter Schreier für Sie porträtiert. VEB Deutscher Verlag für Musik Leipzig, Leipzig 1976
- Peter Schreier: Aus meiner Sicht. Gedanken und Erinnerungen, Ostberlin 1983, 207 pages.
- Jürgen Helfricht: Peter Schreier – Melodien eines Lebens. Verlag der Kunst Dresden, Husum 2008, ISBN 978-3-86530-109-3
- Renate Rätz: Schreier, Peter. In: Wer war wer in der DDR? 5. Ausgabe. Vol. 2, Ch. Links, Berlin 2010, ISBN 978-3-86153-561-4.
- Manfred Meier (Bearbeiter), Peter Schreier: Im Rückspiegel : Erinnerungen und Ansichten, aufgezeichnet von Manfred Meier, Wien: Steinbauer 2005, ISBN 978-3902494047.
- Johann-Sebastian-Bach Adele Stolte, Annelies Burmeister, Peter Schreier, Theo Adam, Thomanerchor Leipzig, Gewandhausorchester Leipzig, Erhard Mauersberger - Erschallet, Ihr Lieder Kantate BWV 172 / Jesu, Der Du Meine Seele Kantate BWV 78, on discogs
- "Solisten-Archiv: Peter Schreier". Dresdner Philharmonie. Retrieved May 23, 2019.
- "Royal Academy of Music / Kohn Foundation Bach Prize is awarded to John Butt". Retrieved 1 January 2010.
- The quotation from the Penguin Guide to Compact Discs, by Ivan March, Edward Greenfield, and Robert Layton, is from the 1996 edition, published by Penguin, ISBN 0-14-051367-1.