Thomas Quasthoff was a thalidomide baby, growing to only about four feet tall and, in common with many of his fellow victims of the drug, has severely undeveloped arms. However, his voice and breathing apparatus are normal — if a bass-baritone voice that is uncommonly magnificent can be considered normal.
When Quasthoff reached school age, he was assigned, according to government policy, to school programs designed for children with cerebral palsy. A lively, intelligent, and artistic child, Quasthoff clearly needed the stimulation of normal schooling, which a change in policy soon permitted. He was raised in a highly supportive environment, being treated in exactly the same way as his normal brother. The phrase he remembers being said most often to him when he was young was "Tommy, you can do that. Do it!" As a result he grew up with a sunny and optimistic outlook. Music was special to him. But when he tried to get a musical education, he found that the highly regarded conservatory to which he applied had a strict policy that all students had to learn to play piano, and turned him away on the grounds that this was impossible for him. "That was legally correct. I have to admit that," he says. "Morally — well, that raises a big question."
His parents procured private voice lessons for him with Charlotte Lehmann, a concert singer of Hannover. She taught him for 17 years, and proved a superb voice teacher. The great baritone Dietrich Fischer-Dieskau said "It's clear to everyone who has heard Thomas Quasthoff that he has a wondrously beautiful voice and that he has had excellent previous training...."
While studying, Quasthoff found a position as a radio announcer in Hannover, becoming highly popular. In 1988 he won first prize in voice at the prestigious ARD music competition of Munich. This led to his beginning a concert and recital career that rapidly grew, although cautiously, Quasthoff retained his radio job for six more years. He finally adopted music as his full-time profession in 1996, the year he won the Shostakovich Prize in Moscow and the Hamada Trust/Scotsman Festival Prize, and in 1998 he won the Echo Prize. In 1996 he was appointed professor at the Detmold Music Academy, where he was one of the most popular voice teachers. He was also associated with the University of Oregon at Eugene, where he appeared regularly in the Oregon Bach Festival.
He has performed with many leading orchestras and conductors. His repertory includes the great choral/vocal/orchestral works of Bach, Mozart, Beethoven, Berlioz, Brahms, Mahler, and Britten. He sings opera arias in his programs, and has sung operatic roles in recordings of Beethoven's Fidelio, Haydn's L'Anima del Philosopho, and Schumann's Genoveva. It wasn't until 2003 that he appeared in opera on stage, in Fidelio (as Don Fernando) and in 2004 as Amfortas in Parsifal. Quasthoff is also a great fan of other vocal music and dedicated 2007's Watch What Happens to jazz songs and 2010's Tell It Like It Is to soul and pop songs.
He has recorded on the Hännsler, MDG, RCA, Teldec, Orfeo, and Philips labels, and since mid-1999 has been an exclusive artist on Deutsche Grammophon.