A tenor with a voice of dramatic size and strength, Franz Völker wisely avoided the most heroic roles of Richard Wagner where he could not compete in sheer volume with such a phenomenon as Lauritz Melchior. Yet, as Lohengrin, he was the only artist to rival the Danish tenor for beauty of sound and adherence to legato tone production. With or without such imposing competition, the German tenor still would have been celebrated as a superior singer, not lacking intensity, but holding first and last to full-throated, polished vocalism: proof that a bel canto approach did indeed exist among the best German artists.
After studies in Frankfurt, Völker made his debut in that city with Florestan in a 1926 production of Fidelio. He had been heard by conductor Clemens Krauss who, then and later, took a solicitous interest in his career and whose support hastened his rise to the top among Central European dramatic tenors. Although Völker's instrument had substantial heft from the very beginning, he had the easy production to sing Mozart with surpassing elegance and several studio recordings as confirmation.
Völker remained at Frankfurt until he moved to Vienna in 1931. Berlin heard him from 1933 to 1943. After several pre-WWII appearances in Munich, Völker sang there regularly from 1945 to 1952. In 1931, he began a fruitful association with Salzburg, making many celebrated appearances there. Völker's Bayreuth debut took place in 1933; his performances there during the 1930s have assumed the mantle of legend. Excerpts from two of these productions in particular, Die Walküre and Lohengrin, are preserved on disc and support critical claims that he invariably matched in live performance the gleaming tone and uncommon suppleness of his studio recordings.
While Völker's career was confined almost exclusively to the Continent, he did sing during two seasons in London. His Covent Garden debut took place in the infamous 1934 season-opening performance of Fidelio that found conductor Thomas Beecham turning around during the overture to shout at noisy late-comers. (Beecham's resounding "Shut up, you...!" was heard not only by audience members, but also by listeners to a nationwide broadcast of the event.) In the company of Lotte Lehmann, Alexander Kipnis, Erna Berger, and Herbert Janssen, Völker was found exemplary in both voice and style. In Die Walküre three nights after that April 30 opening, Völker's Siegmund was hailed as outstanding even surrounded by such luminaries as Frida Leider, Rudolf Bockelmann and, once again, Lehmann and Kipnis. Völker's success was felt to have roused Lauritz Melchior to a new level of vocal control and intensity when he appeared as the younger Siegfried two nights later. When Völker returned to London during the 1937 Coronation season, his Siegmund was paired with his Bayreuth partner Maria Müller as Sieglinde. The tenor was once more deemed outstanding, "a German tenor fit to sing Lohengrin."
Völker's quick rise to success brought opportunities to record just a year after his debut and he continued throughout the next two decades to be one of the most completely documented of singers. Mozart, Beethoven, Wagner, Smetana, Strauss, and Verdi were among the composers featured on his recordings. A complete 1942 Lohengrin merits special mention. Also respected as a recitalist and much valued for his insinuating performances of operetta excerpts, Völker is represented by numerous excellent recordings in both categories.