Schreier was born in Meissen, Saxony, East 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.
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 singingCAREER on December 22, 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 singingCAREER, 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."