Franz Schmidt (22 December 1874 – 11
February 1939) was an Austrian composer, cellist and pianist.
Schmidt was born in Pozsony (known in German as Pressburg), in the
Hungarian part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire (the city is now
Bratislava, capital of Slovakia). His father was half Hungarian and
his mother entirely Hungarian. He was a Roman Catholic.
His earliest teacher was his
mother, Mária Ravasz, an accomplished pianist, who gave him a
systematic instruction in the keyboard works of J. S. Bach. He
received a thorough foundation in theory from Brother Felizian
Moczik, the outstanding organist at the Franciscan church in
Pressburg. He studied piano briefly with Theodor Leschetizky, with
whom he clashed. He moved to Vienna with his family in 1888, and
studied at the Vienna Conservatory (composition with Robert Fuchs,
cello with Ferdinand Hellmesberger and theory (the counterpoint
class) with Anton Bruckner), graduating "with excellence" in 1896.
He beat 13 other applicants and
obtained a post as cellist with the Vienna Court Opera Orchestra,
where he played until 1914, often under Gustav Mahler. Mahler
habitually had Schmidt play all the cello solos, even though
Friedrich Buxbaum was the principal cellist. Schmidt was also in
demand as a chamber musician. Schmidt and Arnold Schoenberg
maintained cordial relations despite their vast differences in
style. Also a brilliant pianist, in 1914 Schmidt took up a
professorship in piano at the Vienna Conservatory, which had been
recently renamed Imperial Academy of Music and the Performing Arts.
(Apparently, when asked who the greatest living pianist was, Leopold
Godowsky replied, "The other one is Franz Schmidt.") In 1925 he
became Director of the Academy, and from 1927 to 1931 its Rector.
As teacher of piano, cello and
counterpoint and composition at the Academy, Schmidt trained
numerous musicians, conductors and composers who later achieved
fame. Among his best-known students were the pianist Friedrich
Wührer and Alfred Rosé (son of Arnold Rosé, the legendary founder of
the Rosé Quartet, Konzertmeister of the Vienna Philharmonic and
brother-in-law of Gustav Mahler). Among the composers were Theodor
Berger, Marcel Rubin and Alfred Uhl. He received many tokens of the
high esteem in which he was held, notably the Franz-Josef Order, and
an Honorary Doctorate from the University of Vienna.
Schmidt's private life was in stark
contrast to the success of his distinguished professional career,
and was overshadowed by tragedy. His first wife was, from 1919,
confined in the Vienna mental hospital Am Steinhof, and three years
after his death was murdered under the Nazi euthanasia program. His
daughter Emma died unexpectedly after the birth of her first child.
Schmidt experienced a spiritual and physical breakdown after this,
but achieved an artistic revival and resolution in his Fourth
Symphony of 1933 (which he inscribed as "Requiem for my Daughter")
and, especially, in his oratorio The Book With Seven Seals. His
second marriage, to a successful young piano student, for the first
time brought some desperately needed stability into the private life
of the artist, who was plagued by many serious health problems.
Schmidt's worsening health forced
his retirement from the Academy in early 1937. In the last year of
his life Austria was brought into the German Reich by the Anschluss,
and Schmidt was fêted by the Nazi authorities as the greatest living
composer of the so-called Ostmark. He was given a commission to
write a cantata entitled "The German Resurrection", which, after
1945, was taken by many as a reason to brand him as having been
tainted by Nazi sympathy. However, Schmidt left this composition
unfinished, and in the summer and autumn of 1938, a few months
before his death, set it aside to devote himself to two other
commissioned works for the one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein, for
whom he had often composed: the Clarinet Quintet in A major and the
solo Toccata in D minor. Schmidt died on 11 February 1939.
As a composer, Schmidt was slow to develop, but his reputation, at
least in Austria, saw a steady growth from the late 1890s until his
death in 1939. In his music, Schmidt continued to develop the
Viennese classic-romantic traditions he inherited from Schubert,
Brahms and his own master, Bruckner. He also takes forward the
exotic ‘gypsy’ style of Liszt and Brahms. His works are monumental
in form and firmly tonal in language, though quite often innovative
in their designs and clearly open to some of the new developments in
musical syntax initiated by Mahler and Schoenberg. Although Schmidt
did not write a lot of chamber music, what he did write, in the
opinion of such critics as Wilhelm Altmann, was important and of
high quality. Although Schmidt's organ works may resemble others of
the era in terms of length, complexity, and difficulty, they are
forward-looking in being conceived for the smaller, clearer,
classical-style instruments of the Orgelbewegung, which he
advocated. Schmidt worked mainly in large forms, including four
symphonies (1899, 1913, 1928 and 1933) and two operas: Notre Dame
(1904-6) and Fredigundis (1916–21). A CD recording of Notre Dame has
been available for many years, starring Dame Gwyneth Jones and James
No really adequate recording has been made of Schmidt's second and
last opera Fredigundis, of which there has been but one
"unauthorized" release in the early 1980s on the Voce label of an
Austrian Radio broadcast of a 1979 Vienna performance under the
direction of Ernst Märzendorfer. Aside from numerous "royal
fanfares" (Fredigundis held the French throne in the sixth century)
the score contains some fine examples of Schmidt's later style. New
Grove encyclopaedia states that Fredigundis was a critical and
popular failure, which may be partly attributable to the fact that
Fredigundis (Fredegund, the widow of Chilperic I), is presented as a
murderous and sadistic feminine monster. Add to this some structural
problems with the libretto, and the opera's failure to make headway
- despite an admirable and impressive score - becomes
The Book with Seven Seals
Schmidt's crowning achievement was the oratorio Das Buch mit sieben
Siegeln (1935–37), a setting of passages from the Book of
Revelation. His choice of subject was prophetic: with hindsight the
work appears to foretell, in the most powerful terms, the disasters
that were shortly to be visited upon Europe in the Second World War.
Here his invention rises to a sustained pitch of genius. A narrative
upon the text of the oratorio was provided by the composer.
Schmidt's oratorio stands in the
Austro-German tradition stretching back to the time of J. S. Bach
and Handel. He was the first to write an oratorio fully on the
subject of the Book of Revelation (as opposed to a Last Judgement in
a Requiem like that of Giuseppe Verdi). Far from glorifying its
subject, it is a mystical contemplation, a horrified warning, and a
prayer for salvation. The premiere was held in Vienna on 15 June
1938, with the Vienna Symphony Orchestra under Oswald Kabasta: the
soloists were Rudolf Gerlach (John), Erika Rokyta, Enid Szantho,
Anton Dermota, Josef von Manowarda and with Franz Schütz at the
Schmidt is generally, if erroneously, regarded as a conservative
composer (such labels rest upon yet-to-be-resolved
aesthetic/stylistic arguments), but the rhythmic subtlety and
harmonic complexity of much of his music belie this. His music is
modern without being modernist, combining a reverence for the great
Austro-German lineage of composers with very personal innovations in
harmony and orchestration (showing an awareness of the output of
composers such as Debussy and Ravel, whose piano music he greatly
admired, along with a knowledge of more recent composers in his own
German-speaking realm, such as Schoenberg, Berg, Hindemith, etc.).
The considerable technical accomplishment of his music ought to
compel respect, but he seems to have fallen between two stools: his
works are too complex for the conservatively minded, yet too
obviously traditional for the avant-garde (they are also notoriously
difficult to perform). Since the 1970s his music has enjoyed a
modest revival which looks set to continue as it is rediscovered and
Symphony No. 1 in E major.
Written in 1896 at age 22. The scherzo of this precociously
accomplished symphony (which shows a mature absorption of Bruckner
and Richard Strauss) is especially noteworthy, while Schmidt
demonstrates his contrapuntal skills in the Finale.
Symphony No. 2 in E flat major.
Written in 1913 in a style reminiscent of Strauss and Reger, with
homage to the grandiosity of Bruckner. This is Schmidt's longest
symphony and it employs a huge orchestra. The central movement (of
three) is a highly ingenious set of variations, which are grouped to
suggest the characters of slow movement and scherzo. The complex
scoring of this magnificent symphony renders it a considerable
challenge for most orchestras.
Symphony No. 3 in A major.
A sunny, melodic work in the Schubert vein (although its lyricism
and superb orchestration do much to conceal the fact that it is one
of the composer's most harmonically advanced works). Winner of the
Austrian section of the 1928 International Columbia Graphophone
Competition, it enjoyed some popularity at the time (1928).
Symphony No. 4 in C major.
Written in 1933, this is the best-known work of his entire oeuvre.
The composer called it "A requiem for my daughter". It begins with a
long 23-bar melody on an unaccompanied solo trumpet (which returns
at the symphony's close, "transfigured" by all that has intervened).
The Adagio is an immense ABA ternary structure. The first A is an
expansive threnody on solo cello (Schmidt's own instrument) whose
seamless lyricism predates Strauss's Metamorphosen by more than a
decade (its theme is later adjusted to form the scherzo of the
symphony); the B section is an equally expansive funeral march
(deliberately referencing Beethoven's Eroica in its texture) whose
dramatic climax is marked by an orchestral crescendo culminating in
a gong and cymbal crash (again, a clear allusion to similar climaxes
in the later symphonies of Bruckner, and followed by what Harold
Truscott has brilliantly described as a "reverse climax", leading
back to a repeat of the A section).
Schmidt and Nazism
Schmidt's premiere of Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln was made much of
by the Nazis (who had annexed Austria shortly before in the
Anschluss), and Schmidt was seen (according to a report by Georg
Tintner, who revered Schmidt and intended to record his symphonies
until prevented by his own death) to give the Nazi salute. His
conductor Oswald Kabasta was apparently an enthusiastic Nazi who,
being prohibited from conducting in 1946 during de-nazification,
committed suicide. These facts long placed Schmidt's posthumous
reputation under a cloud. His lifelong friend and colleague Oskar
Adler, who fled the Nazis in 1938, wrote afterwards that Schmidt was
never a Nazi and never antisemitic but was extremely naïve about
politics. Hans Keller gave similar endorsement. Regarding Schmidt's
political naivety, Michael Steinberg, in his magisterial book, The
Symphony, tells of Schmidt's recommending Variations on a Hebrew
Theme by his student Israel Brandmann to a musical group associated
with the proto-Nazi German National Party. Most of Schmidt's
principal musical friends were Jews, and they benefited from his
Schmidt's last work, the cantata
German Resurrection, was composed to a Nazi text. As one of the most
famous living Austrian composers, Schmidt was well-known to Hitler
and received this commission after the Anschluss. He left it
unfinished, to be completed later by Robert Wagner. Already
seriously ill, Schmidt worked instead on other compositions such as
a piano quintet. His failure to complete the cantata is likely to be
a further indication that he was not committed to the Nazi cause;
such, at any rate, was the opinion of his friend Oskar Adler.
Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia
The final part of Franz Schmidt´s oratorio "The book with seven
- Choir of the wise men
The live recording shows the Monteverdi Choir Würzburg with its
conductor Matthias Beckert at their concert in the Neubaukirche of
Würzburg, Germany on July 20, 2007.
For more information please visit
The Voice of the Lord:
And he that shall overcometh shall inherit all things
and I will be his god
and he shall be my son.
Give ye thanks unto the lord!
His grace and mercy last for ever!
Blessed are they that walk in the path of righteousness!
Lord, Lord deliver them that have held to Thy commandments!
Praise ye the Lord! Worship Him and thank Him for His mercy!
For His mercy and wisdom illumine all men!
God reigns on high over all mankind and every nation!
Praise the Lord, ye angels, and worship His name!
Sing Halleluiah! Sing ye Halleluiah!
Give praise and thanks to God the Lord and sing his praises!
Choir of the wise men:
We thank Thee, O Lord, almighty God, which is and which was,
that Thou hast taken unto Thee dominion and reignest.
The peoples were grown impatient, then came thy judgement and the
day of judging the dead and rewarding Thy servants, the prophets and
the saints and all them that hold Thy name in honour, the small and
But also destroy them by whom earth has been defiled.
I am John, he who saw and heard all these things and revealed it to
Harken to my words! They are true and to be trusted.
For God, God the ruler of spirits showed unto His servant, showed
the prophet, all which soon must come to pass.
And truly blessed is he that shall understand the words, the words
of the prophet!
Keep ye my prophecy! And the grace of God, the Lord, be with you