Franz Schmidt was one of the last great Romantic symphonists.
He was a cellist and played in the Vienna Court Opera Orchestra
- and thus the Vienna Philharmonic - under Richter and Fuchs.
When Mahler became conductor and director he favoured Schmidt
the cellist and had him play the solos despite not being the
principal of the section. Schmidt left the orchestra in 1911
and it is from this time that his music blossomed and grew -
three more symphonies, two works for piano and orchestra, a piano
quartet and two piano quintets for the unusual combination of
clarinet and piano quartet (all written for Paul Wittgenstein)
as well as a second opera, a complete (more or less) setting
of the Book of Revelation, Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln
Book with Seven Seals
) and much music for organ.
The second (1911/1913), third (1928) and fourth (1932/1933)
Symphonies are towering masterpieces of symphonic literature
and it’s a shame that only the fourth gets any
kind of regular airing these days, and thus overshadows the others.
This first Symphony is very earnest, it does all the
right things, in the right order but it cannot hold a candle
to the rest of the set. It’s much more classical than the
others, is laid out in the usual four movements, and is competently
orchestrated but there’s really nothing to prepare one
for what was to come. It’s a lovely, very tuneful, piece
and it engages the attention but there’s really insufficient
interest to sustain 45 minutes of music. This is a very fine
performance and I can hardly wait for the same performers to
give us the other symphonies - they should be well worth hearing.
The three excerpts from Schmidt’s early opera Notre
are full of good things, not least the Hungarian-influenced Intermezzo
Schmidt was born in Pressburg which, at that time, was in Hungary,
of Hungarian and German descent - but quite what this piece is
doing in this very French story is beyond me. It does make a
good, separate, concert-piece, not least because it could have
been written in Hollywood 25 years later!
Perhaps I am being a little harsh about this music but it isn’t
the best that Schmidt wrote and with a knowledge of what came
later it is a let-down - a kind of throwback to an earlier era.
Don’t let this put you off investigating the music though,
for it is well worth hearing and it is the start of something
very special in early 20th
Performances and recorded sound cannot be faulted and the notes
by Adam Binks are well worth reading. Flawed music, perhaps,
from a master who was soon to spread his wings and take compositional