Born in Pressburg (known as Poszony in Hungarian) in 1874, Franz Schmidt moved to Vienna with his mother and sisters after his father was implicated in a fraud. For a time he earned his living by tutoring Willi Grienauer, the wayward son of a wealthy family. Schmidt was extremely fond of Willi and his family, and recalled his time with them as the happiest period of his life.
A naturally gifted pianist, Schmidt studied briefly with Leschetizky, with whom he clashed. Such was the negative effect of his brief spell with Leschetizky that Schmidt contemplated giving up the piano permanently, but fortunately he relented. Schmidt took up the cello, which he studied at the Vienna Conservatory, subsequently winning a place in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. (He is often described as a "pupil" of Bruckner, but it is unlikely that he ever had the opportunity to attend any of the ailing composer’s lectures.)
Schmidt is the composer of four important symphonies (the last three rank among the greatest of the 20th century). In addition to two operas, "Notre Dame" (1904) and "Fredigundis" (1916-22), and a magnificent oratorio, "Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln" (1935-37), Schmidt also composed a quantity of important chamber and organ music, the "Variations on a Theme of Beethoven" (1923), "Variations on a Hussar’s Song" (1930) and the Piano Concerto in E flat (1934).
Perhaps his greatest work is the elegiac Fourth Symphony (1932-33), composed as a requiem for his daughter, who had died in childbirth. This multi-movement work plays without a break, ending, as it begins, with a solo trumpet.
Schmidt is generally regarded as a conservative composer, and yet his harmonic language is extremely complex, often bordering on atonality. (There are brief episodes of complete atonality in his music.) Yet such were his melodic gift and his brilliance as an orchestrator that his music sounds opulent and melodious, even when examination of the score shows it to be highly dissonant. Since the 1970s there has been a modest but steady revival of the music of this poorly understood composer, whose masterly technique and complete sincerity ensure that his wonderfully expressive music ranks very highly among the undiscovered treasures of 20th-century composition.
(Contribution by <JekyllBooteaol.com>)
- sk.1.08, Bratislava, Námestie SNP 33 — 22 Dec 1874