Thursday, November 20, 2008

In Which Pan Cogito Notes That The NSO, Under Yakov Kreizberg, Will Be Performing Franz Schmidt's Symphony #4 ("Requiem For My Daughter") This Autumn

Reposted from July 30, 2008


... 'And laugh over the untroubled water' ...

Franz Schmidt

Symphony No. 4 in C Major

"Written in 1933, this is the best-known work of Franz Schmidt's 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)."

The Book with Seven Seals

"Franz 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 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 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 organ.

Schmidt's premiere was made much of by the Nazis (who had annexed Austria shortly before), and Schmidt was seen to give the Nazi salute. His conductor 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 anti-semitic but was extremely naïve about politics. Hans Keller gave similar endorsement. Most of his principal musical friends were Jews, and they benefited from his generosity.

This work provided the only actual model for the fictional oratorio Apocalypsis cum Figuris described by Thomas Mann in his 1947 novel Doctor Faustus. Mann invests his fictional oratorio and its composer with the demonic conflicts in German society leading to the catastrophe of the Nazi ideology and the Second World War. That was indeed the context in which Schmidt's oratorio appeared, but his private character and artistic motivations (as distinct from the society in which they existed) are not to be construed, in reality or in sum, through the lens of Mann's literary formula, which was assembled from a very wide array of Germanic themes and personalities."

Texts and photo credits: Wikipedia and (c) David Ploch (Steinhof "Memorial to the History of Nazi-Medicine [Euthanasia] in Vienna" photo; and Franz Schmidt Memorial photo). Copyright controlled. With deep thanks.

[Click on all three images for enlargements.]


"The Viennese euthanasia clinic Am Spiegelgrund scrupulously listed all deaths from the clinic's foundation in July 1940 to the end of the war. Although the euthanasia killings were systematically disguised by means of incomplete entries, the Book of the Dead represents an invaluable source which made possible the reconstruction of the names of 789 Spiegelgrund victims, with the dates of their birth, committal to the clinic, and death.

The existence of the book was kept secret by the Psychiatric Hospital of the City of Vienna at Baumgartner Höhe (today's Otto Wagner Hospital, formerly Heil- und Pflegeanstalt Am Steinhof) until 1998. It has been in the Muncipial and provincial archives of Vienna since 2002.

The portraits of Spiegelgrund victims are based on photographs stemming from the case histories of the euthanasia clinic. Commissioned by the city of Vienna, they were produced by the artist Anne Schmees on the occasion of the burial ceremony in 2002. The surviving case histories and the original photographs are today preserved in the Muncipial and provincial archives of Vienna."


The composer's first wife was killed by the Austrian Nazis in 1942 after 23 years confinement in Steinhof.



Das Buch mit 7 Siegeln für Soli, gemischten Chor, Orgel und Orchester
October 21, 2008, Salzburg/Austria/European Union
Junge Philharmonie Salzburg/Elisbeth Fuchs

[Elisabeth Fuchs conducts Junge Philharmonie Salzburg in Schmidt's oratorio on YouTube.]

Symphony #4
November 20-22, 2008, Washington, D.C./United States
National Symphony Orchestra/Yakov Kreizberg

Das Buch mit 7 Siegeln für Soli, gemischten Chor, Orgel und Orchester
April 4, 2009, Dresden/Germany/European Union
Sächsische Staatskapelle Dresden


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