Franz Schmidt
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Schmidt - Symphony n°2 - Vienna / Leinsdorf

The BBC Proms is taking up the cause of Franz Schmidt in a concert on September 10 at London’s Royal Albert Hall. A performance of Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2 will be given by the Vienna Philharmonic. It’s also the esoteric pick of the week.

The concert does not look as if it will be telecast so the chance for a new HD recording appears slim. The Vienna Philharmonic is the ideal orchestra for such an undertaking.

Schmidt falls into the category of local artist. He is much better known in Austria than he is in the rest of the musical world. He was born in what is now the city of Bratislava in Slovakia. At the time, it was called Pozsony and was part of the Austro-Hungarian Empire. Schmidt came to Vienna as a child. He excelled at both the cello and piano.

As a composer his style is unique. He was right in the thick of the Viennese scene. He often played the cello in orchestras with Mahler as the conductor. He was friends with Schoenberg and studied counterpoint with Bruckner. Schmidt never embraced the avant garde movement, but he wasn’t a traditionalist either. He straddles the divide.

If Schmidt had been born with a different disposition, he could have been a composer such as Mahler. Whereas Mahler was bedeviled by angst and anxiety, Schmidt was easy going and jolly in spite of poor health and a mentally unstable wife. Incidentally, his wife was institutionalized in 1919 and then killed by the Nazis several years after Schmidt’s death in 1933.

The choice of Schmidt’s Symphony No. 2 for the BBC Proms, instead of his Symphony No. 4, is an interesting one. The Fourth Symphony is considered to be Schmidt’s masterpiece. In listening to both pieces the fourth sounds as if it were almost written by a different composer.

The Fourth Symphony was written after Schmidt’s only child, a daughter, died in childbirth. The Second Symphony has, at times, the frenzied, ecstatic quality of a Strauss tone poem.

The inclusion of Schmidt in the Proms is promising for his devotees. If a champion arises to make the case for Schmidt, as Bernstein did for Mahler, then his music could become experience a pleasant revival.

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