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RODERIC DUNNETT talks to Austrian conductor
about Franz Schmidt's 'Book with Seven Seals'


On Sunday Nicholas Kenyon brings to the BBC summer Promenade Concerts at London's Royal Albert Hall one of the most terrifying oratorios ever composed : The Book with Seven Seals - Das Buch mit Sieben Siegeln - by the Austrian late-Romantic composer Franz Schmidt.

Schmidt, who was born of German/Hungarian parentage in Bratislava (Hungarian Pozsony) and died in Vienna in l939, was in a sense a 20th century Everyman. He was racked by illness for half his life; his first wife perished in a Nazi euthanasia programme; his daughter's death emotionally destroyed him. Like many ardent enthusiasts for a greater Germany, he welcomed the Austrian Anschluss, only to be cynically feted by the Nazis and write a (now derided) ode celebrating reunification. Yet Schmidt championed Schoenberg, was cello soloist in Mahler's Vienna Philharmonic, played with the Rosé Quartet, and many of his friends and closest associates were Jews. One, Hans Keller, later the doyen of BBC music analysts, acknowledged his political naivete but called him 'the most complete all-round musician I ever met.'

Das Buch mit Sieben Siegeln is a bombshell. Few other 20th century oratorios - the War Requiem, Psalmus Hungaricus, A Child of Our Time, Gerontius - pack such a emotional punch. Based on St John's vision of the Four Horsemen of the Apocalypse, it depicts War, Death and Famine in some of the most shattering solo and choral writing imaginable.

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Copyright © 17 August 2000 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK




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