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
Copyright © 17 August 2000
Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK
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