Why bother us with Schmidt?

Why bother us with Schmidt?


norman lebrecht

September 23, 2020

Paavo Järvi has just released the fifth set of the four symphonies of Franz Schmidt.

None of the previous four sold enough copies to pay for a coffee machine but conductors are enamoured of these tedious screeds and continue to perform them. I have argued long and vigiorously with Franz Welser-Möst and Semyon Bychkov that the symphonies lack either dramatic or diversionary interest, but they for some reason remain enamoured. I have heard the symphonies several times without once being convinced. Is it a central European thing?

There are two-dozen post-War symphonists whose work is far more gripping than Schmidt’s, not to say more relevant. Nothing about him excites my attention.

Schmidt (1874-1939)  was a cellist in Mahler’s orchestra at the Vienna Opera and one of his chief opponents. He later became a vociferous Nazi. The Vienna Philharmonic are proud of him as one of their own.

Have I left anything out?




  • IC225 says:

    In fairness, Mahler treated him like dirt. GM was the absolute template of the bullying, superior superstar maestro.

    • fabio.luisi says:

      Mahler treated Schmidt bad as a composer, he saw in him a competitor. He refused to put his opera “Notre Dame” on the program of the Vienna Opera. Nevertheless he highly respected him as a musician, he wanted Schmidt as Solo-Cellist in all the performances he conducted as director of the Opera (as reported in the only Schmidt’s extensive essay by Carl Nemeth), because he (Schmidt) was an outstanding Cellist (and an outstanding Pianist and Organ-player).

      • AngloGerman says:

        Great insight! Whilst I knew about the Notre Dame (what a stunning piece!) decision I wasn’t aware that Mahler specifically respected him as a cellist. I do wish to hear Fredigundis at some point, but with the current situation I doubt that will be anytime soon.

        • sabrinensis says:

          There is a recorded performance done in 1979 by Ernest Märzendorfer and the ORF orchestra and chorus that was available on Voce lps. That performance can still be obtained on cds from internet outlets specializing in live opera performances. I have both and have listened to Fredegundis many times. I think it is a wonderful opera that gets a bit tied up in a complicated plot. That should not stop it being performed; the music is magnificent.

      • Andreas B. says:

        Maestro Luisi, thank you very much for your insight into this composer and his personality.

        I was fortunate to play Schmidt’s “Buch mit sieben Siegeln” under your direction almost 20 years ago in Munich.
        A fantastic work – and one of the concerts in my career I remember most fondly.

  • Paul Galbraith says:

    Hans Keller ‘Natural Master’ [On the Creative Personality of Franz Schmidt] 1984:
    “Of all the bits of wrong information about Schmidt which pervade books and even otherwise distinguished dictionaries, the sensationalising disclosure that towards the end of his life Schmidt turned Nazi is certainly the wrongest. Politically, he was incredibly naive – not too naive, however, to manifest his emphatic philosemitism. Adler: ‘At one time, a group of nationalistic German students turned to Schmidt with the request for a recommendation of a work by a contemporary composer which they could perform in their circle. What did he recommend? “Variations on a Hebrew Theme” by Israel Brandmann, one of his composition pupils.’ “

    • fabio.luisi says:

      Schmidt also promoted performances of Schönberg’s “Pierrot Lunaire” with his students, and spoke highly about him as a composer.

      • John Kelly says:

        Maestro Luisi’s own recording of the Schmidt Symphonies (label is MDR you can find them on Amazon) make a strong case for them. Additionally I would recommend the recordings by Neeme Jarvi with CSO and Detroit SO (especially the Second – ferociously difficult but superbly played by the CSO). Kirill Petrenko gave a superb Schmidt 4th at the Proms a couple of years ago……are all these conductors wrong Norman? I found Schmidt “hard work” as a listener at first but I have come to love him. I suspect other listeners might find the same phenomenon with Elgar. Mariss Jansons told me personally that he “didn’t like Elgar’s music”. To each, his own. But don’t knock Schmidt, at least not his music….

        • Gustavo says:

          Thank you!

          Not to forget Zubin Mehta’s version of the 4th with VPO.


          • Barry Guerrero says:

            On CD, it was coupled with Mahler 2, no less! See, they can get along!

          • Brian says:

            Which I personally think is by far the best account, for he alone plays the crucial slow movement at the correct speed whereas almost everyone else hurries it to varying degrees.

        • Don Ciccio says:

          There are also live recordings by Mitropoulos and Leinsdorf of the second symphony. But the one piece by Schmidt that I keep coming back to is Das Buch mit Sieben Siegeln.

        • Joel Lazar says:

          Wolfgang Sawallisch conducted the Schmidt Second Symphony with the Philadelphia Orchestra in the early 2000’s; I heard a runout performance at Carnegie Hall which was absolutely spellbinding.

          • Don Ciccio says:

            I heard one of the Philadelphia performances, but remember being lukewarm towards the music. Still, I am glad I was there.

      • fflambeau says:

        I like your work, Maestro, but I disgree with the thrust of your argument here. So what if he liked Schoenberg? How can one be politically “naive” when musicians and others are being carted off to death camps because they are Jewish and/or opponents of the regime? Germans and others knew about this. This guy was a nazi supporter.

        • Tanya Tintner says:

          It is very dangerous to claim ex cathedra that “this guy was a nazi supporter” when you really don’t know. I quote from a letter my husband (Georg Tintner) wrote to another conductor who was about to give a performance of Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln: “You asked me whether
          Franz Schmidt was a Nazi or not. In difficult times many things are not
          either black or white. I try to answer this question as well as I can.
          The doctor of Franz Schmidt, who was also a brilliant violinist, was
          perhaps his best friend for many years. They played chamber music
          together and Dr Adler (I think that was his name) looked after him till
          he died. This man was a Jew. I also know that Franz Schmidt helped some
          of his Jewish students and friends to get out of Austria. These are the
          positive sides. But unfortunately Franz Schmidt wrote a cantata in homage
          of Hitler. It is very fortunate that he died before finishing this piece.
          The Universal Edition holds the manuscript of the unfinished work and
          refuses (in my opinion wisely) to publish it. So what can you say? One
          thing is clear to me, that he certainly did not expose himself more
          incriminatingly than for instance Hans Pfitzner, whom I also adore.”

          • Mrs. Tintner, thank you very much for that fascinating bit of anecdotal history. I have learned similar things about other notable German musicians such as Hermann Zilcher (a gifted composer). Musicians were forced to make terribly difficult decisions under conditions that we cannot imagine today, particularly in America.

            Might there be a book of Georg’s letters in the future?

          • Tanya Tintner says:

            Dear Mr Williams, thank you for your comment. There will be no book of letters because Georg kept almost none, and for that matter wrote few, even fewer of which appear to have been kept. However, I am at present working on a book of his lectures and talks (all transcribed from tapes as they were entirely extemporised). Some people (in Canada, Australia, NZ) may have heard edited versions of a few of them made by the CBC in 1974, played multiple times on radio from transcription LPs.

          • Neil Saunders says:

            Schmidt chose to abandon the commissioned work for the Nazis, “Deutsche Auferstehung” and instead completed a work for the Jewish Paul Wittgenstein, the A major Quintet for piano (left-hand), clarinet and string trio. Unfortunately, “Deutsche Auferstehung” was completed, after Schmidt’s death, by a student with Nazi sympathies, Robert Wagner, and published under Schmidt’s name.

            Schmidt’s great Jewish friend in Vienna was Oskar Adler, a medical doctor and violinist, who had also been a close personal friend of Arnold Schoenberg. He published a memoir explicitly absolving Schmidt of any trace of antisemitism or support for the Nazis. (It is reproduced, in an English translation, in Harold Truscott’s “The Music of Franz Schmidt: Volume 1, The Orchestral Music” (Toccata Press, 1984), along with a similarly exculpatory memoir by Hans Keller.)

          • Bone says:

            Thank you for your husband’s insights. Your husband was a treasure and you honor his memory.

        • Herbie G says:

          Sorry fflambeau but for one thing Schmidt was Austrian and died in March 1939, just eleven months after the Anschluss. That was well before WWII began and the major thrust of the German genocide although of course his opponents in Germany were at that time being assaulted and interned. But are you seriously suggesting that if Schmidt, who was at that time a very frail and sick man, knew about what was happening, that made him a Nazi supporter???? Do you hear what you are saying? What would you suggest he should have done? Taken on the Gestapo and impale them on his cello spike?

  • Johann Sebastian Kritiker says:

    Schmidt is, in my eyes, still more original then another box-set of composers like Beethoven, Bruckner, Brahms, Tchaikovsky, Mahler, Strauss and Shostakovich. Why are we recording these composers over and over with very rarely a new and revolutionary interpretation?

  • John Borstlap says:

    Schmidt offers late-romantic music which makes the orchestra sound well and saturated, that is all. It is music without real ideas, entirely superficial.

    I tried to listen to some of his symphonies but gave-up, the square feebleness is unbearable.





    This is also a conspiciously nonsensical piece:


    Etc. etc….

    It all sounds like R Strauss with all the good bits taken-out, rhythmically square (as if Brahms had never existed), meandering without direction, etc. etc. Listening to Schmidt offers a better understanding why Strauss is a good composer after all.

    Compare with this:


    Same language, same cultivation of the triad, but full of ideas and temperament.

    Why would traditionalist composers, at the time, so often become rightwing enthusiasts for Blut und Boden? Because since Debussy, Ravel, Bartok and Stravinsky the centrality of the Austrian/German tradition of Innerlichkeit and cumbersome harmonic elaborations quickly faded to be taken-over by colour, freedom, and explicit freshness. Mahler stands-out as an exception because he did not quite fit into what was thought to be the ‘German tradition’.

    Strauss, representing the last flower of the German tradition, was also driven to the support of the nazis before he realized he betted on the wrong horse, feeling that something would be lost in modern times:


    On the other hand, it is a good thing that conductors try something new (in the sense of not heard as yet) and which does not clash with the nature of the medium: the symphony orchestra. But there is so much other symphonic music which would be appropriate, I agree with Norman here.

    • Cubs Fan says:

      That “conspiciously nonsensical piece” has been recorded many times. Karajan, Kempe and Kegel among them. It’s long been a concert bon-bon in central Europe. Let us know when anything you’ve written has achieved such popularity. The Schmidt must have something going for it, and not be nonsensical.

      • John Borstlap says:

        That is not an argument. For instance, mediocre composer Joachim Raff was very famous and popular in the 19th century, a fact that is entirely puzzling today. He was positively compared to Brahms who was often found ‘too stiff, too intellectual, too cold’ compared to Raff. And then: one can be a good conductor and still lacking taste and understanding in some areas. In central Europe, it took a very long time for the best 20C non-German music to reveal itself: a matter of cultural identity – Bartok, Stravinsky and Prokofiev, as well as Debussy and Ravel were still considered ‘too modern’ in places like Munich in the seventies. I know of a conductor who complained to me only 10 years ago that in Vienna, audiences found Bartok ‘much too modern’ for their taste. It’s not convervatism but resistance to music without cumbersome Innerlichkeit, which for many central-European people is reassuring.

        Don’t look for authority if you’re in doubt but think and listen for yourself…..

        • Marfisa says:

          “… think and listen for yourself”. Excellent advice, and I will be sure to take it. After all, your cumbersome Innerlichkeit might be somebody else’s deeply moving profundity. (Whether the somebody else is less perceptive or educated than you is of course another question.) And some composers (inexplicably popular in the past) might have had mediocrity unfairly thrust upon them.

          • John Borstlap says:


            Since, from an anthropological point of view, classical music can also be described as psychology in sound, it is possible (but sometimes difficult) to make a distinction between the qualities of the types of emotion being conveyed. When is it cumbersome, boring Innerlichkeit, and when profound soul stirrings? In other words: when is a musical emotion sentimental (i.e. superficial imitation of an emotion but fake), and when authentic? And can a sentimental expression be authentic nonetheless, when the compsoer is himself a sentimental guy? And then: so what? The only way to find-out is twofold: one’s own self-criticism towards one’s own emotional life, in combination with a critical ear for the quality of emotion as conveyed by the music.

    • John Borstlap says:

      The early Hindemith, everything by Schreker, and lots of music by some Jewish émigré composers who had to settle in the West, produced much more interesting music than Schmidt. For instance, Hans Gal, who subbornly continued to write music in the romantic Viennese tradition while having a different career in the UK – and whose music was entirely ignored up till recently – wrote a cello concerto with lots of ideas:


      It is just a matter of careful listening and careful comparing, and of musical taste. Think about that, before revealing oneself with the thumb-downs.

    • Neil Saunders says:

      I must be consulting different scores of the Schmidt pieces from those being employed by Mr Bortslap, who finds the works (although he does not say which) “rhythmically square”. My Schmidt scores are full of rhythmic subtleties: frequent syncopation, irregular and overlapping phrases, re-accentuation, etc. Take, for example, the transition from the first to the second subject of the first movement of the Third Symphony, which superimposes a strong feeling of 2/4 metre over the prevailing 3/4. (Such examples could easily be greatly multiplied.) Nemeth described Schmidt, in the subtitle of his biography, as “Ein Meister nach Brahms und Bruckner” – he might alternatively have written, “Ein Meister zwischen Mahler und Berg” – and it is clear that Schmidt was in fact, and in spite of Mr Bortslap’s unsupported assertion to the contrary, greatly influenced by Brahms in his own handling of rhythm.

  • AngloGerman says:

    Utterly fantastic music, by an unsung and unfortunately forgotten composer finally entering the limelight again. Bychkov and Most have done outstanding work for his legacy.

    • Brian says:

      Schmidt was included in the old Penguin guide to The Symphony in the.volume covering the 20th century and edited by the late Robert Simpson, so he must be a worthwhile composer. Other composers also included amongst the big names were the Englishmen Bax and Havergal Brian who were also fine in their own way.

  • Gustavo says:

    Why always bother us with Mahler?

    Why do “they” always bother about these exaggerated and superimposed emotions of an egomaniac composer/conductor who, full of lust for power, staged himself as the creator spiritus of a seemingly new form of music, but who was continually backward-looking.

    Gustav Mahler who based 9.5 symphonies on ideas essentially stolen from Hans Rott, but who would never admit it.

    Gustav Mahler who could only be full of praise of Rott because Rott committed suicide at early age and thus was no longer a competitor.

    In contrast to Mahler’s music, Schmidt’s music shows dignity, humility and honesty, like Bruckner, and has an independent raison d’être (like all music).

    The only relevant question here is why the Vienna Philharmonic have not yet invited a Järvi to conduct Franz Schmidt or Hans Rott.

    • John Borstlap says:

      There has not been a German/Austrian composer at the beginning of the last century who could have soared to the level of this:



      Schmidt is mediocre music for mediocre minds. There is nothing wrong with it, but it is silly to compare his works with the really great music of the time. It’s OK to fill the gap of what we know of that era, but let’s not overestimate the man.

      • HugoPreuss says:

        Oh my, “mediocre music for mediocre minds”. Thank you so much for your kind assessment of anyone who likes the music of Schmidt.

        • MezzoLover says:

          And I am proud of being a “mediocre mind” in the illustrious company of Maestri Luisi, Petrenko, Welser-Möst, Bychkov and Järvi.

        • John Borstlap says:

          Sorry, with ‘mediocre minds’ I was not thinking of audiences/music lovers who are innocent, also where they are fooled, but of programmers and performers who should know better and who carry responsibilities for the art form.

      • Tanya Tintner says:

        If Mr Borstlap is correct, my husband (Georg Tintner) must have had a *very* mediocre mind, as he dearly loved the music of Franz Schmidt.

      • You can say that but that just makes you wrong. Better to keep your pronouncements within the realm of mere opinion rather than ineffectively state what cannot be empirically and absolutely proven. it has more than a little of an air of tilting at windmills.

      • Edgar says:

        Herzliche Grüsse! Stadtschereiber Beckmesser

    • Herbie G says:

      Yes indeed Gustavo. Arguing about whether a work is a masterpiece or a ‘tedious screed’ is pointless. Those who like it will listen to it and those who don’t won’t. There is no litmus test for greatness in music and popularity is irrelevant.
      NL seeks to denigrate Schmidt, inter alia, on the basis that recordings of his works don’t sell many copies.
      On that basis the 1812 Overture is one of the greatest masterpieces ever written and all those composers whom NL has advocated recently, such as Leo Weiner, Berthold Goldschmidt and Wayne Barlow are nonentities. Of course, that’s not so, because NL likes them and they have thus had greatness thrust upon them.

    • Neil Saunders says:

      I love Franz Schmidt, but this is grossly unfair to Mahler, who was also a genius. Divide and rule never works: both men are masters.

  • christopher storey says:

    I think the music is distinctive, and full of foreboding in rather the same sense that Elgar’s major works were. In that sense it is far from comfortable to listen to, but is of significance because it foretold the disasters which were shortly to happen

  • The View from America says:


    Because the last thing the world needs is yet another set of the complete Beethoven, Mahler, Bruckner, Brahms or Shostakovich symphonies.

    • John Borstlap says:

      True! I love Schmidt and use it in my regular periods of insomnia. Nothing is so reassuring as being lulled into sleep with German earnestness but not more than that. The types you mention always kick me into a restless irritation, which get on my nerves on my work day and get me into all those typos I’m being scolded for.


      • It’s not your typos but your content for which you’re being (quite justly) scolded; in so saying, I’m reminded of Godowsky’s remark following a performance by another pianist that contained a wealth of memory lapses, namely that it wasn’t what he forgot but what he remembered that was so bad…

      • Marfisa says:

        Austro-Hungarian earnestness, to be precise.

    • Herbie G says:

      Norman has written a book called ‘Why Mahler?’, which I recently bought. I can now reveal that Franz Schmidt is busy at his desk in the musical Pantheon writing his own book called ‘Why Lebrecht?’.

  • Baron Ochs says:

    Both Jaarvi’s contribute admirably to the Schmidt discography. The other brother, Kristjan, recorded the oratorio on the book of revelation, The book of the seven seals, in 2008. This piece shows Schmidt at his finest and most inspired. A shame is it not performed more often, but of course it’s a fortune with six soloists (you need a siegfried and wotan to sing John the divine and the voice of God) and a massive orchestra, when the second seal breaks and the mens chorus of the four horsemen starts, you can’t help but see in your mind the german tanks rolling into Poland. It’s far more exciting of a piece than any of the Elgar oratorios. Truly a shame no one does that or any of the rest of the Schmidt symphonies.

    • Dave says:

      The choir with which I used to sing (before unsympathetic management and run-of-the-mill programming set in, not to mention the c-word) got a couple of cracks at it – before my time unfortunately. It was nicknamed “Death by Fugue”.

    • Gustavo says:

      All 3 Järvis!!!

      Papa Neeme has done the symphonies with Detroit and Chicago and Notre Dame with Gothenburg.

      I am currently comparing recordings of Symphony No. 3.

    • Genius Repairman says:

      But I don’t really want to hear the sound of tanks rolling into Poland…

  • Dave says:

    I think what was left out here was an opportunity to make this a clickbait review so we’d have to look elsewhere to see what this silly rant was about, so thank you for resisting that. Or maybe they wouldn’t send a review copy…

    If maestri such as Franz Welser-Möst, Semyon Bychkov, Fabio Luisi and Järvi père et fils think Schmidt’s symphonies are worth the while, I think that’s recommendation in itself. I’ve listened with open ears, unlike some, and they do reveal treasures. And it’s good that they’ve got some recognition in the concert hall as well, not just in the studio. It is though a shame that there are a number of other 20th century symphonists who still await that. (I could mention the superstar conductor who stepped in at a Prom several years ago and dumped a few minutes of Tubin in favour of some hackneyed Sibelius, but I’ll let others name that individual.)

  • Sol Siegel says:

    Just my two cents: I think that Schmidt’s 4th Symphony is a flat-out masterpiece. Mehta’s long-ago recording, reissued many times, has never been bettered, though the performance by Kirill Petrenko on Berlin PO’s Digital Concert Hall is also exceptional.

    • Tanya Tintner says:

      If I may add an aside, from a radio talk my husband gave in 1986:
      So when we deal with composers like Hans Pfitzner and Franz Schmidt we must understand that these people were at the end of a great tradition. They did not try to make music even more strident and more twisted than some of the rhythms have already been [sic], that was not what interested them. They wanted to continue the great line of the great composers. And I happened to be at the first performance of Franz Schmidt’s Symphony No. 4, which made a tremendous impression not only me, who was [sixteen], but there was another great composer in the audience, Alban Berg, who loved the symphony so much that he demanded to get a score, and studied it. I mention that because Alban Berg and his teacher Schoenberg, who was incidentally born in the same year as Franz Schmidt, *were* revolutionaries. But *they* could see the merit in music that was traditional.
      (Perhaps I might also mention that he strongly disliked the Mehta recording; he thought it much too fast.)

  • sabrinensis says:

    The number of superlative musicians who have programmed, championed and recorded Schmidt’s works through the years is a far more reliable indicator of their ultimate worth than NL’s dismissive opinion. However, we should thank NL for the p.r. platform advertising the blessed availability of another complete Schmidt cycle.

  • Cubs Fan says:

    These four symphonies are among my favorite works from the 20th c. I own every complete set and all the other recordings. Schmidt’s chamber music is magnificent. Only in the organ music does patience wear thin. His music has a nobility, depth, passion and beauty that sets it far above his contemporaries. Rarely a week goes by that one of the symphonies isn’t in the cd player. The music isn’t superficial or flashy and it does require the listener to pay attention. Several years ago I went to London just to hear the Vienna Philharmonic play the 2nd symphony at the Proms. A stunningly difficult work to play and conduct, it makes a heck of a great sound and is a marvel of compositional ingenuity. The roar of the packed house at the conclusion said it all: this music deserves to be played and heard live. I had been planning to go to Dallas to hear Fabio Luisi do Das Buch, but alas, Covid-19 interfered. There’s a monumental, powerful and thrilling piece – particularly for us believers.

  • phf655 says:

    No one has mentioned the Book of the 7 Seals, which is a masterpiece. Among other things, it seems to refer back to the entire history of central European vocal music, as far as Heinrich Schutz. I have also found that the vocal writing sometimes has an uncanny resemblance to some of Britten’s; if there was any direct influence it must have run from Schmidt to Britten, since BB’s operas come later.
    The first symphony is rather conventional, but it is a remarkably assured and skillful student work. Its ‘play it safe’ nature makes it no surprise that it won the coveted Beethoven prize at the Vienna Conservatory, but Mahler’s Klagende Lied was rejected!
    Of the four symphonies the second most deserves the critiques leveled by the detractors who have posted previously. It is praiseworthy that the first and second symphonies anticipate the neoclassicism of the interwar period – composers such as Hindemith. The third and fourth have more melodic inspiration; the fourth is a memorial to Schmidt’s daughter, who died young, and is a fitting one. I would characterize both of them as more neo-romantic than neoclassical.
    The Jarvi performances have a transparency lacking in most of the other recorded performances, and it is welcome. Yes, there is an indebtedness to Mahler and Strauss that sometimes sits strangely with the generally reserved tone of these works.
    Schmidt is said to have given the Nazi salute at the premiere of ‘7 Seals’, which occurred three months after the Anschluss. He also helped many Jewish musicians;
    the intervention must have had significance since it came from someone who had directed the conservatory from 1925 to 1931. He was dead less than a year after the Anschluss. After his death, his wife, who had long been confined to a mental hospital, was put to death in a Nazi euthanasia program.

    • Tanya Tintner says:

      Schmidt did give the Nazi salute at the end of the “Seals” premiere. My husband was there (risking his life, as Jews were not allowed to attend entertainments after the Anschluss) and witnessed it. As Schmidt was a great hero to him (he wanted to study composition with him but was just too late; Schmidt retired in 1931), he described it later as “one of the greatest agonies of my life”. Notwithstanding, he certainly did not think that Schmidt was a true sympathiser.

      • Edgar Self says:

        Dear Tanya tintner, thank you for another significant and illuminating contribution of your husband, the great conductor Georg Tintner, who as you told us also held such a high opinion of Hans Pfitzner’s “musical”opera “Palestrina”, as did Bruno Walter, Thomas Mann, Kent Nagano, and many others, including modesty forbids, as we discussed recently on another topic. With great respect nd best wishes.

        P.S. Thrilling to associate my name with these great ones, even though I had to do it myself!

    • RobK says:

      I wonder if Schmidt’s oratorio was the real-life model for the Apocalypsis con figuris by Adrian Leverkühn in ‘Doctor Faustus’. Can I put in a word for Schmidt’s glorious chamber music composed for Paul Wittgenstein’s left-hand – lovely stuff.

  • Tribonian says:

    If Schmidt was in fact a vociferous Nazi, surely there must be multiple public statements from him of support for Nazism, which can be shown to have been made freely and not under duress. Here’s a cut and paste from Wikipedia which suggests otherwise.

    Schmidt’s worsening health forced his retirement from the Academy in early 1937. In the last year of his life Austria was brought into the German Reich by the Anschluss, and Schmidt was feted by the NSDAP authorities as the greatest living composer of the so-called Ostmark. He was given a commission to write a cantata entitled The German Resurrection, which, after 1945, was taken by many as a reason to brand him as having been tainted by National Socialist sympathy. However, Schmidt left this composition unfinished, and in the summer and autumn of 1938, a few months before his death, set it aside to devote himself to two other commissioned works for the one-armed pianist Paul Wittgenstein: the Quintet in A major for piano left-hand, clarinet, and string trio; and the Toccata in D minor for solo piano. Schmidt died on 11 February 1939.

    I don’t think that failing to decline a commission from Goebbels counts as vociferous support. I wonder how many of us would have had the courage to turn Goebbels down, or even the courage not to finish a job for him by whatever the deadline was.

    I don’t know enough to say whether Wikipedia is right on this, but in the current “cancel culture” climate more than ever, it’s something where care and accuracy are needed.

  • Edgar Self says:

    This discussion, and the thoughtful posts pro and con, will have me listening to Franz Schmidt’s music, including the Seven Seals of Mitropoulos and Moest, the symphonies with Jarvi Sr. and Mehta/LVPO’ second, all waitingpatiently on theshelves. Perhaps his time will come. I’ve found Schmidt heavy sledding, but will persevere. Perseverance always pays.

    There’s a story of Schmidt’s once returning to the VPO but declining the first cello chair to play inthe bck row.

  • Fernandel says:

    Schmidt plus Järvi = double penalty

  • I’ve heard Schmidt in concert twice; Leon Fleisher with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in the 2nd Concerto for Left Hand and the Cleveland Orchestra in the 4th Symphony. Fleisher’s performance was highly musical with a fair amount of technical inaccuracies. It was still compelling to hear. (I now confess that I smuggled a recorder in and took down that performance for posterity. I don’t think it’s ever been available.) Welser-Most with Cleveland was, of course, technically superb, but his way with it (like his recording) is not to my taste. He seemed to blow right through it.

    The upshot is that Schmidt’s music makes a stunning impression in concert.

    • Neil Saunders says:

      “Schmidt’s music makes a stunning impression in concert.”

      This is not least because of Schmidt’s staggering virtuosity as an orchestrator. For example, I have attended several performances of the Fourth Symphony in various venues with various orchestras under various conductors, but the orchestration of the work is not merely effective but strikingly brilliant under all conditions.

  • Michael Turner (conductor) says:

    I think that, as with all such recordings, if a performer (conductor, instrumentalist, singer) has something new or revelatory to say (without completely distorting a piece in the process) then let’s here it. Otherwise, why bother?

    I’m not going to say anything about merits or not of Schmidt’s music (or anyone else’s for that matter) here. Similarly I’m not passing comment on Paavo Jarvi’s recordings, his father’s or any other. What I would say is that I think that I’d probably anticipate the opportunity to hear a recording of a piece by a thus-far unknown Welsh composer (who met an early and unfortunate death in a ferret-deciphering accident) than hear yet another characterless recording of a mainstream piece of repertoire. While the Welsh composer may not have been a genius, I’ll still have the adventure of finding out.

    In the case of the latest recorded version of the Xth symphony of composer Y, all too often I find nothing new to separate it from umpteen others that have come before.

  • MacroV says:

    Norman, at least one of your books lamented how the record industry kept recording the same stuff over and over. Now someone is recording something a little less mainstream and you complain about that, too. Damned if you do, damned if you don’t.

    So the charms of Franz Schmidt elude you. No problem. Not everyone agrees.

  • HugoPreuss says:

    You have left out that there are a lot of people who like the music of Schmidt. You apparently don’t. So what? Is this the first time there ever has been a difference of opinion about the worth of a particular composer’s music? Some people will share your aversion, some people (including myself) won’t.

    • Stuart says:

      Having read all of the responses to date, your response is a good summation. Some really like these symphonies and some don’t. Cubs Fan refers to himself as “a believer” – a good way to look at it for him. I am with NL and John B (unusual for me) – nothing to see here. I have listened over the years to many different recordings of the symphonies, and to the Book of the Seven Seals. I am not “a believer”, but can understand why there are many who do believe. The comment above that “Schmidt is mediocre music for mediocre minds” is uncalled for and certainly not true but free speech being what it is… The other comment above that “Gustav Mahler who based 9.5 symphonies on ideas essentially stolen from Hans Rott, but who would never admit it. In contrast to Mahler’s music, Schmidt’s music shows dignity, humility and honesty, like Bruckner, and has an independent raison d’être (like all music)” is surely indefensible – just saying provocative words to get a little attention. Yes, no honesty in Mahler’s music. The comparison of the two composers is hardly a useful way to get a better understanding or appreciation of Schmidt’s music. I do appreciate the industry continuing to publish more non-core-repertory works – certainly there is plenty of worthy symphonic material from the last 200 years that could be brought out by the labels.

      • The implicit suggestion that admiring the music of Schmidt is somehow incompatible with admiring that of Mahler is plainly nonsensical; I for one could not live without either and I know that I am far from alone in that!

        • Stuart says:

          I agree that such an implication is nonsensical and I never implied that. My music library has 3-4 different versions of each of Mahler’s symphonies. I have listened to several recordings of Schmidt’s works over the years but have none in my active library. My love of Mahler has nothing to do with my indifference to Schmidt, but both are based on informed decisions, personal likes/dislikes and years of listening. To each his own.

      • Gustavo says:

        “…just saying provocative words to get a little attention.”

        Which I thought was the whole point about Slippedisc.

        But I may have got it wrong.

        Perhaps it’s a central European thing?

        My apologies to anyone I may have offended.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Some kind differences of opinion about music are not mere subjective impressions, but rest on spotting some concrete aspects, for instance whether the music is well-made, well-thought-out, is expressive, is thematically meaningful and inventive. Like this:


      Or this:


  • Franz Schmidt says:

    he was not only a remarkable musician (he played the cello solo in the premiere of Die Frau ohne Schatten, later professor for piano (!) in vienna ..), his music is the perfect mixture between Schoenberg, Strauss and Berg. really great music !

    • Tanya Tintner says:

      A little more info (from a radio talk my husband gave): “[Schmidt] not only composed but he was a brilliant cellist, in fact for 20 years he sat on the first desk of the cellos in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra. On top of that he was a marvellous pianist– as a matter of fact, I heard him play Totentanz by Liszt which put many a piano tiger to shame. On top of that, he was in my opinion a very great composer, because his music is full of the sublime, which is rare in our day.” He also noted that Schmidt was “a very bad conductor”.

      • Paul Galbraith says:

        Interesting to know about his virtuosic Liszt performance on piano. But strange to see the negative appraisal of his conducting. Hans Keller again (since there are no recordings of Schmidt’s conducting, as far as I know):
        “..I did hear him as a conductor of his own music which, to date, I have never again heard with anything like the vitality and simultaneous textural transparence of those performances.”

        • Tanya Tintner says:

          Dear Mr Galbraith, Perhaps Schmidt was able to convey his own music better than that of others. If I may post two more excerpts on this topic, the first from a 1979 radio interview and the second from a 1977 lecture on conductors:
          (1) … because he was a composer who was a very bad conductor He could not *communicate* what he meant, when he did conduct. I heard him for instance conduct a remarkable piece of another obscure composer, the chamber symphony of Franz Schreker. I don’t know whether you have heard that name. He was a very famous composer just before the Nazis came, and then partly because of the Nazis he was banned, then he lost ground and never gained it again, although I understand there is now a Franz Schreker Society and so on. And – this is an excellent piece. Franz Schmidt conducted it very badly, but it made a very great impression. And why I think it is so strange that Franz Schmidt didn’t have that gift is that he was a first-rate cellist – he sat on the first desk of the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for many years – and he was one of the finest pianists I’ve ever heard in a virtuoso sense. He once played the Totentanz by Liszt, which he must have detested as a piece of music, but he played it with the utmost brilliance. And you would think a person who can be both eminent as a cellist and as a pianist would also be able, when he holds a stick in his hand, to convey something, but he was not able to.
          (2) Now let us take for granted that he was a fine composer, a brilliant musician, he sat on the first desk of the cellos in the Vienna Philharmonic Orchestra for 25 years. He was a *brilliant* pianist, a *virtuoso* pianist. When this man conducted, it was truly pathetic. You could *see* that he was feeling it, but he couldn’t communicate.

          • John Borstlap says:

            “You could *see* that he was feeling it, but he couldn’t communicate.” A universal affliction and one does not have to be a musician to suffer from it.

  • David A. Boxwell says:

    Schmidt exists in order to make Reger seem good.

    • Pianofortissimo says:

      Reger was great.

    • John Borstlap says:

      Schmidt exists in order to compensate for the jolts in Stravinsky, Debussy, Ravel, Bartok, Mahler, Prokofiev, Shostakovich, Falla, Hindemith, Schreker, Szymanowski, Poulenc, and Britten. He is the Joachim Alzheimer of the 20th century.

      • Neil Saunders says:

        No, he doesn’t. You just made that up, and you are wrong.

        Your clumsy attempts at wit (e.g. “Joachim Alzheimer”) are frankly embarrassing.

    • Neil Saunders says:

      And where are your masterpieces, Mr Boxwell? Yet you appoint yourself a judge of men whose bootlaces you are not qualified to strap.

  • Loop says:

    Valid point but I guess I’m in the minority and find Schmidt’s music interesting.

    I have Neeme’s cycle and loved Bychkov’s 2017 recording of the second symphony with VIenna.

    • John Borstlap says:

      There’s nothing wrong with liking Mr Schmidt’s music, but it is silly and underdeveloped to want him compare with the much better composers of his time, as if to defend one’s own taste in aesthetics.

    • Neil Saunders says:

      You’re not in a minority, Loop. Cranks like Lebrecht and Bortslap are.

  • Gerald Martin says:

    I thought Florent Schmitt– not Franz Schmidt– was the “vociferous Nazi”.

  • fflambeau says:

    I agree with Norman’s judgment (which is also the public judgment since no one buys these recordings). Let DG eat the loss.

  • Edgar says:

    Full of bias, Norman. Your opinion is laughable ans irrelevant. I will get the recordings. In time for Yom Kippur. I will fervently pray for the atonement of your and my sins.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    What I found baffling, Norman, was something a bit different. DG has chosen to make these Schmidt symphonies with P. Jarvi available on plain-old CD’s. At the same time, DG has released a set of all four Ives symphonies with Duduamel and Los Angeles. I’ve listened to them at Spotify and they’re really quite good. Yet, you can not get Dudamel’s Ives set in CD form – only as downloads. Go figure!

    • Stuart says:

      Not sure why either is out in physical CD form as they both are likely to have less than stellar sales. Regarding the Ives set, these are truly wonderful performances and recordings – both the Ives and the Schmidt sets are value priced (<$10) at Apple Music.

  • Gustavo says:

    “He later became a vociferous Nazi.”

    But he didn’t make it to Hitler’s “Gottbegnadeten-Liste” like for example Pfitzner, Orff, Egk or Strauss.

  • Lee says:

    What you left out is a link to buy the recording but I can seek that out for myself and ignore your opinions of a composer whose music I love.

  • Paul Carlile says:

    I have much enjoyed the live performances of nos. 2, 3 & 4..not yet heard no. 1 in concert. I like the character and expression of his music, but well understand that it’s more personal taste than usual…a very intimately emotional expression that will not be universally appreciote. I happen to dislike Elgar, but understand that it’s great stuff for devotees…certainly not “universal” (à la L v B, or WA Moz…).

    In the domain of chamber music, arguably even more difficult to master…(purity, economy of means, nowhere to hide), Schmidt produced marvels, especially the left-hand piano quintets for Wittgenstein (tho better heard in the 2hand versions…and not by L Fleischer…sorry!). No. 1 especially, i consider a masterpiece equal to similar by Brahms or Fauré in thematic wealth, taut construction and outstanding instrumental writing; emotionally rich, yet classically satisfying.
    I’m looking forward to hearing these; thanx for giving them a puff!

  • Novagerio says:

    His insane daughter was killed by the Nazi’s Euthanasia programme – that you left out. His 4th Symphony, the most tragic C-Major work I know off depicts Schmidt’s deep tragedy.
    “Vociferous Nazi”? You just made me laugh.

  • Russell Platt says:

    The Schmidt Fourth Symphony has always been accepted as a masterpiece.

  • Gustavo says:

    Aren’t there more than 5 available Schmidt cycles?

    Sinaisky, Blunier, Rajter…

  • John Borstlap says:

    My impression is that many people here who take offence at my opinion about Schmidt missed the point – Schmidt lacks rhythmic life and good phrasing. A good comparison is therefore with Glazunov: also a ‘conservative’ composer, using the same language, but the music is suffused with clarity and life because of the variety in texture, colourful contrasts, and clear scoring – in spite of the occasional heaviness. The orchestra sounds as saturated as with Schmidt but simply has so much more life into it, and better themes. It has a radiance that Schmidt lacks because the composer had more imagination.



      You should just stop talking. You’ve made your opinions known and their effectiveness is nil because nothing you say can be empirically proven. Additionally, there is an air of sour grapes about it all. You’re like that one guy that always attends a party with determination to ruin it. Please stop.

    • Jason Smith says:

      There is little or no resemblance between the harmonic and melodic language of Glazunov and Schmidt; Schmidt’s harmonic language is far more complex chromatically and although I love Glazunov’s symphonies, Schmidt’s are in a different stellar league. Listen to the slow movement of symphony 3; this is a musical language and a extension of tonal chromaticism not conceived of by any other composer I am aware of. The criticism of Schmidt, for me, is incomprehensible. Try the recent Paavo Jarvi recordings which bring out the incredible lyricism and internal detail of these masterworks.

    • Neil Saunders says:

      I wanted to like you, Mr Borstlap, but Franz Schmidt is a clear line in the sand.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Rob K has the dea that hmict’s “Book of the Seven Seals” may be the model work in the background of Adrian Leverkuehn’s “Apocolyptis cum figuris” after Albrecht Duerer in Thomas Mann’s great musical novel “Doktor Faustus”. It’s quite possible, though I can’t recall Mann’s mentioning Schmidt in letters or in his book “The Story of a Novel: about writing “Faustus” Theodor Weiss-Adorno might have told us something.

    • Neil Saunders says:

      I think Rob K may have derived this notion from Tom Corfield’s magnificent PhD dissertation about Schmidt’s symphonies, operas and “Das Buch”, which Lebrecht has clearly not read and would, on the evidence of his crass remarks, struggle to comprehend.

  • Paul Hess says:

    Masterful music which moved the listener. Does one need more ? Gratifying that conductors are returning to this excellent composer and let’s hope, many other less known but deserving ones.

  • MR J C SMITH says:

    I am bewildered how a well known critic can make such dismissive comments about a master composer; it is such a shame that reviews such as these will put people off exploring this great music. Symphony number 3 is harmonically unlike any other symphony I know (the lush orchestration can obscure this fact) and 4 is quite simply phenomenal! Can’t think of another symphony where the majority of the work is derived from a solo line at the beginning. Every great orchestra should play this music.

  • Edgar Self says:

    Glazunoff? What a droll idea!, John Brfore him, if ever, I should ohave thought of Wetz, Ma vonx Schillings, Pfitzner, Siegmund von Hausegger, Hans Rott, Magnard, Weingartner, Reger, or even Furtwangler.

    Besides spots in Raymonda and The Seasons (big tune!), piano and violin concertos, lI like his eight preludes and fugues for piano, which might have given his pupil Shostakovish the idea for his. Another pupil, Sofronitzki, recorded one; otherwise I am very happy with Hyperion’s complete set, I think by Steven Coombs. But his symphonies? Not at all, thoughI have them.

  • Neil Saunders says:

    You’re full of shit, Lebrecht. Can you read a score? Have you learnt harmony, counterpoint, form, fugue? You’re a good gossip columnist about classical music, but are you musically literate? On the evidence of your ludicrous comments about Franz Schmidt, the answer is obviously a big, fat NO.