Celebrating 25 Years of Excellence

Franz Schmidt: The Book With Seven Seals; Symphony No. 4



SOMM Recordings honours Franz Schmidt, one of the great symphonic composers of the 20th century, on the 150th anniversary of his birth with this double-disc set featuring two of his masterworks. Revered in his day in his native Austria as the nation’s leading composer and an elite teacher, cellist and pianist, his name will not be known to many. This is due, at least in part, to a perceived association with the Third Reich (against which there is ample evidence). This first release on CD of two premiere recordings, meticulously produced and restored by Lani Spahr, showcases Schmidt’s unique harmonic language, exceptional contrapuntal skill and mastery of form, qualities which prompted Hans Pfitzner to call Schmidt’s Symphony No. 4 “nearer perfection than Bruckner, more honest than Richard Strauss and more original than Reger”.

Born in Pressburg (Bratislava) in 1874, Schmidt’s teachers (piano) included his mother (herself a student of Liszt), Rudolf Mader, Ludwig Burger and Theodor Leschetizky; (cello) Karl Udel and Ferdinand Hellmesberger; and (theory) Felicián Moczik and Robert Fuchs. He was, for a time, principal cellist in the Vienna Philharmonic under Mahler. While his symphonic output is clearly in the structural mould of Schubert, Brahms and Bruckner, his harmonic language, while showing influences of Strauss, Mahler and early Schoenberg, is clearly his own.

A near fatal heart attack in the years following the success of his Fourth Symphony prompted the composer to put his efforts into a major religious work. His setting of eight chapters of the last book of the New Testament in Martin Luther’s German became The Book with Seven Seals (From the Revelation of St John the Divine), not through-composed but constructed of clearly defined sections in the great 19th-century oratorio tradition.

The success of this summum opus and his stature in Austria drew the attention of the Nazis, who commissioned Schmidt to write a cantata on partisan texts (which he abandoned, only for it to be completed by a student and nevertheless performed under Schmidt’s name). With the fading of this unfortunate association a growing number of prominent conductors (the Järvis, Welser-Möst, Luisi, Bychkov) have begun to revive performances of his music in our time.

Lani Spahr’s previous SOMM releases include the lauded four-volume sets Vaughan Williams Live (ARIADNE 5016, 5018, 5019, 5020) and Elgar Remastered (SOMMCD 261-4), as well as Elgar from America, Volume 3 (Ariadne 5015-2), which garnered a Gramophone Editor’s Choice for “superb audio restorations [bringing] performances fully to life”

On This Recording

CD 1 Symphony No. 4 in C Major (1933) (47:06)a
  1. I. Allegro molto moderato – Passionato – (14:57)
  2. II. Adagio – Più lento – Adagio – (14:46)
  3. III. Molto vivace – (7:29)
  4. IV. Tempo Primo un poco sostenuto – Passionato – Tempo Primo (9:52)
Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln (The Book with Seven Seals) Part One
  1. “Gnade sei mit euch”(4:37) (John)
  2. “Ich bin das A und das O”(2:02) (Voice of the Lord)
  3. “Und eine Tür ward aufgetan im Himmel” (3:56) (John)
  4. “Heilig, heilig ist Gott der Allmächtige” (5:50) (Solo Quartet, Chorus, John)
  5. “Und ich sah in der rechten Hand” (5:39) (John, Solo Quartet)
  6. “Nun sah ich, und siehe, mitten vor dem Throne” (6:02) (John, Chorus)
  7. Organ solo (4:09)
CD 2
  1. “Und als das Lamm der Siegel erstes auftat” (2:14) (John, Chorus)
  2. “Und als das Lamm der Siegel zweites auftat” (6:16) (John, Chorus)
  3. “Und als das Lamm der Siegel drittes auftat” (4:11) (John, Solo Bass, Soprano & Alto Duet, Chorus)
  4. “Und als das Lamm der Siegel viertes auftat” (3:47) (John, Tenor & Bass Duet)
  5. “Und als das Lamm der Siegel fünftes auftat” (3:45) (John, Chorus)
  6. “Und es wurde ihnen einem jeglichen gegeben ein weißes Kleid” (2:43) (John, Voice of the Lord)
  7. “Und ich sah, dass das Lamm der Siegel sechstes auftat” (7:17) (John, Chorus)
Part Two
  1. Organ solo (3:12)
  2. “Nach dem Auftun des siebenten der Siegel aber” (2:55) (John)
  3. “Ein Weib, umkleidet mit der Sonne” (3:36) (John)
  4. “Und sie gebar einen Sohn”(2:10) (John)
  5. “Im Himmel aber erhob sich ein großer Streit”(6:16) (John)
  6. “Und als die große Stille im Himmel vorüber war” (11:31) (John, Solo Quartet, Chorus)
  7. “Vor dem Angesichte dessen, der auf weißem Throne saß” (4:48) (John)
  8. “Ich bin das A und das O” (5:08) (Voice of the Lord)
  9. “Hallelujah!” (4:12) (Chorus)
  10. “Wir danken dir, o Herr” (1:56) (Male Chorus)
  11. “Ich bin es, Johannes, der all dies hörte und sah” (2:14) (John, Chorus)
aVienna Symphony Orchestra; Rudolf Moralt, conductor
John: Julius Patzak, tenor; Voice of the Lord: Otto Wiener, bass
Solo Quartet: Hanny Steffek, soprano; Hertha Töpper, alto; Erich Majkut, tenor; Frederick Guthrie, bass
Franz Illenberger, organ; Graz Cathedral Choir; Munich Philharmonic Orchestra; Anton Lippe, conductor