About this Recording
8.223119 - SCHMIDT, F.: Symphony No. 1 / Notre Dame

Franz Schmidt (1874-1939)
Symphony No. 1 in E Major
Sehr langsam – sehr lebhaft
Schnell und leicht
Lebhaft, doch nicht zu schnell
Introduction, Intermezzo and Carnival Music

The Austrian composer Franz Schmidt has been strangely neglected abroad, in part through his conservatism and in part through the vagaries of history and of progressive taste.

Schmidt was born in Pressburg, the modern Bratislava, in 1874 and had his first music lessons there from the cathedral organist. In 1888 his family moved to Vienna, where he was able to continue his musical studies, but only by earning money as a dance-school pianist. He had piano lessons from that most remarkable of piano teachers, Leschetizky, and two years later entered the Conservatory, where his composition teachers were Bruckner and Robert Fuchs, the teacher of Mahler, Sibelius, Wolf, Schreker, Zemlinsky and a whole generation of Austrian composers. At the same time he studied the cello with Ferdinand Hellmesberger.

For fourteen years, from 1896, Franz Schmidt was a cellist in the orchestra of the Vienna Court Opera, conducted, from 1897, by Gustav Mahler. He resigned in 1911 to become a piano professor at the Vienna Staatsakademie, where he later taught counterpoint and composition, serving as director from 1925 to 1927. In the latter year he was appointed director of the Vienna Musikhochschule, a position he relinquished in 1931.

In spite of increasing ill health, Schmidt was active in a number of musical fields. At first a cellist, he became known as a pianist, as a teacher, an administrator, and as a composer in the tradition of Bruckner and Reger. His opera Notre Dame, based on Victor Hugo's novel, was first staged in Vienna in 1914, and won him an international reputation. His second opera, Fredegundis, had its first performance in Berlin in 1922, and was introduced to Vienna under Richard Strauss, but failed to make a good impression.

Schmidt's other works include an apocalyptic oratorio, Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln, completed in 1937, a concertante solo work and a piano concerto for the one-armed pianist Wittgenstein, chamber music and a number of pieces in traditional form for the organ. It was as a symphonist, however, that Schmidt chiefly impressed his contemporaries.

The first of Schmidt's four symphonies, Symphony No. 1 in E Major, was completed in 1899, making use of sketches from three years earlier. The work was entered for the composers' competition of the Vienna Gesellschaft der Musikfreunde and in 1900 was awarded the Beethoven Prize of 1(XX) gilders. It was first performed in the newly built Concertverein in Vienna on 25th January, 1902, to much critical approval, including praise from the redoubtable Eduard Hanslick, who prophesied a rich future for the composer.

The symphony is in four movements, grandiose in scale, and optimistic in mood, with nothing of the anxiety and bitterness of Mahler. Finely crafted, reminding us, time and again, of other great composers of the period, of Brahms, of Bruckner and of Reger, this first symphony is an impressive work, although we might detect a certain Gemuetlichkeit in its bland confidence in the health of a world soon to be shattered by conflict.

Victor Hugo's novel, Notre Dame de Paris, written in 1831, during the course of the century gave rise to a number of musical offspring, operas, ballets and incidental music to dramatic adaptations of the work, more often than not under the names of the principal characters Esmeralda or the hunchback Quasimodo. The present release includes the Introduction, Interlude and Carnival Music from the first act of Schmidt's successful opera, Notre Dame, first produced at the Vienna Court Opera on 1st April, 1914. For those familiar with the outline of Hugo's novel the music must speak for itself, in an idiom that is both conservative and evocative.

Michael Halász
Born in Hungary in 1938, Michael Halász began his professional career as principal bassoonist in the Philharmonia Hungarica, a position he occupied for eight years, before studying conducting in Essen. His first engagement as a conductor was at the Munich Gaertnerplatz Theatre, where, from 1972 to 1975, he directed all operetta productions. In 1975 he moved to Frankfurt as principal Kapellmeister under Christoph von Dohnányi, working with the most distinguished singers and conducting the most important works of the operatic repertoire. Engagements as a guest-conductor followed, and in 1977 Dohnányi took him to the Staatsoper in Hamburg as principal Kapellmeister.

In 1978 Michael Halász was appointed General Musical Director at the opera house in Hagen, and there further developed his experience of the repertoire, while undertaking guest engagements, which included television appearances as conductor in English and German versions of the Gerard Hoffnung Music Festival, as well as work with the Philharmonia Hungarica, the Bamberg Symphony Orchestra, the Berlin Symphony Orchestra and the Hilversum Radio Orchestra.

For Hong Kong Records Michael Halász has directed the Slovak Philharmonic Orchestra in works by Richard Strauss, Anton Rubinstein, Miaskovsky and Tchaikovsky.

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