I was interested to read Janos Gereben's quote of the Wiki encomium of
"Fredigundis", the lesser-known of Franz Schmidt's two operas.
Despite those Royal Fanfares, "Notre Dame", his first opera (based on
the Hugo novel), is to my mind the more cogent stage work. The orchestral
Prelude is in the "once heard, never forgotten" category, for its evocation
of the daunting grandeur of the great cathedral itself; and though the
vocal lines don't do much to delineate character, the swift and pared-down
story is grippingly told, and the harmonic swell of the orchestral writing
is consistently beautiful. In contrast, the libretto of "Fredigundis"
is an implausible hotch-potch (irrespective of whether you find the
heroine morally culpable!) and the music is far less consistent in spirit.
To broaden out the discussion of Schmidt, not by the way a "forgotten
Hungarian" but a native of Pressburg (now Bratislava, capital of Slovakia),
his orchestral - and especially chamber - music, has been one of my
personal joyful discoveries over the last couple of years.
Anyone who enjoys Bruckner, late Brahms, or Zemlinsky, and is looking
for a refreshing change, will likely find Schmidt very much to their
taste. I'd recommend the Piano Quintet and the two Quintets for Strings
and Clarinet very highly indeed as starting points, followed by the
Symphonies (if you can get them! There's an excellent version of the
monumental 4th on EMI conducted by Franz Welser-Most.)
Of course, his magnum opus is that huge oratorio "The Book of the Seven
Seals" (Das Buch mit sieben Siegeln). The surprise here is, that despite
the massive forces required, much of the score itself has a chamber-like
delicacy and lucidity evoking medieval church glass. It is a stupendous,
thrilling work of great power which (according to some accounts) provided
the model for the great oratorio written by the composer-hero of Thomas
Mann's "Doktor Faustus".
Christopher Webber, Blackheath, London, UK
"ZARZUELA!" The Spanish Music Site
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