Franz Schmidt was one of the last major composers in the Austro-Hungarian romantic tradition. Born in Bratislava (known at the time as Pressburg), he trained as a virtuoso organist, pianist and composer (his teachers briefly included Anton Bruckner) before joining the Vienna Court Opera as a cellist. Here, he came into contact with Mahler and Schoenberg (with whom he played chamber music), although his own compositions followed a very different stylistic path. His first two symphonies (1902 and 1913) brought him recognition as a composer, although his opera Notre Dame (premiered in Vienna in 1914) made an even wider impact.
After World War I he focused on a career as a teacher at Vienna Conservatory, writing chamber music and a Schubert-inspired Third Symphony (1928), as well as numerous works for the one-handed pianist Paul Wittgenstein. Tragedy blighted his personal life and the death of his daughter, as well as the darkening political climate, gave a powerful emotional force to his elegiac Fourth Symphony (1934), which he described as "a requiem for my daughter", and the massive, apocalyptic oratorio The Book With Seven Seals (1938). Posthumously regarded as a composer of interest primarily to Austrian audiences, high-profile champions (including , Lorin Maazel, Paavo Järvi, Semyon Bychkov and Kirill Petrenko) have done much to establish his music in the international repertoire.