As with many of the works composed during the same period, Schubert’s Lazarus – essentially a sacred stage work rather than an oratorio – remains unfinished, with Act 2’s burial never completed and the music for Act 3’s resurrection never begun. Perhaps Schubert felt unable to continue due to his religious views; perhaps his rapidly developing style simply caused him to lose patience with the work, which it would appear was not written to commission. Whatever the reason, there is little doubt that the work remains one of the composer’s most forward-thinking and innovative – and therein lies the real miracle of the piece.
In terms of musical profundity and individuality, Lazarus may be thought of as the dramatic vocal counterpart of the ‘Unfinished’ Symphony. What makes the work stand out is its formal and instrumentation-based novelties – gone is the separation of recitative and aria still adhered to by Beethoven, for example – as well as an unprecedented treatment of the text – Jairus’s daughter’s description of her death and return to earthly life, for instance, surpasses anything in Schubert’s songs with regard to expression of words in music. Written during the political setbacks of the Restoration, Lazarus represents Schubert’s first attempt to escape from a world that becoming increasingly out of joint. The composer, like so many of his fellow artists, sought refuge in Romantic forms of religious utopianism, and this quality also comes to the fore in ‘Unfinished’ and his A flat major Mass, works that also date from the middle period of Schubert’s life.
It is an astonishing paradox that Schubert, whose operas failed so completely, should emerge in this unfinished work as the unnoticed pioneer of music drama. Considered years ahead of its time, Lazarus is here performed by an all-German cast featuring the esteemed choral conductor Dietrich Knothe – who made a name for himself recording unknown or forgotten music of the great Romantics.
- Recorded in 1978 at the Christuskirche in Berlin.
- Contains detailed notes on the composer and his music.
Schubert’s oratorio Lazarus is unfinished (part of the 2nd and the complete 3rd act are missing), and that may account for its relative obscurity. A great shame, as Lazarus is one of Schubert’s most original and forward looking dramatic works. It contains music of great beauty and power, its structure highly innovative, as it is one continuous dramatic development without the distinction between recitative and aria.
- A most welcome reissue from the Berlin Classics catalogue of this neglected masterwork, featuring a superb all German cast, with the great Eberhard Büchner and Ingeborg Springer. The famous Berliner Singakademie and the Staatskapelle Berlin are conducted by choral specialist Dietrich Knothe.
Booklet contains extensive liner notes.