Although Schoenberg certainly regarded his most important wartime composition, the half-finished oratorio Die Jakobsleiter, as an autonomous and performable work, his conception of the piece changed dramatically over the three decades that it remained a "work in progress." Yet recent productions confirm a remarkable consistency of interpretation, based less on the Schoenberg/Winfried Zillig-orchestrated Urtext than on a 1980 performance conducted by Boulez. This "definitive" commercial release has not only dictated the parameters of productions that have followed but has erased from the record several earlier performances of the work, including the only version that Schoenberg heard and authorized. Two performance sources, both held in collections in Vienna but not yet discussed in published studies, may prove to be extremely significant for future performances of the oratorio. The first, Schoenberg's libretto manuscript for his oratorio, contains an extended concept sketch for the musical and dramatic climax. The second, a copy of the published libretto, includes extensive annotations in Alban Berg's hand which record aspects of Schoenberg's rehearsals for the premiere performance of the oratorio in 1921. Both sources highlight Schoenberg's and Berg's sensitivity to the innovative musical language of the oratorio, its fragmentary form, and its problematic literary style, yet both also suggest novel approaches to its realization in 21st-century productions.
- ©© Regents of the University of California