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Henry Lazarus. Steel engraving from The Illustrated London News, 25 November 1843.

Henry LAZARUS (1815-1895)

May 2015

(b.London, 1 January 1815; d.London, 6 March 1895)

Seldom can a woodwind player have reigned supreme in his field for as long as did Henry Lazarus, the bicentenary of whose birth  fell on January this year.  Succeeding Thomas Willman as principal clarinet of the Italian Opera under Costa at the age of twenty-five, he held the post for 43 years, as well as being appointed to positions in the Philharmonic Society, the Crystal Palace Concerts and the Birmingham Festival.  As a soloist and a chamber musician he towered over his contemporaries.  Regarding a performance of Beethoven’s Septet in 1889, Bernard Shaw wrote:

“Listening to the Septet, it was impossible to avoid indulging in some stray speculations as to the age of Mr. Lazarus.  Fifty or sixty years ago, when the great clarinetist was beginning to rank as a veteran, the subject might have been a delicate one.  Today it is difficult to know how to treat him critically; for it would be absurd to encourage him as if he were a promising young player; and yet there is no use in declaring that he “played with his usual ability”, because his ability is still, unfortunately for us, as far as ever from being usual.  The usual clarinet player is stolid, mechanical, undistinguished, correct at best, vulgar at worst.  A phrase played by Mr. Lazarus always came, even from the unnoticed ranks of the wood wind at the opera, with a distinction and fine artistic feeling that roused a longing for an orchestra of such players.  And his phrases come just that way still.”

At the time of this concert, Lazarus was 74.

He was generous as a teacher, teaching at the Royal Academy of Music for forty years and being the first clarinet professor appointed by the Royal College of Music, Trinity College of Music and the Royal Military School of Music, Kneller Hall.  His most distinguished  pupil was Charles Draper, who in turn taught Frederick Thurston, my own teacher and the inspiration of so many players of my generation.

Colin Bradbury