Josef Bohuslav Foerster
String Quartet No.1 E Major, Op.15
Josef Bohuslav Foerster (1859-1951) was born in Prague and first studied with his father who was a leading organist and Professor at the Prague Conservatory. Foerster studied organ at the Prague Organ School and composition at the Conservatory. Upon graduation he took over from Dvorak as chief organist in one of Prague's leading churches. He was on friendly terms with all of the leading Czech composers and was initially influenced by Smetana and Dvorak. He worked as a music critic in Hamburg after marrying the leading Czech soprano who was engaged at the Hamburg opera. In Hamburg, he met and became close friends with Mahler as well as Tchaikovsky. When Mahler left for Vienna, Foerster followed him and became a professor at the New Vienna Conservatory. After the formation of the Czech Republic in 1918, he returned to Prague where he taught for many years at the Conservatory. His music while initially influenced by Smetana and Dvorak, later changed as did musical styles, although he always remained a tonal composer. After his first period, his works no longer could be considered nationalistic as he stopped employing the idioms of Czech folk music and adopted a more perstonal and mystical style. He composed in most genres and left a considerable amount of chamber music including five string quartets and three piano trios.
Foerster's First String Quartet was begun in 1888 and completed in 1893 The respected chamber music critic Wilhelm Altmann, writing in his Handbook for String Quartet Players describes the work as follows:
"Foerster's First String Quartet in E Major, Op.15 was dedicated to the memory of Tchaikovsky. In structure, it follows classical guidelines. It is not difficult to play and employs real Bohemian folk melodies for its themes, in the same fashion as Dvorak. The opening movement, Allegro, has a fresh sounding and beautiful main theme which is lightly tinged with Slavic melody. The marvelous Scherzo, Allegro con brio, features a very catchy main theme followed by a charming and piquant slower section. The compelling main theme of the Adagio which follows has the atmosphere of the opera about it, especially in the turbulent middle section. The energetic finale, Allegro con brio, both in melody and rhythm bring to mind Czech folk music."
This lovely quartet, unfortunately, has been out of print for nearly a century. Certainly it ought to be heard on the concert stage and amateurs will discover another fine late romantic Czech quartet. We have reprinted the first edition, correcting mistakes and adding rehearsal numbers.