Josef Bohuslav Foerster
String Quartet No.2 D Major, Op.39
Foerster's Second String Quartet dates from 1894. In his first quartet, one finds the influence of the Czech nationalist school---led by Dvorak and Smetana---to be of fundamental importance to the writing. While one still hears some of this in his Second, he is already branching off in new directions. At the time of its premiere, critics praised it as a highly original work full of fresh ideas. The opening movement begins with a slow, mysterious Andante introduction, but the main section, Allegro, is bright and affirming. (Our sound-bite starts here). The main theme of the poetic second movement, Andante, takes the melody from a Foerster's friend Friedrich Hebbel's song Vorüber which describes a dream. The unusual finale, Andantino, is a theme and set of 16 variations, some quite short, others more detailed. Foerster's demonstrates his compositional mastery by his varied treatment of the theme. (Our soundbite presents the theme and six of the variations.)
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.
Here is another fine work by an important 19th and 20th century Czech composer which not only ought to be heard in concert, but also approached by amateurs who will find it presents no technical difficulties. Long out of print, we are proud to make it available once again.