A long overdue return for Mahler’s best friend

A long overdue return for Mahler’s best friend


norman lebrecht

February 22, 2022

The Czech composer Josef Bohuslav Foerster was Gustav Mahler’s most trusted companion during his miserable Hamburg 1890s.

Foerster was married to the soprano Berta Lauterer, a member of Mahler’s cast at the opera. Foerster’s memoirs are an exceptionally valuable source for the genesis of Mahler’s second symphony.

Mahler hired Berta at the Vienna Opera and remained friends with Foerster there.

Foerster lived on until 1951, and has since been almost totally forgotten. His major opera Eva has many parallels with Janacek’s Jenufa.

Now, an American soprano in Prague, Bree Nichols, has recorded its death scene for the first time in six decades.

I would love to see the full opera…. it’s a major omission in my Mahler consciousness.


  • Michael Hunt says:

    This is very compelling. I would love to see a score of the full opera.

  • J Barcelo says:

    Ever since I picked up a recording of Foerster’s 4th symphony, the “Easter Ever”, I’ve wanted to hear more of his work, and record companies, mostly Supraphon, have meted out a little. A complete set of symphonies and all the operas are long overdue.

  • MacroV says:

    I can’t remember the piece, but about 5-6 years ago I saw Manfred Honeck conduct a major work of Foerster with the Czech Philharmonic. Don’t remember anything about it other than it sounded pretty interesting. But the kind of culturally relevant programming you often got in Prague.

  • NorCalMichael says:

    Foerster also wrote some fine lieder, although not quite on the same level as those of his friend Mahler! (The understatement of the day …) Somewhere in my collection is a CD of them on Supraphon, sung with full-voiced beefiness by Czech baritone Ivan Kusnjer.

  • Barry Guerrero says:

    From all I’ve read, I don’t think Mahler’s time in Hamburg was any more “miserable” than any of his previous ones. He was just practically worked to death by the opera impresario (Pollini, I think). But in the process he got to meet – and conduct in front of – Tchaikovsky and Richard Strauss. He also met plenty of aristocrats and royalty too. As a workaholic, Mahler was a gluten for that sort of punishment. Overworked, yes, but he was probably happier to stay busy and have a steady income. The ‘birthing process’ for his first two symphonies was quite long and painful. Composing came quicker when he eventually had his succession of composing huts in the woods and mountains. My point may be somewhat debatable, but this much is true: Mahler’s entire ascent was one of struggle – very Schoepenhauer like, I suppose. Regardless, thank you for posting this Forester excerpt.