Thursday, June 17, 2010

Maureen Forrester (1930-2010) J.S. Bach & Domenico Scarlatti

This is the record that introduced me to the great Canadian contralto, Maureen Forrester, who died yesterday at the age of 79 from complications of Alzheimer's disease, from which she had suffered for a number of years. She was a humane, funny, down-to-earth person, and over the top hilarious as the witch in Hansel and Gretel in a television version of that opera. And she possessed a voice of enviable focus and beauty, surely one of the very greatest contraltos of the twentieth century. She it was who once stated that contraltos were consigned to play "witches and bitches" in the operatic repertory.

Her death, more than most, saddens me. Through the years the sheer, velvety beauty of her voice had the capacity to console me in hard times and to help me rejoice in good ones. Her recordings of Bach cantatas, especially, are hard to beat. As I said, this record introduced me to this great singer. I do not know if it is available on CD; I'm posting it today as a heart-felt, musical tribute to an artist of deep musical integrity and a woman of vast good humor and expansive humanity, whose loss I feel personally.

One does not hear Bach sung like this these days. More's the pity.

Link to all files

ADDENDUM: The Amadeus label apparently made this record available on CD, though the prices it is selling for on Amazon indicate it must be out of print.


  1. Maureen Forrester was a very fine singer. Also, these recordings from Vienna in the 1950s go right to the heart of Bach, in my opinion.

  2. Larry,

    A beautiful testimony accompanied by wonderful music.



  3. Buster and Fred

    Thanks as always for your thoughtful and supportive comments. I could not agree more about the 50s Bach recordings

  4. Thank you so much for this rare recording which I've never heard before.

    On another board, somebody posted a link to Forrester's 1951 debut before the public as a 20-year-old on a CBC radio talent show, singing Handel's Ombra mai fu.

    Her voice is thrilling, and the host John Adaskin, startled by what he has just heard, declares that her days as a "starving musician" are over.

  5. jserraglio: Thanks for the link to the CBC clip. It's a real treasure.

  6. Thank you Sir.

    You've just introduced me to one of the most intense voices I've ever heard. I spent the whole afternoon reading up on Maureen Forrester.
    Bless her heart.

    Wouldn't it be just so wonderful if you put up some more of her music!

    I do have a request: As I'd like to split the flac file into individual tracks, could you pleas post here a list of the track titles and playing time, kindly? That's just the way I store music.

    Thank you again for this most wonderful gem.


  7. Amit: It sounds like your reaction to hearing Forrester's voice for the first time is like mine was, so many years ago, and from this very record. The best I can do about tracks is to supply you with the notes from the back of the jacket. The pressing I have presented each work in one, continuous track, although there are clearly sections. My tendency is to split things into tracks if the LP already had, otherwise to present it as one track. The problem, of course, is the needle dropping to find a particular section is not possible on CD. I'll scan the back cover and get it posted tonight. You should be able to find it with the same line as about: I'll just add it to the same folder. Hope it helps, and I'm so pleased to have been able to introduce you to the estimable Maureen Forrester!

  8. Amit
    I have just posted the scan of the LP back cover, which you can find with the same link above. It includes the text of the Bach and Scarlatti, which may, with some effort, allow you to break the file into tracks. As I mentioned the record presented them as single tracks, one per side, so that is how I did the files. Good luck!

  9. Lawrence,
    Indeed I'm in gratitude to you for introducing me to Maureen Forrester.
    I've rarely been so moved by a vocalist of any genre, even as I'm quite deeply involved with Indian classical music, vocals especially.
    Here's a link to an obituary published in The Globe and Mail, Toronto, Canada. It gives a neat little glimpse into her life and persona:

    Thank you for uploading the back-cover of this album. I'd like to scan both the covers, and design for myself a small 'poster' of this album along with a few photographs of her from amongst thousands available on the net. The front cover is quite beautifully rendered, rather 'modern' for its time, almost like a 'leaf rubbing' by an abstractionist! Why would I do that? Possibly to 'feel' even closer to this celestial album and the music that enwraps its grooves?

    I'm going to make another request: If you played this album/files, would you be able to take a run-time for each of the titles? The back cover itself doesn't give any clues except to say there are five tracks. Visually inspecting the file in my editing software suggests there might be up to ten cuts. With the help of time duration of each track title, it should be very easy to separate the tracks. It would be a good way to organise this album, I feel. But this only if it's convenient.

    I'll sign off here...and hope you will continue to disburse all this wonderful art.

    Will check in to see what you think.

    Thanks again, Sir.


    'azaad' is my Google profile. It's Persian for 'free'.

  10. Amit: Except for the information on the back cover, I really don't have anything else on these tracks. As I said, the record did not divide the pieces into individual tracks, so the only way to do so is to listen with the text and divide in tracks accordingly. I suspect that some of the spots that seem, visually, to suggest up to 10 tracks, are musical pauses. So, sorry, I don't have timings because on the record there are no tracks to time, just two side, each with a separate work, and each presented in one tracks. Hope that explains things.