Monday Musical Moment: The Trumpeter of St. Petersburg

Justin Langham   -  
Good morning and happy Monday!
The college semester is finally here! The beginning of the school year for many brings similar feelings as the start of a new calendar year: possibility of new experiences, excitement of the unknown, and yes, sometimes a healthy dose of anxiety.
This week is a unique first week of school for me. I will be closing out my 7th year teaching at Lone Star College Montgomery campus and starting my first semester teaching at the University Park campus, but I will also [hopefully] close out my final responsibilities for my doctoral degree. In the next few months, I will be working to put a bow on my final research project, including a lecture recital and dissertation, but as arduous as that may seem sometimes, I feel fortunate that I do enjoy the subject of my research!
In that spirit, and at the risk of boring some of you to tears, I thought that I would introduce you to the subject of my research: German-born composer and virtuoso cornetist Oskar Böhme. Over the next few weeks, I will give you a little bit of insight to his life and music and hopefully give you some insight into why I chose him as my thesis subject. If nothing else, this venture will give me a lot of good practice talking about my research!
PART 1: Who is Oskar Böhme?
Oskar Böhme (1870-1938) was a German composer and cornetist is widely regarded as one of the most pivotal figures in the history of music for the trumpet, but who was relatively neglected until the late 20th century due to the tragic circumstances of his death. Originally from southeastern Germany, where he spent many years as a touring cornet soloist, Böhme emigrated to Russia just before the turn of the century and spent most of his career in St. Petersburg as principal cornetist of the Mariinsky Theater, a position of high prestige.
As a composer, his music for brass was innovative and hugely influential with many of his contemporaries and composers who came after him. Although mostly composed in the late 19th and early 20th century, Böhme’s music more closely resembles music of the Romantic period (about 1800-1890ish), with lots of beautiful melodies and lush harmonies. His most famous piece is the Concerto in F-Minor, Op. 18, which was the only solo work for trumpet written in almost a hundred years. It also spawned a new era of music written for the trumpet, which grew to pass the cornet as the preferred solo brass instrument.
Even though it already receives most of the attention by musicologists and trumpeters alike, Op. 18 really is the crown jewel of Böhme’s works and is the perfect way to get to know his music. It’s full of catchy tunes and great virtuosity. It is also the first piece I ever performed by memory for a competition as a sophomore in my undergraduate studies. Enjoy this gorgeous recording by one of my favorite musicians, Guiliano Sommerhalder.
I hope you enjoy Böhme’s beautiful music. Have a great week!
Fun fact: Guliano’s father, Max Sommerhalder, was the first Western musician to discover, catalogue, and record Böhme’s music in the early 1980’s, nearly 45 years after his death!