Monday Musical Moment: Böhme Part 5 – From Russia with Love

Justin Langham   -  
Good morning to all!
Today is part 5 of our series on German-born cornetist, Oskar Böhme. Last week we talked about his move west to nearby Leipzig, and his study at the conservatory there. This week, we take an eastward turn towards the former Soviet Union where Böhme relocated after completing his education in 1896. This move would turn out to be the most pivotal of his life and career.
Böhme was initially lured to St. Petersburg through a conscious effort by the government to attract classical musicians from nearby European neighbors to strengthen Russian standing in the classical arts scene. Many conservatories were recruiting reputable musicians to teach at their schools and perform in their orchestras. It was an attractive scene for Böhme, who soon after arriving was able to quickly secure employment as a music teacher and choir director, also earning his Russian citizenship in 1901. The year following his newfound citizenship, Böhme won the coveted position in the Mariinsky Theater where he had a well-respected career for almost three decades, while also touring occasionally during the summer months. After leaving the orchestra, Böhme taught at the Leningrad Military College on nearby Vasilevsky Island and was a pivotal figure in the new “Russian Trumpet School” throughout his career.
However, Böhme’s move to Russia came at a turbulent time to say the least. Between the first days of Oskar’s move until his death in 1941, there were multiple social and political revolutions, including the Red culminating in Stalin’s Great Terror in the late 1930’s. As a naturally born German, Oskar was targeted by Stalin’s Communist government, who wanted to push prominent non-Soviet-born figures out of positions of public influence in the arts and humanities. Böhme himself was pushed arrested multiple times to be brought before the Troikas, or “false courts,” and was eventually knocked down from multiple positions as a trumpeter and teacher before his eventual exile in 1938.
What I’ve found interesting and tragic through my research is Böhme’s obvious love of his new home and desire to appeal to the new govern, which obviously was not reciprocated. Böhme’s new works were written almost as genuine love letters to Russia and in a genuine desire to be advanced and accepted as a Russian citizen. Unfortunately, the story gets more tragic, and next week’s chapter will include details discovered about his exile and death.
For the music today, I would like to share with you one of the pieces that best illustrates his love for the city of St. Petersburg, “Soirée de St. Pétersbourg,” for cornet and harp. This was one of several pieces that was first recorded by trumpeter Max Sommerhalder in the 1980’s, who you may remembe performed the Ballet Scene a few weeks ago. I hope you enjoy this beautifully expressive piece, and even the great pictures of St. Petersburg in the video slideshow!
Have a great week!