Monday Musical Moment: Böhme Part VI – Renunciation

Justin Langham   -  
Happy Monday to all!
Today, we are resuming our series on German-born cornetist and composer, Oskar Böhme, and unfortunately, his story does not have a happy ending. Although he loved his newfound home very much, finding success both personally and professionally, Böhme’s affection towards Russia was not reciprocated.

Despite his place of cultural importance, Böhme was one of many targets of cruel and growing anti-German sentiment. After seizing power in 1924, Joseph Stalin began a gradual purge of artists, scientists, and many others seen as potential threats to communist rule called the “Great Terror.” At the height of the “Great Terror,” between 1937 and 1938, Stalin signed a secret order in Moscow in July of 1937, declaring perceived anti-Soviet enemies based on political past, social background, or nationality. The German-born Böhme soon found himself before a political Troika, or “quick court,” which were created to efficiently target and process individuals and were stacked with pro-communist-party officials. Many individuals of high repute like Böhme were arrested by Stalin’s secret police, often repeatedly, in St. Petersburg but transported elsewhere in secret to avoid public outcry.

Böhme was arrested on April 13, 1935, on false charges, and was sentenced to three years of banishment and transported from St. Petersburg to Chkalov, a traditionally German town at the base of the southern Ural Mountains. Until 1938, Böhme taught at a local music school, but was denied any correspondence with the outside world. On October 3, 1938, Oskar Böhme was executed by gunshot by a Soviet officer, one of the final victims of Stalin’s purge. Böhme’s guilty plea was finally annulled posthumously in 1989, determined to have been extracted through torture. Records show that 40,906 people were shot in 1937 and 1938 in St. Petersburg alone, the city that Böhme had chosen as his home.

By all accounts, Böhme quickly fell in love with his new home in Russia. He quickly acquired Russian citizenship shortly after arriving, and established a career and family in St. Petersburg. Tragically, Böhme was one of the last to fall victim to the Great Terror, with many of its mechanisms being halted in November of the same year.

The piece I will share with you today is a Romance called Entsagung, Op. 19., which translates to “renunciation.” The mood of this piece is brooding and mournful, perfectly suited to Böhme’s tragic fate.
Tragedy is unfortunately not exclusive to the past, but it is with us today. With all that is going on in Ukraine, I can’t help but draw parallels between Böhme’s time and with our own. I hope that we can find some comfort in music, as I’m sure he did as well.
Next week will conclude the series on Böhme. Have a great week!