Tone Poem Tuesday

Today, a rarity: or something that felt to me like a rarity many years ago, when I was still playing the trumpet (and, I might add, at a pretty high level!). The evolution of the trumpet as an instrument meant that there were certain things that the instrument could do and could not do at first, when the instrument had no valves and could only produce chromatic tones by manipulation of the “embouchure”–that is to say, the lip muscles that produce the buzzing against the mouthpiece that sets the air inside the instrument to vibration. This is why many of the trumpet concertos you hear from the Baroque era pitch the trumpet in a very high register, where it is much easier to produce chromatic notes due to the density of overtones.

Now, there were a few trumpet concertos written in the Classical era, most notably by Haydn and Hummel; these were written for a virtuoso named Anton Weidinger who invented a trumpet with keys (holes in the instrument’s piping that were covered by spring-loaded keys, manipulated by the fingers). This instrument could produce chromatic tones, but aside from Haydn’s and Hummel’s concertos (which are two of the most famous works for trumpet ever written), not much came of the keyed trumpet, due to issues with its sound quality; it took a virtuoso like Weidinger to make the thing sound good at all.

In the Romantic era, though, along came the invention of valves, which finally made the trumpet a truly chromatic instrument. So, you might expect that the trumpet entered a Golden Age of concerted works as the great Romantic composers embraced the trumpet as a solo instrument, capable of much more than just reinforcing tonics and dominants?


It always bothered me, as a young trumpet student, that there was no solo trumpet literature at all between the Baroque and Classical eras and the Modern era, when at last the trumpet’s popularity as a solo instrument exploded. I always wondered, what if a Schumann, a Brahms, a Saint-Saens, a Tchaikovsky, had embraced the trumpet as a solo instrument in a concerto? Alas!

But it turns out that there were works for solo trumpet and orchestra during that era; it’s just that they were written by more obscure composers who lived in obscurity and who are mostly forgotten today. Enter Oskar Boehme.

Boehme was a trumpet virtuoso who was born in Dresden in 1870. He made a good living as a musician, being both a great player and a decent composer; he landed in St. Petersburg, Russia as a young man, where he lived out his life, writing music and performing and teaching. He wrote there his Trumpet Concerto, which I present below. I had never even heard of this work until a recent Facebook ad notified me of an upcoming concert in Charlotte, NC (I think) conducted by the Buffalo Philharmonic’s own JoAnn Falletta, with Boehme’s concerto on the program. Having heard it several times this last week, how I wish I had known about it back in my college days!

Boehme himself came to a bad end. He lived in Russia, after all, during and after the Revolution, until 1938, when he found himself on the bad end of one of Joseph Stalin’s purges. According to his article on Wikipedia, his music is being rediscovered to this day. I hope that’s the case, given the quality of this concerto, with its Romantic sweep and dazzling virtuosic writing for the trumpet.


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One Response to Tone Poem Tuesday

  1. Roger says:

    Interesting that BÖHME and BOEHME are both acceptable.

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