Sunday, February 26, 2017

Bohme Sextet

Today we will be listening to and studying the score of Oskar Böhme's Trompeten-Sextett in E-flat minor Op. 30 for cornet, two trumpets, bass trumpet (or alto horn), baritone horn (or trombone) and euphonium coposed in 1907. It is a romantic work for six brass players in four movements. We will listen to the Atlantic Brass Quintet recording, "Five Chairs" on Summit Records from 2004. There are also excellent recordings by the Center City Brass Quintet, the Empire Brass Quintet,  and the NewYork Brass Quintet.

From Wikipedia:

Oskar Böhme, a son of Wilhelm Böhme, also a trumpeter, was born in Potschappel, a small town near Dresden, Germany, which is now part of Freital. For much of his early career, after studying trumpet and composition in the Leipzig Conservatory of Music until graduating in 1888, it is unknown what Böhme's musical activities were, though it is probable he concertized, playing in smaller orchestras around Germany.

From 1894-1896 he played in the Budapest Opera Orchestra and then moved to St. Petersburg, Russia, in 1897. Böhme played cornet for 24 years in the Mariinsky Theatre, turned to teaching at a music school on Vasilievsky Island in St. Petersburg for nine further years, from 1921-1930, and then returned to opera with the Leningrad Drama Theatre until 1934.

In 1934, however, the Great Terror began under Joseph Stalin and in 1936 a committee was established to oversee the arts in Soviet Russia. According to its anti-foreign policies, Böhme was exiled to Orenburg on account of his German heritage. It is said that he died there in 1938, though he was also said to be seen working on the Turkmenistan Canal in 1941. 

New Information about Bohme's death:

Dear Friends,

Here in a letter to the editor I wish to inform you and our readers that a Russian historian has recently discovered how the cornetist Oskar Böhme came to an end. In a chapter about Böhme in my book East Meets West I had written: “The exact date and the circumstances of his death will probably never be known.” In the wake of Stalin’s “Great Terror” (1928-54) more than four million people were deported and/or executed. Especially after Central Committee Secretary Sergey M. Kirov had been assassinated on December 1, 1934, Stalin initiated a great series of purges of artists and scientists, also banishing many persons of German origin, including Böhme, to distant places. Böhme was arrested on April 13, 1935 because of supposed – i.e. trumped-up – anti-Soviet propaganda and agitation and sentenced to three years of banishment from St. Petersburg to Orenburg (Stalinist name: Chkalov), a traditionally German city at the foot of the southern Ural mountains. Until 1938 he was teaching at a music school there, without the right of correspondence. Historian Anatoly Jakovlevich Rasumov, with access to the KGB archive, has since 1995 been publishing the names and short biographies of those who were assassinated by Stalin’s henchmen; his Leningrad Martyrologium has reached 14 volumes so far. He has discovered that in October 1938 (probably on the 23rd) Oskar Böhme was shot. See Christian Neef, “Archivar des Terrors”, Der Spiegel 53 (December 2015), 94-97, here 96.

- Edward H. Tarr

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Truth About Ewald

Viktor Ewald

This morning, we studied the score and listened to Ewald's Brass Quintet No.3. I gave you each a copy of the article History of the Four Quintets for Brass by Victor Ewald, written by André Smith for the International Trumpet Guild Journal. I would like you to read it and post on your own blog your impressions of this article. Some a

After you read the article, respond to the following questions in a post on your own blog.
  • What did you know about Ewald and his brass quintet before reading this article? 
  • What did this article teach you about proper research?
  • What questions did this article raise?
  • What are your thoughts on rotary vs. piston valve preferences mentioned in the article?
  • Do you agree with Forsyth who wrote, "There is in general no true legato on the trombone"
  • What are your thoughts about Smith's ideas on instrumentation mentioned on page 13.
  • In regards to the modern revival of Ewald's brass quintets, what roles did the following people play? Froides Werke, the American Brass Quintet, the Empire Brass Quintet?
  • What has been your experience both playing and listening to the Ewald quintets?

Some of the common questions regarding these brass quintets include "Why did he write them?" I first heard that Ewald was a teacher, a Civil Engineer and an amateur cellist who played in a string quartet called the Belaiv Quartet. But, as Smith brought out in his article, Ewald played many instruments, including tuba and cornet. He was also motivated and influenced by composers and brass artists of the day, and even by attending the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago.

He also points out his collaboration with the American Brass Quintet in preparation for a Carnegie Hall Recital in the early '70s, and the confusion and spread of the quintets back to Russia, and then into the hands of the Empire Brass through Froides Wekre.

Until relatively recently, it was believed that Ewald penned only three brass quintets, but as Smith points out, his first work was a brass quintet that many, including Ewald himself, thought the work unplayable - so he reworked it as a string quartet. Many got the story backwards, and thought that the fourth brass quintet was originally a string quartet.

The lesson I hope we learn from this article is the importance of accurate, and methodical research. Smith waited forty-three years to gather his information before publishing his articles. Think of that the next time you are writing a paper.

Wednesday, February 01, 2017

Listening Presentation Guidelines

Atlantic Brass Quintet recording session, courtesy of Bove Audio
After enjoying our first student listening presentation today, I thought I would provide some guidelines and suggestions that might clarify the aim of the sessions. I've amended the syllabus to reflect these guidelines below to read:
Student Listening Presentations (2)
  • Dates individually assigned (refer to class schedule)
  • Strive for a good variety of types of ensembles:
    • Small mixed or homogeneous ensembles (brass trio, horn quartet, etc.)
    • Brass quintet (tuba or bass trombone as bottom voice)
    • Large ensemble (brass choir, brass ensemble, brass band)
  • Strive for a variety of styles, nationalities, and eras
  • Balance original works against arrangements
  • Presentations may include videos, but be mindful of YouTube advertisements.
 The three main aspects to keep in mind are:
  1. Recording Quality - When possible, present professional recordings with excellent sound quality and engineering. Recordings should be evenly balanced, with good microphone placement and recorded in an acoustical environment that has sufficient reverberation without being too much so. Some live recordings may display much more energy and musicality than edited recordings, or may be the only recording available. Use these suggestions and your best judgement regarding assessing quality.
  2. Diversity - Ensure your presentation shows a diversity of types of ensembles, styles of music, a balance of original works for brass as well as quality arrangements. Strive to "research" outside of your comfort zone. We do want you to share recordings that you enjoy, but also try to discover something new to you and share that as well.
  3. Presentation medium  - It is recommended that you bring a laptop or smartphone that can be connected to my speakers. Playing from a playlist on Spotify, Pandora, Apple Music, or other streaming service should be fine. You may also bring separate CDs, or consider compiling the list onto a CD, which I can play from my stereo. As it says above, when using YouTube, be aware of advertisements. Perhaps limit your use of YouTube for recordings that is accompanied by video.