Return to home page
  ^ documents ^ instrument ^ music ^ people ^ resources ^ shop ^ the book  

Boehm-system flutes

  Theobald Boehm (1794-1881)

Theobald Boehm (1794-1881), a Bavarian Court musician and industrial innovator designed completely new types of flute in 1832 and 1847. Developments of the second design by French makers, later copied by Americans and Japanese, formed the basis of the modern flute.

Until 1831 Boehm built and performed on eight-keyed flutes. But on a visit to London he met others interested in devising new acoustical models for the flute that used mechanical means to alter its fingering. He quickly devised the model shown below, which used interlinked rod-axles to transmit the motion of fingers to remote tone holes. This allowed him to break out of the acoustical framework imposed by the flute's traditional design.

On returning to his workshop in Munich, he built another conical-bored wooden flute, shown below. This ring-key or 'conical Boehm' flute began to attract notice when a few prominent players in Paris (1838) and London (1840) took it up, but it was also criticised because, with its new and unfamiliar construction, it sounded to some people more like a trumpet than a flute.

In 1847 Boehm devised a second model, that replaced the flute's conical bore with a cylindrical one, and its wooden tube with one of metal. The metal cylinder flute was immediately licensed for manufacture, in altered forms, in Paris and London, though some flutists, particularly in Germany, thought its tone even less flute-like than that of the ring-key flute. Partly for this reason, until the early 20th century the cylindrical Boehm flute was made in wood more often than in metal.

Another page describes modified Boehm flutes, and other late 19th-century types.

Chapter 9, 'The Boehm flute', of Ardal Powell's The Flute (Yale University Press, 2002) contains more information on this topic.

  Go To Top Of Page Top of page



E-mail this page to a friend
Copyright © 2000,

write! suggestions, complaints, corrections