Theobald Boehm (1794-1881)
Boehm, a Bavarian goldsmith, flutist, composer, and
industrialist, invented the type of flute that became
the basis for the modern instrument a little more than
a century and a half ago.
Between 1821 and 1831 Boehm traveled throughout Europe
on concert tours, often performing his own compositions
and, from 1828, playing on flutes made in his own workshop
in Munich. On a visit to London in 1831 he constructed
an experimental flute that gave the fingers new mechanical
means to control holes placed beyond their reach. He
refined the concept of his new flute in the following
year, and the "ring-key" flute of 1832 was
taken up by a few prominent performers in Paris and
later officialy adopted at the Brussels Conservatoire.
Boehm devised a metal flute with a new cylindrical
bore in 1847, using a similar mechanism to that of the
1832 flute. His first metal cylinder flute (No. 1, 1847,
Miller Collection) is pictured here.
After Louis Dorus,
an early champion of the Boehm flute, replaced Jean-Louis
Tulou as Professor at the Paris
Conservatoire in 1860, the cylindrical Boehm flute
by French makers became that influential institution's
official instrument. The French pattern was later adopted
workshops and thus became the standard form of the
modern flute. Changing ideals of tone and intonation
led to further
changes in the mid-20th century.
Boehm's mechanism was applied with varying degrees
of success to other woodwind instruments. He was also
responsible for a variety of innovations in the manufacture
of music boxes and the construction of pianos, a sparkproof
locomotive chimney, and a telescope for locating fires.
A page on the Boehm flute describes Boehm's instruments
and modifications made by others in a bit more detail.
Chapter 9, 'The
Boehm flute', of Ardal Powell's The
Flute (Yale University Press, 2002) contains
more information on Boehm and the genesis of the modern