History of Theobald Böhm and correct spelling

by Ludwig Böhm, great-great-grandson

***We continue the publication of a series of articles by Ludwig Böhm from“Commemorative Writing on the occasion of Theobald Böhm’s 200th Birthday, Munich 1994”, gradually approaching the celebration of Theobald Böhm’s 230th birthday in 2024.

Theobald Böhm was born on 9th April 1794 in Munich as the eldest of 11 brothers and sisters. Already as a boy, he liked to occupy himself with mechanical works. At the age of 13, he entered the juweller’s shop of his father and soon became the most efficient worker.

At the age of 16 (1810), he took flute lessons with Johann Nepomuk Kapeller (1776–1825), who declared after two years that he could not teach him anything more. From 1812–1818, he was first flautist of the royal Isartortheatre, from 1818 on he was a member and then from 1830–1848 he was first flautist of the royal court orchestra in Munich. Between 1821 and 1831, he undertook vast concert tours which lead him among other places to Vienna, Prague, Dresden, Berlin, Leipzig, Zurich, Geneva, Venice, Strasbourg, London, and Paris. According to a letter from the Royal Bavarian Court Music Administration of 26th October 1830, he is “recognized as the best flautist in Germany besides Fürstenau in Dresden”, in one of the leading music encyclopedias of the 19th century, he is described as “one of the first flute virtuosi of Germany” (Mendel, H. / Reißmann, A.: Musikalisches Conversations-Lexikon. Berlin 1880, vol. 1, p. 68).

Theobald Böhm also had a great reputation as a flute teacher. He had more than 100 pupils, the most famous in Europe were Moritz Fürstenau (Dresden), Hans Heindl (Vienna), Karl Krüger (Stuttgart) and Rudolf Tillmetz (Munich), in the USA Martin Heindl (Boston Symphony Orchestra), Carl Wehner (New York Philharmonic Orchestra) and Eugen Weiner (New York).

At the age of 24 (1818), he started his education as a composer with practical lessons in composition with Peter von Winter (court chapel master from 1801 to 1825), who had studied with Antonio Salieri in Vienna like Beethoven and Schubert, and with theoretical lessons in composition with Joseph Grätz, who was trained in Salzburg by Michael Haydn like Carl Maria von Weber. From c. 1820 on, he was assisted in instrumentation by his friend Joseph Hartmann Stuntz (court chapel master from 1823 to 1837), a pupil of Winter and Salieri. In December 1820, Theobald Böhm played his Opus 1 “with never ending applause”. It was printed in 1822 by his flute pupil Joseph Aibl. The list of his musical works comprises 37 works with opus numbers and 54 arrangements without opus numbers, among them 26 arrangements for alto flute in G, alltogether about 2500 pages. 21 works and one arrangement can be played either with orchestra or piano accompaniment. The popularity of his works and arrangements shows not only in enthusiastic concert reviews and the recognition in music encyclopedias as “master pieces” (Schilling, Gustav: Universal-Lexicon der Tonkunst. Stuttgart 1835, vol. 1, p. 698), but also in the great number of reprints and new editions, about 300, of which the majority have appeared in France, Great Britain and the USA. Also, there exist today about 70 recordings with works of Theobald Böhm.

At the age of 34 (1828), he opened his own flute workshop. His first flute had been completed already 18 years before. He earned undoubtedly the greatest reputation with the invention of the conical ring-keyed flute in 1832 and the cylindrical flute in 1847, named after him. The most important innovations in 1832 were the correct position of the tone holes and the invention of a new key system, which enabled the player to open or close all 14 tone holes simultaneously with the 9 available fingers. The most important innovations in 1847 were the even more correct position of the tone holes (after acoustic studies with his friend Prof. Karl von Schafhäutl), the cylindrical bore with parabolic head, the use of the material metal, and from 1848 on, the covered keys. His flutes were awarded with gold or silver medals during the industrial and world exhibitions in Munich (1834, 1835, 1854), Leipzig (1850), London (1851) and Paris (1855). Whereas his flutes rapidly gained reputation abroad, particularly in France, Great Britain and in the USA, it took rather a long time in Germany, until they achieved their ultimate success. We can only speculate about the number of flutes made before 1847 (first workshop Theobald Böhm, 1828–1839, perhaps about 150 flutes; workshop Böhm & Greve, 1839-1846, perhaps about 100 flutes), the approximate number of the flutes made after 1847 results from the workshop ledger fragments (second workshop Theobald Böhm, 1847–1861, about 200 flutes; workshop Böhm & Mendler, 1862–1888, about 400 flutes). Today, there exist about 300 flutes from Theobald Böhm and his partners and successors, about half of which are in museums.

Besides flute making, Theobald Böhm made further important inventions in the field of production of musical boxes (c. 1816), piano construction (patent 1835), communication of rotary motion (silver medal of the Society of Arts, London 1835), improvement of iron (patent 1835; Knight’s Cross from King Ludwig I. for the introduction of the new procedure in the Bavarian steel factories, 1839) and the derivation and burning of the blast furnace gases (patent 1840). Furthermore, he invented a spark-proof locomotive chimney (patent 1841) and a telescope to locate fires (1841).

Theobald Böhm died on 25th November 1881 in Munich in the same house at Altheimer Eck 15, in which he was born.

At the Old Southern Cemetery, section 12, he found his last rest.

Spelling: Theobald Böhm or Theobald Boehm?

Everybody who is concerned with Theobald Böhm (flautist, composer, flute maker, 1794–1881), will soon find out that his surname is written Böhm here and Boehm there and he will sooner or later ask himself which of the two spellings he should choose.

1) Arguments for the spelling Boehm

A first argument for the spelling Boehm is that it was mainly used by my great-great-grandfather himself because of his many contacts with foreign countries. Of 147 cylindrical flutes, which he sold between 1847 and 1862, 89 were sent abroad outside Bavaria. A great part of his correspondence was also with foreign coun-tries and if you count up all trips, he spent about two years in Great Britain and several months in France. No wonder that in course of time, he got into the habit of changing the letter “ö”, which is unknown in Great Britain and France, to “oe”.

What’s more, French was the dominant language for musical instruments and musical works in the 19th century, and therefore nearly all flutes and most compositions show the spelling Boehm.

A third reason for this spelling is that it is used in the majority of the foreign-language literature (e. g. Sa-die, Stanley: The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians. London 1980; Dufourq: Larousse de la Musique. Paris 1957) and some of the German literature (e. g. Deutsche Biographie. Berlin 1955; Musik in Geschichte und Gegenwart – Musiklexikon. Kassel 1959).

2) Arguments for the spelling Böhm

A first argument for the spelling Böhm is the family tradition. According to our family chronicle of 500 pages, written by Dr. Karl Böhm, our first ancestors of German extraction emigrated from Bohemia to the Vogtland in Saxonia and we have documents about them from 1498 onwards. The family name Böhm is de-rived from the land Böhmen (Bohemia), which is also not written Boehmen today (Böhm, Karl: Chronicle of the Family Böhm. 1498–1998. Munich 1998, vol. 1, p. 27).

Secondly, the spelling Böhm cannot only be found in Theobald Böhm’s birth certificate, it was also used by him exclusively in his early years and partly in his later years (e. g. lithographies 1825/1829; the prospec-tuses of his ring-keyed and cylindrical flutes from 1834 and 1851; the name of the workshop “Theobald Böhm in München”, 1847–1861, quoted in his writing “On the Construction of Flutes and its latest Improve-ments”, Mainz 1847, p. 58; the name of the workshop “Th. Böhm & Mendler in München”, 1862–1888, quoted in the flute prospectuses.

A third reason for the spelling Böhm is that it was used by most of his relatives and his closest friends: By his daughter Marie Böhm (In Memory of Theobald Böhm, royal Bavarian Court Musician. Munich 1898), by his eldest son Ludwig Böhm (obituary article on Prof. Karl von Schafhäutl. In: Bayerisches Industrie- u. Gewerbeblatt, Munich 1890, p. 193–200), by his grandson Dr. Karl Böhm who occasionally did some paperwork for his grandfather (Chronicle of the Family Böhm. Munich 1998) and by Prof. Karl von Schafhäutl with whom he was on friendly terms for 54 years (Theobald Böhm. The Life of a remarkable Artist. Leipzig 1882). All these persons would certainly not have used the traditional spelling Böhm in their writings against the wishes of the deceased. Of Theobald Böhm’s eight children, six adopted the spelling Böhm and only two the spelling Boehm.

A fourth reason for the spelling Böhm is that it was also used by the Munich authorities (e. g. 58 out of 60 concert programmes in Munich; documents about awarding the Knight’s Cross by King Ludwig I., 1839; Böhm Street in Munich-Altperlach, 1931; Böhm bronze commemorative plate on the house where he was born and where he died on Altheimer Eck 15, 1964; Böhm show-case in the Münchner Stadtmuseum, Collection of Music, 1983).

Fifth, the spelling Böhm can be found in the majority of the German literature (e. g. Riemann-Musikle-xikon. Mainz 1859; Brockhaus-Lexikon. Wiesbaden 1967; Honegger/Massenkeil-Musiklexikon. Freiburg 1976) and in some of the foreign-language literature (Dufourq, Norbert: La Musique. Paris 1965; Thompson, Oscar: The International Cyclopedia of Music and Musicians. London 1975). The last two examples also show a tendency in the foreign-language literature to maintain the German “Umlaute” (e. g. München not Munich, Würzburg not Wurtzbourg) as our newer encyclopedias maintain foreign-language spellings,   e. g. accents.

To me, the reasons in favour of the traditional spelling of Theobald Böhm’s family name seem to be more weighty, but I don’t want to impose my opinion to those who prefer the spelling Boehm. Finally, there exist more important things than two little dots on an o.

In the next edition:Theobald Böhm as a flutist

© 1994 by Theobald-Böhm-Archiv, Munich. All rights reserved. Any unauthorized reproduction is prohibited by law.

Ludwig Boehm

ludwig.boehm@t-online.de | www.theobald-boehm-archiv-und-wettbewerb.de | www.theobald-boehm-shop.de

Address: Asamstrasse 6, 82166 Gräfelfing, Germany, tel. 0049-89-875367

Ludwig Böhm was born in Munich, where he studied English, French and Spanish at the University and was a teacher from 1981 to 1983. Inspired by a great exhibition in the Munich Municipal Museum in 1981 on the occasion of the 100th anniversary of the death of his great-great-grandfather Theobald Böhm (flautist, composer, flute-maker, inventor of the Böhm flute, Munich 1794–1881), he dedicated his life from that time on to keeping the memory of Theobald alive. As a result of more than 30 years of research, he published in 2012 all 88 compositions and arrangements of Theobald together with Dr. Raymond Meylan and in 2013 20 books and 4 translations from and about him. He travelled to flute festivals in Japan, Australia, USA, Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Italy, Croatia, Luxembourg, Slovenia, China, Great Britain, Iceland, Thailand, Portugal, Chile, Poland and Armenia and presented a slide lecture about Theobald. He is the President of the Theobald Böhm Archive, founded in 1980, of the Theobald Böhm Society, founded in 1990 and of the Theobald Böhm Foundation, founded in 2014. In 2006, 2011 and 2016, he organized in Munich the 1st, 2nd and 3rd International Theobald Böhm Competition for Flute and Alto Flute.

List of professional open G# players

Current list of 480 professional open G sharp players can be seen in the homepage www.theobald-boehm-archiv-und-wettbewerb.de under “Open G sharp Key”. If you are a professional open G sharp player, who have not yet contacted Ludwig Böhm, please do so at ludwig.boehm@t-online.de to be added to the list.