Theobald Böhm (April 9, 1794 – November 25, 1881) was a German inventor and musician who developed the fingering method on the current Western concert flute. He was a skilled flutist and a famous composer who served as a Bavarian court musician.
His fingering technique has been used for a variety of instruments, including the oboe and clarinet. Boehm was born in Munich, Bavaria, and learned the goldsmithing profession from his father. He became skilled enough to perform in an orchestra at the age of seventeen after constructing his flute, and by the age of twenty-one, he was the Royal Bavarian Orchestra's first flutist. Meanwhile, he experimented with making flutes out of various materials, including tropical hardwoods (typically Grenadilla wood), silver, gold, nickel, and copper, as well as repositioning the tone holes on the flute.
He started experimenting on improving the flute in 1832 after studying acoustics at the University of Munich and first patenting his improved fingering method in 1847. In 1847, he also wrote Über den Flötenbau ("On the Construction of Flutes"). In 1851, he debuted his new flute at the London Exhibition. Die Flöte und das Flötenspiel ("The Flute and Flute-Playing"), a dissertation on the Boehm system flute's acoustic, technical, and aesthetic features, was published in 1871 by Boehm.
His expertise aided Boehm's ability to modify the flute as a jeweler. He describes, for example, making a flute with movable tone holes to establish the appropriate position of each hole for accurate intonation in The Flute and Flute-Playing — a magnificent feat of metal-working.
Because the musician had to reach all of the tone holes with two hands, traditional flutes were small. Boehm overcame this restriction by replacing mechanically covered tone holes, creating more significant, deeper flutes, such as the alto flute. The alto flute was a favorite of Boehm's, and he recalls a day when he was playing it and someone mistook it for a french horn.
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