Chattoir Editorials

Chattoir Interview with Ludwig Böhm

by Yulia Berry at 11 August 2017
"My interest in Theobald Böhm was raised in 1981, when a great exhibition was organized in the Munich Municipal Museum in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his death and when the director of the museum asked me many questions about Theobald, which I couldn’t answer. I only knew that there was somebody who had something to do with the flute. From that time on, I consider it as my life-task to keep the memory of Theobald alive." (Ludwig Böhm)

Chattoir Interview with Ludwig Böhm

Yulia Berry
: Hello Ludwig! You are the great-great-grandson of Theobald Böhm, one of the most important names in the history of flute making. Probably every flutist on the planet knows that your great-great-grandfather was a flutist, a composer and the inventor of the Böhm flute. 
He perfected the modern Western concert flute and improved its fingering system. Were there other professional flutists in your family?
Ludwig Böhm: Hello Yulia! Theobald Böhm had one daughter (not married) and seven sons (all married) and 54 grandchildren. Today there are nearly 400 descendants including wives and husbands in Germany, Austria, Switzerland, France, Great Britain, Spain, Portugal, South Africa, Namibia, USA, Panama, Chile and Australia. Only one great-great-great-granddaughter, Katharina Böhm, is a professional flute player in the Leipzig Symphony Orchestra.
Do you play the flute, too?
I had flute lessons from 1985 to 1988 on my silver open G sharp Böhm & Mendler flute made around 1870, but then gave it up, because I have a talent for languages, for doing research and for sports (ski and tennis), but not for playing an instrument.
Does your family still have any artifacts left from your famous great-great-grandfather? If yes, which ones? Is there something from those that is especially precious to you and why?
I possess one silver and three wooden Böhm & Mendler flutes, four other descendants have some more flutes. I also possess three oil paintings of Theobald, two other descendants also have paintings. For my Theobald Böhm Archive I collect photocopies of everything, related to Theobald: letters, articles, concert programs, concert reviews and compositions. I also travelled to many countries and spent two weeks in the Library of Congress, Miller Collection, in order to make pictures for my catalogue of the 250 flutes, made by Theobald Böhm, which still exist today. Of course, my silver Böhm & Mendler flute with a golden lip-plate and low pitch (a1 = 435 Hz) is the most precious piece. Prof. Dayton C. Miller writes in his annotated translation of Theobald’s book “The Flute and Flute Playing …” that he prefers this type of flute to all other flutes in his collection (1922, p. 49).
Do you know what kind of person he was?
His friend, Prof. Karl von Schafhäutl, with whom he studied acoustics and with whom he made the calculations to determine the position and diameter of the tone holes on his newly invented conical Böhm flute of 1832 and cylindrical Böhm flute of 1847, published a detailed biography in 1881. His daughter Marie wrote a short biography in 1898 and his grandson Dr. Karl Böhm wrote a third biography in 1944. They all describe him as a friendly and highly respected person and a universal genius, who was always very busy. He also liked sports (quick walking, skating) and chess.
Do you have a story about your great-great-grandfather that is not known to public?
I learned about him not only by the three biographies, but also by about 160 letters from him, which I collected. All the letters are contained in one of my 20 books, which I published from and about him, four ones are translated into English (see my homepages  and There is a nice anecdote that in 1826 it was planned that he would play in two concerts of the famous Italian singer Angelica Catalani, but because he got more applause than Mrs. Catalani in the first concert, she refused him to play in her second concert.
Is there a museum dedicated to him?
My interest in Theobald Böhm was raised in 1981, when a great exhibition was organized in the Munich Municipal Museum in commemoration of the 100th anniversary of his death and when the director of the museum asked me many questions about Theobald, which I couldn’t answer. I only knew that there was somebody who had something to do with the flute. From that time on, I consider it as my life-task to keep the memory of Theobald alive. Today there is a show-case with about 15 flutes in the Municipal Museum and another one with about 25 flutes in the famous Deutsches Museum in Munich. There is also a commemorative metal plate on the wall of the tenement house on Altheimer Eck 15, where he lived and where his workshop was, but there is no Theobald Böhm museum.
You have done so much important work on researching archives and collecting and preserving information about Theobald Böhm. As we know, many composers dedicated their music to him. Were you able to find all pieces dedicated to Theobald Böhm or some are still missing? Do you plan to publish them?
I collected all the music of Theobald, everything was rewritten by computer by the musicologist Michael Nowotny, who works for the music publisher Henle and everything was corrected by the renowned musicologist Dr. Raymond Meylan. My complete edition with 88 compositions and arrangements, among them 24 for the alto flute in G, was published in 2012 with about 3500 pages. I also collected 19 works dedicated to him, which I published in 2017 with about 2000 pages. Although I wrote to 1500 libraries worldwide, I couldn’t find two compositions dedicated to him:
Grandaur, Franz: Sérénade mauresque, flute and piano, London c. 1860 (mentioned on the front page of the “Flute Player’s Journal”, Second Series, No. 7, Rudall, Rose, Carte & Co.), London c. 1857–1871 and
Sauvlet, Antoine: Souvenir de la Volga, flute and piano, (St. Petersburg?) c. 1870 (mentioned in the biography of Prof. Dr. Karl von Schafhäutl).
Do you have a favorite piece, written by Theobald Böhm?
One of my favorite compositions is the slow romantic piece Souvenir des Alpes, no. 5, Andante pastorale, opus 31, of 1852
How often do you think flutists include his music in their repertoire? And do they notify you of their performances?
I also collect programs of concerts, in which pieces of Theobald are played. With the exception of the Grande Polonaise, opus 16, his compositions are not very well known, but I think that my complete edition contributes to the fact that flautists of today also play his other compositions. In 2006, 2011 and 2016 I organized International Flute Competitions and the participants had to play several pieces of Theobald.
Could you say a few more words about the competition?
The aim of the competition is to make his compositions more popular. Besides one solo piece from the 18th century and one modern piece from the 20th century, the participants have to play one study and several pieces of Theobald in three rounds in the Hochschule für Musik und Theater in Munich. The 1st prize is 5000 EUR, the 2nd prize is 3000 EUR, the 3rd prize is 2000 EUR. In the 1st round, one piece is for flute in C or alto flute in G and the best player on the alto flute receives a special prize. There is another special price for the best player under 20 years (see; wettbewerb = competition). In 2016, there were 48 participants from 22 countries. The next competition is planned for 2019 or 2021.
What kind of music do you like in general?
I grew up with the music of the Beatles and the Rolling Stones and I mainly listen to pop music. When I travelled to the Flute Convention in Kansas City in 1981, which was dedicated to Theobald, I heard for the first time compositions, written by him and I liked his music from the first moment. In 1981 I organized a commemorative concert in the baroque Cuvilliés Theatre in Munich, where Theobald himself played frequently. András Adorján, William Bennett, Ursula Burkhard, Michel Debost, Irena Grafenauer and Aurèle Nicolet - all played his compositions. I don’t like the contemporary avant-garde music.
I am one of the flutists who plays the German model Böhm flute with open G sharp and reversed thumb keys. I remember you recently did a research on how many professional flutists still use it. What is the newest update on it? And could you name some flutists from your list?
My list of professional flute players, who live today and play open G sharp, comprises 246 names in 23 countries. Most of them live in Russia, in the Ukraine and in Latvia. The most prominent flute players of today are William Bennett in London and his pupil Denis Bouriakov in Los Angeles.
For me this Böhm fingering system makes such a perfect sense. However, it is not easy to find a flute with open G sharp nowadays. How would you explain it?
Nearly all flute players, who study thoroughly the open G sharp flute, recognize it as the more logical and better system. But since Louis Dorus made the closed G sharp key on the Böhm flute with the help of Louis Lot in order to make the change from the old system flute to the Böhm flute easier, the closed G sharp spread all over the world and it seems that this cannot be changed. The few open G sharp players of today have a big problem to find a buyer, when they want to sell their flute.
Did he have other inventions besides the new flute system?
His other inventions are a new method to construct musical boxes (1816), a cross-stringed piano with a resonance body under the piano together with Prof. Schafhäutl (patent 1835), a new method of transmission of power with wheels and wires (silver medal of the Society of Arts, London 1835), a new method for the purification of steel with Prof Schafhäutl (patent 1835, order of St. Michael by King Ludwig I for introducing the new method in the Bavarian iron works 1839), a new method of using the blast furnace gases for firing the blast furnaces in steel production (patent 1840), a telescope on a church tower, by which the exact position of a fire in the city can be determined (1841) and a new locomotive chimney, which prevents that the sparks cause a fire (patent 1841).

You've been invited to many flute festivals with lectures. Do you have a favorite story to tell there?
I like to travel to flute festivals and I presented my slide lecture about Theobald in Japan, Australia, USA, Netherlands, Spain, Germany, Italy, Croatia, Luxembourg, Slovenia, China, Great Britain, Iceland, Thailand, Portugal, Chile, Poland and Armenia. I’m always a little disappointed, if there is a concert at the same time and if people tell me that they wanted to come to my lecture, but that they wouldn’t want to miss the concert at the same time. In Sevilla the old slide projector, which I had to use, broke down during my lecture and after that experience I travel with my own projector. The quality of the pictures is much better than on my computer.
How does the audience react when you tell them about your great-great-grandfather?
My impression is that the audience finds the pictures and my explanations interesting.
What were your main activities related to flute lately?
In October 2016, I organized the 3rd International Theobald Böhm Competition for Flute and Alto Flute in the Hochschule für Musik und Theater München and at the beginning of the competition, we held a concert of the jurors, performing pieces of Theobald in the Prinzregententheater and a lunch after the concert with about 100 descendants. I enjoyed these events very much, but I was really exhausted by the amount of e-mails, which I received and had to write before the events.
In November/December 2016, I wrote an e-mail to nearly 1500 libraries in order to find the two missing compositions, dedicated to Theobald. In 1981 I mailed letters to the libraries, asking what they possess of Theobald, but last year I wanted to send e-mails. As I only had the street addresses, it was a huge work to find the e-mail addresses with the help of Google.
In March/April 2017, I looked through the correspondence of the publisher Schott, which is housed today in the Bavarian State Library and in the period between 1838 and 1863 I found 22 letters of Theobald among other about 3000 letters of each year, which are not in a proper order.
In June/July 2017, the compositions dedicated to Theobald were printed.
If you had a chance to talk to your great-great-grandfather now, what would you tell him?
If I could talk to Theobald, I would of course congratulate him on his achievements and I would ask him some questions, for example, why we have opus 1–37 and 45–47, but not opus 38–44 and who composed his last work, Elegy, opus 47.
Thank you, Ludwig, for such an interesting conversation! Your great-great-grandfather would be so proud of you and all your work, dedicated to preserving his heritage.

Thank you, Yulia! I think you asked the right questions and we had a very nice conversation.

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

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