Question: My teacher has showed me three ways to finger a Bb. I was wondering who invented the thumb Bb mechanism?
Answer: Giulio Briccialdi (1818 –1881) has long been recognized as the inventor of the thumb Bb lever. However, new research suggests that the true inventor was Theobald Böhm.
According to Richard S. Rockstro in A Treatise on the Construction, the History and the Practice of the Flute, (1st edition 1890, 2nd edition 1928, (Reprint 1967 Musica Rara London) “The first suggestion for this lever was made in 1845 by a well-known amateur…Dr. Burghley of Camden town, but there is no reason for supposing that Giulio Briccialdi was aware of the suggestion, and at any rate he was the first to bring the idea to a practical issue, in May or June, 1849.” Rockstro continues, “The Bb lever was first added by Rudall and Rose, under Briccialdi’s direction, to a cocus-wood flute by Godfroy.” From this entry it was assumed that Briccialdi had been the inventor.
In 1960, musicologist Karl Ventzke reviewed a ledger from the workshop of flute-maker Theobald Böhm that is now housed in the Dayton C. Miller Collection in the Library of Congress in Washington, D.C. The ledger listed flute no. 24, made in February 1849, as “A flute of German silver with a lever for Bb.” (This flute may now be found in the instrument collection in the Munich Municipal Museum.)
Ventzke’s article “Who invented the Bb thumb key on the Boehm flute?” (Instrumentenbau-Zeitschrift, December 1960, pp. 66–67) says that based on this ledger, it was Böhm who was the inventor. Even though Briccialdi had studied the metal flute with Böhm for three months in Munich in 1847, it is more than likely that Briccialdi actually saw this flute with the thumb Bb mechanism in London and had the modification to the Godfoy flute made.
For the catalogue of the 100th anniversary of Theobald Böhm’s death held at the Munich Municipal Museum, Manfred Hermann Schmid also wrote in “The Revolution of the Flute,” (1981, p. 109) that Böhm, not Briccialdi, is the true inventor of the Bb thumb lever.