Born in Graz, Austria, Böhm studied law and earned a doctorate on this subject. He later studied music at the Graz Conservatory. On the recommendation of Karl Muck, Bruno Walter engaged him at Munich's Bavarian State Opera in 1921. Darmstadt (1927) and Hamburg (1931) were the next places he resided as a young conductor, before succeeding Fritz Busch as head of Dresden's Semper Opera in 1934. He secured a top post at the Vienna State Opera in 1943, eventually becoming music director.