The life and work of John Clinton, cont.

Some unanswered questions

The wonderful thing about research projects such as this is that they never seem to end!  This one is no exception.  Several questions come immediately to mind, and we intend to pursue them as time and opportunity allow.  We feel that the answers to these questions will provide further clarity into Clinton’s thinking at the time in question. The main lines of inquiry are as follows:

What were the performance defects in the 1832 Boehm flute that Clinton wanted to overcome, and how well did he succeed with the 1851 model?

It was obviously a perception of deficiencies based on performance that drove Clinton to Munich and eventually to developing his own flute designs. While he acknowledged the improved ring-keyed 1832 Boehm flute to be a great advance over earlier conical-bored models, he clearly felt impelled to promote further improvements along certain definite lines (with which Boehm apparently did not agree), in particular the conical bore. So his basic standard of comparison would have been the 1832 Boehm. It has to be assumed that Clinton felt that his 1851 flute (our present study) was a step forward from the 1832 Boehm in terms of performance.  Otherwise, why develop it?  And certainly, why enter it in the 1851 Exhibition?  There must have been a basis for Clinton to hold such a view. We have discussed Clinton’s developmental preferences at length above – the issue is:  how well did these preferences stack up in terms of performance against Boehm’s 1832 efforts?? Did Clinton succeed in developing a conical-bore flute that was markedly superior to the 1832 Boehm in real terms?

So a line of future research must be to examine and test a playable example of a pre-1847 Rudall & Rose conical-bored Boehm flute (of the type played by Clinton, in other words).  We will note the differences between the Boehm flute and the 1851 Clinton and attempt to extrapolate and (if appropriate) justify Clinton’s thinking based on the changes made and the results achieved.

What further improvements to his own flute was Clinton seeking in developing the 1855 Equisonant flute?

On  the showing of this particular instrument, Clinton had by 1851 produced a very fine 8-key variant with most of the advantages kept intact and most of the deficiencies overcome.  So what was left to do??  Why did he end up not marketing this model and choose instead to continue his research??  The answers can perhaps best be sought by examining and testing a playable Equisonant flute to see what, if any, improvements were actually achieved between 1851 and 1855.  We hope to do this in the near future.

How sound was Clinton’s judgement in putting his 1851 flute up against the opposition in the 1851 Exhibition?

As noted above, Clinton’s entry of this flute in the 1851 Exhibition was a giant leap of faith for which he must surely have perceived a sound basis.  After all, the risks in terms of potential loss of professional credibility were enormous. Clinton must have known this, and he must certainly have had access to examples of all the then-competing designs.  He therefore had the motive and the opportunity to evaluate his own design against the competition.  The fact that he went ahead with the entry clearly demonstrates his belief that his new flute could hold its own.

How sound was his judgement in this regard??   We know the Jury’s opinion, but were they right??  The only rational way to answer this point is to apply the same analytical techniques used on the Clinton flute to playable examples of as many of the competing designs as possible to establish an objective comparison, as well as seeking opinions on the relative merits of these flutes from the player’s perspective.  We intend to undertake this work as time and circumstance allow. 

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