The life and work of John Clinton, cont.
Clinton’s Appreciation of Boehm’s 1832
Theobald Boehm’s original 1832 ring-keyed conical-bored flute
was first presented to the London musical scene in 1833 and again in
1834-35 by Boehm himself, but it was not until 1843,
when Rudall & Rose took up the manufacture of the improved version
featuring modifications by Buffet, Coche and Dorus,
that it achieved any real recognition in England.
Clinton appears to have been one of the first prominent London
players to take up the new instrument (Richard Carte was another).
Indeed, in his later 1851 publication “A Treatise upon
the Mechanism and
of the Flute” (3), Clinton actually claims to have become aware of the advantages
of the 1832 Boehm as early as 1841 and to have found it to be “so
superior to the old eight-keyed instrument” that he took it up for his
own playing shortly thereafter. It appears that Clinton’s major reason
for this opinion was the improved intonation and dynamic balance between
notes which were achieved through Boehm’s more rational placement and
sizing of the various holes.
the 1851 “Treatise” (op. cit.),
Clinton states that at the time of his adoption of the 1832 ring-keyed
Boehm flute he “was influenced solely as a flute-player
; up to this period I had given no particular attention to the
principles of construction in a flute”. It is clear from this that
Clinton’s interest in flute research and manufacture evolved over time
as he became more aware (and presumably more enthusiastic) regarding the
potential for improvement of his chosen instrument which Boehm had
clearly demonstrated. Before
Boehm, flautists had more or less accepted the very evident limitations
of their instrument – now Boehm had shown that this state of affairs
need not necessarily continue. Need
we wonder that Clinton and his colleagues were excited about the
prospect of a “perfect” flute which Boehm had so tantalisingly
dangled before them??
In any event, Clinton clearly became a “true
believer”, spending the next four years indefatigably promoting the
improved 1832 Boehm design, writing strongly-supportive letters in 1843 to the
publication “Musical World”
and publishing the first English-language tutor(4) for the
Boehm flute in the same year. This
was a hastily and probably prematurely-written work which he greatly
bettered in 1846 with his second tutor(5) for the same
It has in fact been suggested by Rockstro (op.
cit.) among others that Clinton’s excess of zeal and possibly
premature initial publication may have done more harm than good to the
Boehm cause. However,
Clinton himself seems to have remained in no doubt at all that he was
personally responsible for the initial success of the Boehm flute in
England. Both in his 1851
“Treatise” (op. cit.) and
in the Introduction to his 1860 “Code of Instructions for the
Fingering of the Equisonant Flute” (6), Clinton
specifically claims to have personally “introduced the Boehm flute”
to the public, and in the “Code of Instructions” he alludes to some
of the difficulties that he faced in doing so.
Others appear to have held the view that some of these
difficulties may have been of Clinton’s own making!
An excess of zeal and self-assurance has certainly been known to
raise hackles and impede progress!!
It is of passing interest to note at this point that
in a treatise published in 1851 (7), Richard Carte also
claimed priority in introducing the 1832 ring-keyed Boehm flute to the
English audience. However,
the wording of Carte’s claim bears careful consideration.
Carte appears to have been a punctilious user of the English
language, and the direct quote from the relevant passage states that he
claimed to be “the first native
(our italics) professor to perform upon it (the Boehm flute) in
public”. One is forced to
wonder whether or not the Irish-born Clinton would have been seen as a native of England?? In
the context of the times, it seems unlikely and in literal terms he
certainly was not. So the
question of priority is not clarified by this passage, nor does it
matter greatly at this remove in time.
In point of fact, it appears that both Carte and Clinton were preceded by the London flautists Cornelius Ward and Signor Folz, who are reported (8) to have adopted the improved Boehm flute in 1839 for their own playing. Indeed, Ward (who was himself a manufacturer) seems to deserve the credit for making the first Boehm flutes to be produced in England, although he soon went his own way in developing his own flute designs. However, neither Ward nor Folz appear to have achieved much in terms of popularising the Boehm flute. It was only when Rudall & Rose made high-quality English-made examples readily available to the public starting in 1843 that the instrument gained any prominence. Clinton’s advocacy coincided with this event.
Notwithstanding his enthusiastic adoption of the
instrument, it is clear that Clinton soon recognised a number of areas
in which further improvement was possible, in common with many of his
contemporaries. As late as 1860 in the “Code of Instructions” (op.
cit.) Clinton is still found repeating his view that while the
ring-keyed 1832 Boehm was “much superior to the ordinary (8-key) flute, it admitted of still greater improvements”. Boehm
himself recognised this, of course, and there is no reason to suppose
that Clinton’s views regarding the acoustical deficiencies of
Boehm’s 1832 flute would have differed greatly from those of Boehm. Where they parted company (as events proved) was in their
respective approaches to resolving these deficiencies.
were the residual defects of the 1832 Boehm in Clinton’s mind? Based on the 1851 “Treatise” (op.
cit.), the main perceived defects were the necessary change in
fingering which it required and the need for extensive use of awkward
cross-fingerings even in the lower register as well as in the third
octave. Clinton also had
problems with the overall tone (which he ascribed to the use of the
open-key as opposed to the closed-key system) as well as notable tonal
and pitch deficiencies in the lower four notes and the third octave.
Note that the cylinder bore had yet to enter the scene, so this
was not raised as an objection to the 1832 Boehm - Clinton’s
strictures against the cylindrical bore were of course aimed at the
subsequent 1847 Boehm instrument and reveal him as a staunch advocate of
the conical bore.
the same document, Clinton also bewails the cost and upkeep requirements
of the Boehm flute caused by the mechanical complexity of the
instrument. He appears to
have been very concerned about keeping the flute accessible to the
general public in economic terms and in maintaining some degree of
standardisation of fingering. This is surely a praiseworthy point of
view for any advocate of the flute. A substantial section of the 1851
“Treatise” dwells upon this point.
this regard, and following an objective appraisal of the situation as it
was then, we may have some sympathy with Clinton’s views. It is
difficult for us to remember at this remove in time how truly confusing
the state of the flute as an instrumental entity actually was at this
time. There were at least half-a-dozen competing systems, each with its
own fingering charts and its own set of vociferous adherents.
Imagine the plight of the prospective newcomer to the instrument
who had to commit to a given system, to say nothing of the professors
who might be called upon to teach such a bewildering array of different
Clinton was obviously very concerned about the adverse effect on the popularity of the flute which could result from the constant changes of fingering systems which were current at this time. His comment in the 1851 “Treatise” (op. cit.) about there being “more new flutes than flute-players” is particularly revealing! His views are completely understandable when we consider that he made a good part of his living teaching new students of the instrument. Anything that discouraged new players from taking up the flute or increased the challenge of teaching the instrument would obviously run counter to his vested interests. The present authors plan in the future to undertake an in-depth comparative study of competing flute developments at this point in time in order to document the state of flux (perhaps unparalleled by any other instrument at any time) which prevailed during this period. We feel that this factor has gone largely under-appreciated up to this point.