The life and work of John Clinton, cont.

Clinton’s Relationship with Boehm

As noted above, Clinton seems to have seen himself rightly or wrongly as the one person most directly responsible for getting the Boehm flute off the ground in England.  Although some contemporaries appear to have held different views, this is not necessarily relevant when considering Clinton’s actions – what matters in the context of this study is how Clinton himself may have seen things. We submit that Clinton’s relationship with Boehm may well be significant in terms of explaining the extraordinary lengths to which Clinton went to try to develop a design which would de-throne Boehm.

The first definite knowledge that we have regarding contact between Boehm and Clinton is in 1843, by which time Clinton had become an enthusiastic convert to the new Boehm ring-keyed flute based on the 1832 model.   The then 33 year-old Clinton and the 49 year-old Boehm appear to have established entirely cordial relations which continued for the next four years. During this period, Clinton published two tutors for this version of the Boehm flute as well as making his 1845 visit to Boehm in Munich as noted above.

In the introduction to the 1860 “Code of Instructions” (op. cit), Clinton begins by stating very clearly that he considered the 1832 Boehm flute to be “much superior to the ordinary flute”, but that by 1845 he had formed the view that, good though he still admits it was, it could be yet further improved. He claims to have approached manufacturers in England to try some of his ideas for modifying the Boehm flute, but states  that no interest was forthcoming.

In all likelihood, Rudall & Rose and their colleagues were understandably reluctant to tinker with Boehm’s proven design without Boehm’s blessing (although it is possible that they might have built prototypes on the quiet just to test the ideas).  Why mess with success?? It was almost certainly for this reason that Clinton  eventually went to Munich to attempt to convince Boehm himself of the merits of his arguments. In other words, Clinton was taking his case right to the source!  There is nothing in the least bit illogical here, especially if we concede that Clinton almost certainly  felt very sincerely that his ideas had merit.

Now comes what may be the most significant point.  Clinton states categorically that he left Munich with a clear understanding with Boehm that the latter would attempt to incorporate Clinton’s ideas and, most significantly of all, that Clinton was to be granted the sole manufacturing rights for the resulting instrument.  It was in this happy expectation during the following year that Clinton wrote his highly-regarded 1846 tutor dedicated in fulsome terms to Boehm, and he must have been waiting only for the new design to be presented to him before going into competition with the established companies as a manufacturer.  During this period, he clearly saw himself and Boehm as colleagues working together towards a common goal, and expected the next generation Boehm flute to incorporate an amalgam of his and Boehm’s ideas. Obviously, Boehm did not keep Clinton apprised of his actual development directions! Perhaps Boehm knew Clinton well enough by this time to anticipate what his likely reaction would be!

It is thus easy to imagine Clinton’s feelings when he was presented in 1847 with a flute by Boehm which incorporated none of his ideas but instead went even further down the lines to which Clinton was opposed.  If we assume that Clinton possessed the artist’s share of ego and temperament, his reaction to what he would see as Boehm’s failure to honour a gentleman’s agreement to incorporate his (Clinton’s ) ideas  is easy to visualise.  Given his view (justified or not) that he had personally got Boehm’s flute off the ground in England, Clinton would likely have felt that Boehm “owed him one” and accordingly may well have felt slighted by Boehm having unwarrantably (in his own view) discarded his ideas.

On his own later statement, Clinton elected to release Boehm from his agreement to grant the manufacturing rights to Clinton, stating that he could not support the new flute by taking it up or entering into its manufacture. It actually appears somewhat more probable and seemingly quite logical that Boehm had already more than half-decided to assign the English manufacturing rights to Rudall & Rose before he ever showed the new flute to Clinton. After all, Rudall & Rose were well-established and highly respected manufacturers who were already making Boehm’s earlier model to high standards, whereas Clinton had yet to make a single flute as far as we know. Why discard an established and proven relationship in favour of the unknown??  From Boehm’s perspective, it would have been a simple and entirely logical business decision. However, Clinton’s ego would never allow him to admit this in public, and he may well have adopted the public position that it was he who turned Boehm down and not vice versa.  Whatever the facts of the case (at which we can only guess), the result was clearly a parting of the ways, almost certainly with some bruised feelings on Clinton’s part.

Rockstro’s later strictures notwithstanding, Welch (op. cit.) has demonstrated that Boehm appears to have been a person of high personal integrity.  If the above scenario is correct,  it would indicate that Boehm did not consider the Munich discussions as being in any way binding upon him, viewing them rather as an exchange of ideas between fellow professionals.  In fact, Boehm would likely have felt far more obligated to Rudall & Rose, who had served his interests so well for the previous 4 years and with whom he already enjoyed a mutually-successful business relationship. Boehm would doubtless expect Clinton to understand what would for Boehm have been a simple and logical business decision. This would perhaps be too much to expect of a man of Clinton’s apparent temperament, however.

The above scenario offers a perfectly rational explanation (and one is needed) for Clinton’s sudden and complete abandonment of the Boehm flute. But the key point to note which has been avoided by previous writers is that there is nothing at all in this that is indicative of irrational or inconsistent behaviour on Clinton’s part.  On the contrary, Clinton had always had a clear view of where he felt the 1832 Boehm could lead if developed appropriately. He also had very definite ideas regarding the appropriate directions for further development.  Presumably he communicated these to Boehm in 1845, and was quite willing to let Boehm take these ideas and run with them.  He may also have developed further ideas of his own subsequently.  All that happened in 1847 was that Clinton realised that, the 1845 visit notwithstanding, Boehm was irrevocably committed to his own line of development, and one that would take him far off Clinton’s preferred path. The obvious and entirely logical conclusion was that if Clinton wished to pursue his “ideal flute” (which he clearly did), he would have to do so independently of Boehm. It was not the Boehm flute that Clinton abandoned – it was Boehm’s 1847 evolution of his 1832 instrument. The present authors can find nothing in the least illogical or irrational in this, contrary to the expressed views of earlier writers.

Nonetheless, the fact remains that a man of Clinton’s apparent ego would have found Boehm’s total rejection of his ideas very difficult to swallow. He would have been less than human if the concept of “showing Boehm up” had not presented itself.  This would mean that it was no longer simply a matter of improving an already highly-developed instrument -- now it was personal, and Clinton simply had to show Boehm and the rest of the world that his rejected ideas were in fact sound and he, John Clinton, had the answers which they were all seeking.  Furthermore, he would show them all by making the perfect flute himself rather than simply selling the design!  This, at least, is our hypothesis. A large ego and a “driven” personality are implied here! 

Seen in this light, the collaboration with Potter which resulted in our study flute must surely have been seen by Clinton as no more than a stop-gap measure pending the development of the “perfect flute”.  Certainly, Potter’s name does not appear in Clinton’s later writings (although Potter did publish Clinton’s 1851 treatise to which reference has been made and did receive a brief acknowledgement from Clinton in the text).  It may be deduced from this that Potter was seen essentially as a pair of hands for making Clinton’s flutes until such time as Clinton himself was able to do so, and was credited with little or none of the thinking behind the flutes that he made for Clinton.  We may surmise that, after his perceived let-down by Boehm, Clinton had determined to keep all credit for his future designs firmly in his own hands.

It is our hypothesis that from 1847 on, Clinton was driven to create a flute of his own that would equal or surpass anything that Boehm could produce.  In other words, we submit  that he may well have been motivated by a professional rivalry with Boehm rather than a general rivalry with all other designers and manufacturers. Certainly, the Boehm flute was the only competing design with which Clinton himself ever compared his subsequent efforts – it was his own “standard of comparison”. The flute under study was the first public manifestation of the lengths to which this rivalry would drive him, and hence a direct comparison with Boehm’s 1832 and 1847 models would be of the greatest interest.  The authors hope to undertake such a direct comparison at some future date.

The above view of Clinton’s possible rivalry with Boehm must in fairness be tempered by the fact that Clinton remained at all times willing to give Boehm full credit whenever he felt it was due. Even though his 1851 “Treatise”  (op. cit.)  was written well after the “split” with Boehm, Clinton flatly and specifically refutes the notion that Boehm simply copied Gordon’s earlier design  (as Rockstro tried to imply) and is most generous in crediting Boehm with the “first great advance in the knowledge and construction of the flute generally”.  In his 1855 paper (op. cit.) Clinton credits Boehm’s design as being  “by far the best for open keys (our emphasis) that has ever appeared”. Even the 1860 “Code of Instructions” contains appreciative references to Boehm’s earlier development work.  There is no indication in any of this that Clinton had anything personal against Boehm – the rivalry (if such it was) appears to have been professional rather than personal.  Clinton remained able to appreciate the value of specific aspects of Boehm’s work and to give Boehm full credit for his efforts in these areas.  

The one departure from this state of affairs was Clinton’s apparent attempt in 1862 to appropriate credit for the graduated holes which had previously been tried and rejected by Boehm (see above).  Even then, Clinton may have felt justified in that he had put the graduated hole idea into a commercially practical form, while Boehm had tried it and discarded it.  We shall never know.

The above scenario fits the facts as well as any other that we can conjure up. It also offers a rational explanation for Clinton’s extraordinary perseverance (including giving up his post at the Royal Academy) in the pursuit of his goal.

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