The life and work of John Clinton, cont.
Initial Efforts to Improve the 1832 Boehm Flute
As noted above, Boehm’s 1832 flute appears to have
acted as a catalyst in opening the eyes of Clinton and his colleagues,
after years of simply accepting the limitations of their instrument, to
the possibility that it might someday be possible to make a
“perfect” flute. Clinton
appears to have begun thinking along the lines of further development
very soon after taking up the new instrument.
This is very understandable when we consider that the more nearly
perfect any object is, the more obvious and aggravating its residual
deficiencies will generally appear!
Clinton was apparently quick to spot the chief remaining
deficiencies of the 1832 Boehm flute noted above (in common with a
number of his contemporaries) and almost equally quick to evolve his own
ideas on how best to approach the correction of these deficiencies.
By 1845, it is clear that he had some definite design concepts in
mind for further refinement. Not yet being a manufacturer himself,
Clinton’s problem now was to persuade someone to try out his ideas and
thus give them shape.
In the 1860 “Code of Instructions” (op.
cit.), Clinton makes reference to his ”appeal to manufacturers in
this country (England) to remedy the defects”, but also states that these
appeals were “unavailing”. We
may safely assume that these appeals were pursued with the same energy
and at times irritating self-assurance with which Clinton promoted his
various ideas throughout his life. He would certainly have approached
the manufacturers directly, and would also in all likelihood have
discussed his ideas with his fellow professionals, especially those who
might have some influence over the manufacturers.
No doubt his self-assured “in your face” approach would have
grated on some and may have contributed to his failure.
It is of course entirely possible that one or more
of Clinton’s contemporaries may have built prototype instruments to
test the ideas that Clinton laid before them (or variations thereupon)
with or without his knowledge. It would be very interesting indeed to
know definitively if any evidence exists (in the form of survivals of
possible prototype instruments from the mid-1840’s showing the Clinton
influence as represented by his later work) to indicate that this may
have occurred. The authors are not aware of any such evidence at the
present time, perhaps hardly surprisingly since prototype survivals are
of course extremely rare. We would be most grateful for any assistance
that other researchers could provide in this context.
that as it may, having seemingly failed to convince any English
manufacturer to give practical shape to his ideas, Clinton’s next move
was a bold one indeed. If
he couldn’t get the manufacturers to listen to him, perhaps he could
persuade the designer whose work to date he so much admired, Theobald Boehm
himself, to listen?? The
manufacturers would surely listen to Boehm if he could be persuaded!!
But already Clinton was looking beyond merely having his ideas
adopted by the manufacturers who had turned down his direct appeals. To
a man of Clinton’s undoubted ego, such a rejection would have left its
mark and this surely explains why Clinton had now by his own account
begun seriously contemplating his own entry into the manufacturing
field, as recorded by him both in the 1851 “Treatise” (op.
cit.) and in the introduction to his 1860 “Code of Instructions”
the 4-year period from 1843 to 1847 Clinton appears to have enjoyed
close and cordial relations with Boehm, presumably on the basis of his
undoubtedly sincere efforts to promote Boehm’s earlier work.
Accordingly, Clinton appears to have had no difficulty in
arranging a visit to Boehm in Munich during August of 1845. His comments in the two earlier references make it quite
apparent that his trip to Munich was undertaken both to discuss
potential improvements to the ring-keyed 1832 Boehm and to reach an
understanding with Boehm that Clinton would be granted the English
manufacturing rights of the resulting improved Boehm flute.
the time of the visit to Munich, Boehm was still primarily engaged in
work relating to the iron and steel business, having abandoned the field
of flute research and development in 1833 (temporarily, as events
proved) and given up his flute factory in 1839. He had yet to begin
his two-year (1846-47) intensive study of acoustics under Professor Carl
von Schafhautl of the University of Munich which influenced him so
greatly in the development of his 1847 flute.
Accordingly, the visit would doubtless have left Clinton in
blissful ignorance of Boehm’s future development approaches (including
the bore, head design and keywork), since at this point they could
hardly have crystallised in Boehm’s own mind. It
seems almost certain that the meeting would have focused on Clinton’s
ideas for improving the conical-bored 1832 Boehm flute rather than any
radically new ideas which Boehm may have been harbouring at
Some may argue that any preliminary ideas that Boehm may have had at this point in time would hardly be shared by him with a potential rival, but it is difficult to understand why Boehm would have seen Clinton in that light given that the latter had undoubtedly made very sincere efforts to promote Boehm’s earlier work in England. Furthermore, such a degree of prevarication is quite at odds with Boehm’s reported character (as elicited by Christopher Welch (9)). Boehm is far more likely to have seen Clinton as a professional colleague and supporter and to have received him as such.
Certainly, Clinton appears to have had no reservations about sharing his own ideas with Boehm. During the meeting in Munich, there must certainly have been some in-depth discussion of Clinton’s perceptions of the residual deficiencies of the 1832 Boehm flute, and it seems likely that Boehm would have agreed with many of Clinton’s views regarding these deficiencies. Indeed, it was the rectification of these very deficiencies that lay behind the further development work upon which Boehm was soon to become engaged. The discussions between the two men would likely have focused not on what the problems were as much as on how to approach their resolution. There would have been an exchange of possibly divergent ideas during the meeting, but nothing resembling an argument.