The life and work of John Clinton, cont.

Clinton’s 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.

Be 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” (op. cit).    

During 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.

At 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 this time.

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.

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