The life and work of John Clinton, cont.
Co-author Terry McGee has undertaken a full
restoration and acoustical analysis of the 1851 Potter-built Clinton
System flute, and his full report on the instrument is available for
perusal elsewhere on this web-site. For the purposes of this paper on Clinton himself, it is not
necessary to repeat this study here.
All that is important is to summarise the main findings and then
extract from those findings such information as may be relevant to our
evaluation of John Clinton and his work.
As far as we have been able to determine, this flute
is very rare indeed. We
have been unable to find another example anywhere in the major
collections of the world, and no owner of another example has so far
come forward despite our requests for further information via the Web.
We feel very fortunate indeed to have had the luck to find this
instrument in the first place and then to get it back up to full playing
efficiency for analysis.
The apparent lack of other extant examples suggests
that very few of these flutes entered circulation. The significance of
the number 50 associated with the maker’s mark is unclear.
Is it a serial number, signifying that at least 50 of this model
were made? If so, one might reasonably expect to find at least a few
other surviving examples. Or does it mean that a total of 50 development
instruments of all types had been made by Potter for Clinton up to and
including this flute?? In
other words, is this flute number 50 in a line of development?? Again,
if so one would expect to find that a few others in the series had
survived. It is interesting
to note that Potter did not
apparently place serial numbers on his own flutes, so the number on this
flute is an anomaly for Potter and surely must have some special
significance relating to Clinton’s involvement.
Alternatively, does the number signify the year of
manufacture or design (1850)?? In
effect, a model number?? After all, the Exhibition opened on May 1st,
1851 and it is reasonable to suppose that any flute which was to be
entered in that event would almost certainly have had to have
been constructed in late 1850 and allowed time for breaking-in and
seasoning. In fact, it is more likely than not that this would be the
case – the Exhibition did not happen overnight, and entries were
invited starting in mid-1850. To
determine that they had an instrument worth entering, Potter and Clinton
would surely have had to make and test their entry model in 1850
sometime. Certainly, the design
would have had to be completed in 1850. So perhaps that is what the
number 50 means. If another
example could be located, we would have greater certainty on this point.
Regardless, Terry’s work has made it very clear that this flute does credit both to its designer and its manufacturer. Terry classifies it as “a very fine flute indeed” from the standpoint of a player of the conical-bored version of the instrument. It is very clear that the instrument has merit and that its “favourable mention” from the 1851 Jury was well-deserved.
Clinton 1851 instrument shown here with a Rudall & Rose Patent Head.
In fact, the favourable note taken of this flute by
the Jury, regardless of any award, should have tipped us off at the
outset that this would be an instrument of some merit. After all, the
credentials of the Jury have been laid out above, and one would imagine
that they would not be an easy group to please! And indeed, it is worth
noting that eminent figures such as Rudall & Rose, Abel Siccama, and
Cornelius Ward failed to draw even a favourable mention from this group
for their designs (although Ward did receive an award for several other
instruments). The implication should have been clear all along that
Clinton had produced something of value.
We feel privileged to have had the opportunity to vindicate him
after all these years as a result of the fortuitous re-discovery of his
What is particularly revealing in terms of this
study of Clinton is the very methodical, focused and often elegant
design approach which is evident in overcoming each and every one of the
well-recognised defects of the 8-key flute while retaining the 8-key’s
tonal qualities and simplicity of fingering.
Terry has listed these defects and Clinton’s approach to
dealing with them in the accompanying analysis.
It is clear that Clinton knew exactly what he had to overcome and
was able to develop very rational approaches to dealing with these
A review of Clinton’s 1851 “Treatise” (op.
cit.) is extremely revealing in this context. In that document,
Clinton describes the design of the new flute in terms of the various
departures which it exhibits from previous practice together with the
problems that these departures were intended to solve.
Terry completed his restoration and evaluation of the flute prior
to the authors obtaining a copy of the 1851 “Treatise”. In every key respect, the results of Terry’s evaluation of
problems and solutions coincided with Clinton’s own evaluation of his
new design. In other words,
the designer and the subsequent researcher agree completely and quite
encourages the authors to believe that the approach which they have
adopted to this type of historical research has some validity.
It is quite evident from Terry’s analysis that
this flute represents a very successful attempt to further develop the
old 8-key conical-bored flute in terms of intonation, power and dynamic
balance between notes while retaining the essential character of the
If this may be taken as any guide to what Clinton’s “ideal
flute” might be, than it becomes very clear by extrapolation why he
did not favour the 1847 Boehm. It
seems beyond doubt that at this period at least he was an advocate of
retaining the tonal qualities and fingering simplicity of the
conical-bored 8-key wooden flute while attempting to resolve some of its
attendant acoustical problems. A view shared by Celtic musicians the
world over today! In this,
his 1851 design must surely be judged a success by any standard and his
efforts to develop it far from “misdirected”.