life and work of John Clinton,
By 1855, the 45 year-old Clinton was obviously
convinced that his time had come and that he finally had the
world-beating design that he had been seeking.
This is clearly shown by the fact that not only did he release another new flute which he named “The Equisonant”, but he ended
his arrangement with Potter (if indeed this arrangement was then still
in effect) and made the considerable investment necessary to set up his
own manufacturing facilities at 35 Percy Street, London, trading as
“Clinton & Co.”. Clinton had finally achieved his ambition of
becoming a manufacturer!
seriously did Clinton take this venture that he gave up his prestigious
post at the Royal Academy to concentrate on it full-time. It is of
course possible that he was under pressure to resign this
post anyway by reason of his continued refusal to embrace the
1847 Boehm flute which was then very much in the ascendant.
But the fact remains that he had staked his future on achieving
success with his own design.
Clinton’s 1855 publication (op.
cit.) to which reference has previously been made introduced the new
flute, and his “Code of Instructions” (op.
cit.) published in 1860 provided full details of the fingering and
technique for this flute. This considerable investment in time, effort,
lost opportunity, money and reputation is in itself more than sufficient
to convince the authors that Clinton believed passionately in his new
design. Indeed, he had staked his entire future on it – not a step for
anyone to take lightly!
Certainly, Clinton’s claims for this new
instrument were nothing if not extravagant.
He claimed that it combined “the advantages of the Boehm flute
without its defects or difficulties” (a double-edged snipe at
Boehm’s 1847 flute if
ever there was one!) and that his flute “realised all that can be
desired on the flute, namely equality of tone and tune, and facility of
fingering throughout”. A
large claim indeed, and one which the present authors intend to
thoroughly test as opportunity offers!!
In passing, one may wonder what “advantages”
Clinton was willing to concede to the 1847 Boehm. It is clear from his own designs that he favoured the wooden
conical bore and that he was an advocate of fingering as little changed
as possible from the “old” system.
The 1847 Boehm abandoned both of these principles. What’s
left?? Presumably, the regulation of tonal and volume differences
between the holes. We may
safely surmise that Clinton remained an admirer of the results of Boehm’s efforts to regulate the intonation and power of
the flute throughout its range, but was not supportive of the methods used by Boehm to achieve these results.
Since we have now passed beyond our study
instrument, the rest of the story may be quickly told.
Clinton persisted with variants on his Equisonant theme, but with
limited commercial success. The ever-caustic Rockstro relates a story
about one of Boehm’s adherents asking Clinton if the name
“Equisonant” meant that the flute sounded equally bad all over!
Rockstro (Article 676, op. cit.) goes on to claim that “unfortunately, the flute had not
even that negative merit, for it was unequally
bad”(!!) . We will reserve our own comments on this point pending a
forthcoming study of the Equisonant design.
Clinton continued to take out patents for minor
“improvements”, being granted further British patents in 1857, 1862
and 1863. But the final
verdict on the Equisonant line of development which began with the 1851
instrument may best perhaps be left to Clinton himself.
Immediately upon the expiry in 1862 of the monopoly of Rudall
& Rose (by then Rudall, Rose & Carte) for production of the
Boehm flute, Clinton began to make a flute which, while retaining some
of Clinton’s own features, was nonetheless quite recognisably a
Boehm-based instrument. In this, we may surmise that he was driven by
market forces rather than his own personal inclinations.
Success followed immediately with the award to
Clinton of the exhibition medal at the 1862 World Exhibition in London
for a silver cylinder-bored flute
with graduated hole sizes. The citation stated in part that the award
was “for flutes on a
modification and improvement of
the system of Boehm” (our
ironic given that the concept of graduated holes for the cylinder-bored
flute had in fact already been considered and rejected by Boehm after
some 6 years of experiment! The grounds for Boehm’s decision were
apparently that he considered the difficulty and associated cost of
production as being not being worth the somewhat minimal advantages
It appears that, having secured an English patent
for this idea, Clinton represented it to the 1862 jury as his own.
He had no basis for doing so since Boehm had made a number of
flutes using this principle over a period of some 6 years before
eventually rejecting the concept on the grounds of the increased cost
and complexity not being justified by the marginally-improved results
achieved. Word of Clinton’s actions reached Boehm in Munich, and
Boehm felt it necessary to write to the eminent French maker
Louis Lot in June of 1862 re-affirming his own priority in the idea.
It is unclear whether or not he ever taxed Clinton directly with
this issue as well. If not, one wonders why not.
Perhaps it was because in Boehm’s own mind the idea (which
Boehm had rejected) was not worth disputing except among his immediate
and respected colleagues (of whom we may now safely assume Clinton was not
In any event, it must have been a bitter-sweet
moment for Clinton to receive this award which, while finally according
him the accolade as a maker that he had so long sought, once more
coupled his name with that of the man whom he had hoped to surpass and
utilised an idea that his nemesis had discarded.
In the end, he could not escape Boehm’s shadow, despite trying
hard to do so for 14 years.
John Clinton died in London on May 7, 1864 from
complications resulting from an ankle amputation after progressive
necrosis – in other words, he seems to have been an early victim of
what is now referred to as “flesh-eating disease”.
He was 54 years old at the time.
Clinton’s manufacturing company did not long
survive him, remaining in business only until around 1871 according to
Langwill (13). Among
its outputs were ordinary 8-keyed flutes – no. 4803 also in the
possession of the authors suggests a quite high production figure by the
standards of the day and implies that the company had enjoyed
considerable success for at least a considerable portion of its short
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