The life and work of John Clinton, cont.
The Implications of Clinton’s Rejection of
the 1847 Boehm Flute
The quotation noted above that Boehm was “as far
as ever from removing the defects, or of perfecting the (1832)
instrument” has been the subject of a great deal of comment over the
years to the effect that Clinton is speaking here about an instrument
which he had very recently been praising to the skies!!
This factor has been seized upon by previous writers as evidence
of eccentricity or inconsistency in Clinton’s view of the world.
In actual fact, this interpretation does not stand
up at all to objective consideration. In the quoted passage, Clinton was
not speaking about the
instrument that he had recently been praising to the skies – that was
the 1832 ring-keyed Boehm. He
is speaking here about the 1847 Boehm - an entirely different
instrument. So there is absolutely nothing inconsistent in the quoted
Others have seized upon the reference to
“defects” in the 1832 Boehm which he had been praising so highly as
evidence of inconsistency on Clinton’s part.
In fact, there is again no evidence of any inconsistency in this
regard either. The truth appears to be that Clinton was objective enough
to recognise and publicly endorse the ring-keyed 1832 Boehm flute as a
great advance over the old 8-key instrument (a view which he continually
expressed even in his later writings) while retaining a clear view of
potential areas of improvement. But he was thinking from the outset in
terms of improvements to the conical-bored flute (of which the 1832 Boehm was an example) in
terms of correction of the residual acoustical deficiencies and a return
to the simpler “old standard” system of fingering. Neither his
writings nor his actions display any wavering from these views at any
time between 1843 and 1862. As
noted above, Clinton appears on his own showing in the 1851
“Treatise” (op. cit.) to
have been quite taken aback to find that
Boehm had adopted the cylinder bore in his 1847 flute and had
also continued to develop his more complex fingering system rather than
return to the simpler “old” system of fingering. Obviously he had not been kept “in the loop”!
So in summary, Clinton appears from the outset to
have seen the 1832 Boehm flute as a great step forward and a highly
valid starting point for a program of further development with the
objective of correcting the residual acoustical deficiencies and
simplifying the fingering back towards the “old” standard. All
that happened in 1847 was that a direct trial of Boehm’s new flute
convinced Clinton that Boehm’s more recent development work subsequent
to the 1845 meeting between the two men had taken the original 1832
instrument in a direction which did not correspond in any way to
Clinton’s own preferences (from which he had not wavered). Viewed in
this light, there is nothing illogical or inconsistent whatsoever in
Clinton’s 1847 “abandonment” of the Boehm flute – in fact, it
was not an abandonment at all. He
still saw the 1832 Boehm as
the appropriate starting-point for further development – it was simply
the fact that Boehm’s own 1847 evolution did not achieve the desired
results as far as Clinton was concerned, and
he was not afraid to say so even though it appears to have cost him a
potential manufacturing opportunity. .
Basically, Clinton appears on this showing to have
been an advocate of development and a seeker after perfection who knew
exactly where he wanted to go and who could recognise (and eagerly take)
positive steps along the way from whatever source while acknowledging
that there were more steps yet to be taken, by himself or in
collaboration with others. He appears to have known exactly what he
wanted to achieve in terms of results and was willing at this point in
time to collaborate with others rather than seek all the credit for
himself. It appears to be
the results achieved that
counted most heavily with him.
Certainly, the implication of Clinton’s own
statements is that it was the results
of Boehm’s work in 1846-47 that brought about Clinton’s
disillusionment. Apart from the implied fact that few if any of
Clinton’s ideas appeared in the new flute, the most obvious culprits
in setting Clinton on the road to independent development appear to be
the dramatic tonal differences associated with Boehm’s cylindrical
bore allied to his “parabolic” head design, as well as the
drastically revised fingering required. Certainly, in both his 1851
cit) and his 1860 “Code of Instructions” (op. cit), Clinton repeats his “official” reasons for his
position on this matter as being largely connected with the tonal
differences between the new flute and the old conical-bore designs as
well as what Clinton conceived to be an unwarrantable increase in
fingering difficulties and cost of production.
Here we are beginning to see a very important factor
in Clinton’s approach to flute development – he appears to have been
a staunch and unwavering advocate of the tonal qualities of the
conical-bored wooden flute, as well as an upholder of a more simplistic
and standardised approach to fingering.
Viewed objectively, there is absolutely no evidence whatsoever to
show that Clinton ever departed from these
principles at any time between 1843 and 1862, when he finally
jumped onto the Boehm bandwagon.
Even at that point, there is nothing whatsoever to suggest that
his personal opinions had wavered – it actually seems far more likely
that he was forced to change for economic reasons on the basis of
prevailing musical fashion.
Regardless, in holding these views, Clinton is
revealed as a person with whom every player of the “modern” Celtic
and historic flute must surely stand shoulder to shoulder.
We may reasonably infer that in 1845 Clinton would have based his
advice to Boehm on the assumption that the conical bore of the 1832
flute (which Clinton liked so much) would be retained, albeit with certain
improvements to the mechanism and hole configuration. In other words, a
further development of the 1832 Boehm design. History shows that Boehm
went directly against this advice (if it was indeed given) and came up
with an entirely new design concept. If this supposition is correct, we
can easily see why Clinton would have found the new cylindrical-bored
Boehm quite unsatisfactory.
Regardless of how it came about, the granting of the
English manufacturing rights for the new Boehm flute of 1847 to Rudall
& Rose rather than Clinton must have come as a major blow to Clinton
given his self-admitted expectations that the 1847 Boehm would become
his launch vehicle as a major manufacturer. In one fell swoop he had
gone from being a manufacturer-in-waiting with a new world-beating
design in the works to just another flautist with some ideas which as
yet lacked substance. Parted from Boehm
both on the technical and business fronts, Clinton found himself
isolated. It is however very clear that his manufacturing ambitions
remained undimmed despite his failure to come to terms with Boehm.
In fact, Clinton’s actions following upon both the
earlier rejection of his ideas by the English manufacturers and
subsequently by Boehm himself are highly illuminating as regards his
character. He was
definitely not the man to take rejection lying down! In fact, each successive rejection appears to have simply
added fuel to the fire of his determination to show the world that
his rejected ideas were sound.
In 1847 he was finally forced to come to terms with the
inescapable realisation that if his ideas for further development were
to take practical shape, he would have to make it happen for himself.