The life and work of John Clinton, cont.
Views on Further Development
In his 1851 “Treatise” (op.
cit), Clinton freely acknowledges that the improved 1832 ring-keyed Boehm
“greatly exceeded the old eight-keyed flute in the principle of its
construction and the effects which it produced”, but then goes on to
list the “chief defects of the Boehm flute, which were felt by myself
and other professors who equally lauded its merits”.
It is quite clear that by the mid-1840’s Clinton had evolved
some very definite ideas regarding appropriate approaches to elimination
of these defects, and it was this that led him first to the English
manufacturers and then to the meeting with Boehm in
What was Clinton looking for in terms of further
development, and why did the 1847 Boehm fall short?? Firstly, it is abundantly clear from Clinton’s later
writings (notably the 1851 “Treatise” (op.
cit.)) that he favoured the conical bore over the cylinder bore,
presumably for the same tonal reasons that many of us favour it today. He notes that the metal cylindrical-bore flute had first been
tried in 1810 by the London maker George Miller of Panton Street,
London, and that the results had not been such as to encourage further
development. He bases these
comments on two Miller instruments still in his possession at his time
of writing. In fact, Clinton speaks of Boehm’s 1847 design as a
revival of the “old cylinder bore”!!
Secondly, Clinton makes it very clear in both the
1851 “Treatise” (op. cit.)
and his subsequent 1855 publication entitled “A Few Practical Hints to
Flute Players upon the subject of Modern Flutes, their Principles and
their Construction” (11) that he was a firm believer in the
merits of the closed-key system. Indeed,
in the latter publication he categorically states his opinion that “no
other system than the shut-keyed can ultimately succeed, while any
attempt to improve the open-keyed must end in disappointment and
failure”. It is likely
that he was speaking in the context of the conical-bored instrument in
saying this, but his views are very clear nonetheless.
Thirdly, as we have seen earlier, Clinton favoured a
return to a standardised system of fingering based on the “old”
eight-key system, both for reasons of cost and uniformity. Finally,
Clinton was a firm believer in the merits of wood over metal as a basic
So what was Clinton looking for? Basically, a conical-bored wooden flute with standardised fingering based on the old closed-key system, but with the adaptation of Boehm’s rationalised hole placement as well as modifications to the conical bore to improve power. It is then no wonder that the 1847 Boehm was unsatisfactory to Clinton, since it exhibited none of these features. By contrast, the study flute exhibits all of these characteristics.