The life and work of John Clinton, cont.

Clinton as a Musician

In evaluating the flute under study, it will be helpful to consider what may be gleaned from the record about Clinton’s musical abilities, since it would have been these abilities upon which he would have to call in judging the success in musical terms of his efforts to improve the flute and in evaluating his efforts against those of others. At this remove in time, this is not easy.  Nevertheless, a few observations may be made.

Firstly,  Clinton left a considerable legacy of published compositions, producing well over one hundred works.  Although largely forgotten today,  these were highly regarded by Clinton’s own contemporaries, not least by Rockstro himself (never an easy man to please!).  This  seems to show that Clinton did not lack a solid musical foundation, understanding of his instrument and sound musical sense and that these qualities were  recognised by his peers.

Secondly,  Clinton’s appointment to the position of Flute Teacher at the Royal Academy speaks volumes.  It is simply inconceivable that a second-rate player would have been appointed to this position, or held it for so long, especially when one looks at the standing of his predecessors as well as his contemporaries who might be expected to vie for such a prestigious position. Surely only a player of the highest professional standing would have been considered.

Thirdly, as noted above, Clinton enjoyed at least one high-profile season as principal flute at Her Majesty’s Theatre (in 1847) as well as becoming member of the Philharmonic Society.  Hardly suitable appointments for a less-than-accomplished musician!

The only “eye-witness” account of Clinton’s playing by one of his contemporary peers comes yet again from the ever-acidic pen of Rockstro, who states (Article 927, op. cit.) that “Clinton can hardly be said to have been a first-rate flute-player, inasmuch as his intonation was false and his tone coarse”   This does not sound at all like a man who would be a suitable candidate for the position at the Royal Academy, nor does it seem to reflect a sound foundation for the successful performing career that Clinton undoubtedly enjoyed.  Rockstro goes on to say that “In other respects, he was a good musician”(!!).  In this case, Rockstro’s statements are difficult  to reconcile.

Looking at the available evidence, and allowing for Rockstro’s well-demonstrated prejudices, it is hard to escape the conclusion that Clinton must have been a flute player and musician of considerable  talent.

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