The life and work of John Clinton, cont.
Clinton’s Relationship with Boehm
As noted above, Clinton seems to have seen himself
rightly or wrongly as the one person most directly responsible for
getting the Boehm flute off the ground in England.
Although some contemporaries appear to have held different views,
this is not necessarily relevant when considering Clinton’s actions
– what matters in the context of this study is how Clinton
himself may have seen things. We submit that Clinton’s
relationship with Boehm may well be significant in terms of explaining
the extraordinary lengths to which Clinton went to try to develop a
design which would de-throne Boehm.
The first definite knowledge that we have regarding
contact between Boehm and Clinton is in 1843, by which time Clinton had
become an enthusiastic convert to the new Boehm ring-keyed flute based
on the 1832 model. The
then 33 year-old Clinton and the 49 year-old Boehm appear to have
established entirely cordial relations which continued for the next four
years. During this period, Clinton published two tutors for this version
of the Boehm flute as well as making his 1845 visit to Boehm in Munich
as noted above.
In the introduction to the 1860 “Code of
Instructions” (op. cit),
Clinton begins by stating very clearly that he considered the 1832 Boehm
flute to be “much superior to the ordinary flute”, but that by 1845
he had formed the view that, good though he still admits it was, it
could be yet further improved. He claims to have approached
manufacturers in England to try some of his ideas for modifying the
Boehm flute, but states that
no interest was forthcoming.
In all likelihood, Rudall & Rose and their
colleagues were understandably reluctant to tinker with Boehm’s proven
design without Boehm’s blessing (although it is possible that they
might have built prototypes on the quiet just to test the ideas). Why mess with success?? It was almost certainly for this
reason that Clinton eventually
went to Munich to attempt to convince Boehm himself of the merits of his
arguments. In other words, Clinton was taking his case right to the
source! There is nothing in
the least bit illogical here, especially if we concede that Clinton
almost certainly felt very
sincerely that his ideas had merit.
Now comes what may be the most significant point.
Clinton states categorically
that he left Munich with a clear understanding with Boehm that the
latter would attempt to incorporate Clinton’s ideas and, most
significantly of all, that Clinton was to be granted the sole manufacturing rights for the
resulting instrument. It
was in this happy expectation during the following year that Clinton
wrote his highly-regarded 1846 tutor dedicated in fulsome terms to
Boehm, and he must have been waiting only for the new design to be
presented to him before going into competition with the established
companies as a manufacturer. During this period, he clearly saw himself and Boehm as
colleagues working together towards a common goal, and expected the next
generation Boehm flute to incorporate an amalgam of his and Boehm’s
ideas. Obviously, Boehm did not keep Clinton apprised of his actual
development directions! Perhaps Boehm knew Clinton well enough by this
time to anticipate what his likely reaction would be!
It is thus easy to imagine Clinton’s feelings when
he was presented in 1847 with a flute by Boehm which incorporated none
of his ideas but instead went even further down the lines to which
Clinton was opposed. If we
assume that Clinton possessed the artist’s share of ego and
temperament, his reaction to what he would see as Boehm’s failure to
honour a gentleman’s agreement to incorporate his (Clinton’s ) ideas
is easy to visualise. Given
his view (justified or not) that he had personally got Boehm’s flute
off the ground in England, Clinton would likely have felt that Boehm
“owed him one” and accordingly may well have felt slighted by Boehm
having unwarrantably (in his own view) discarded his ideas.
On his own later statement, Clinton elected to
release Boehm from his agreement to grant the manufacturing rights to
Clinton, stating that he could not support the new flute by taking it up
or entering into its manufacture. It actually appears somewhat more
probable and seemingly quite logical that Boehm had already
more than half-decided to assign the English manufacturing rights to
Rudall & Rose before he ever showed the new flute to Clinton. After
all, Rudall & Rose were well-established and highly respected
manufacturers who were already making Boehm’s earlier model to high
standards, whereas Clinton had yet to make a single flute as far as we
know. Why discard an established and proven relationship in favour of
the unknown?? From
Boehm’s perspective, it would have been a simple and entirely logical
business decision. However, Clinton’s ego would never allow him to
admit this in public, and he may well have adopted the public position
that it was he who turned Boehm down and not vice versa. Whatever the facts of the case (at which we can only guess),
the result was clearly a parting of the ways, almost certainly with some
bruised feelings on Clinton’s part.
Rockstro’s later strictures notwithstanding, Welch
(op. cit.) has demonstrated
that Boehm appears to have been a person of high personal integrity.
If the above scenario is correct,
it would indicate that Boehm did not consider the Munich
discussions as being in any way binding upon him, viewing them rather as
an exchange of ideas between fellow professionals.
In fact, Boehm would likely have felt far more obligated to
Rudall & Rose, who had served his interests so well for the previous
4 years and with whom he already enjoyed a mutually-successful business
relationship. Boehm would doubtless expect Clinton to understand what
would for Boehm have been a simple and logical business decision. This
would perhaps be too much to expect of a man of Clinton’s apparent
The above scenario offers a perfectly rational
explanation (and one is needed) for Clinton’s sudden and complete
abandonment of the Boehm flute. But the key point to note which has been
avoided by previous writers is that there is nothing
at all in this that is indicative of irrational or inconsistent
behaviour on Clinton’s part. On
the contrary, Clinton had always
had a clear view of where he felt the 1832 Boehm could lead if developed
appropriately. He also had very definite ideas regarding the appropriate
directions for further development.
Presumably he communicated these to Boehm in 1845, and was quite
willing to let Boehm take these ideas and run with them.
He may also have developed further ideas of his own subsequently.
All that happened in
1847 was that Clinton realised that, the 1845 visit notwithstanding,
Boehm was irrevocably committed to his own line of development, and one
that would take him far off Clinton’s preferred path. The obvious and
entirely logical conclusion was that if Clinton wished to pursue his
“ideal flute” (which he clearly did), he would have to do so
independently of Boehm. It was not the Boehm flute that Clinton
abandoned – it was Boehm’s 1847 evolution of his 1832 instrument.
The present authors can find nothing in the least illogical or
irrational in this, contrary to the expressed views of earlier writers.
Nonetheless, the fact remains that a man of
Clinton’s apparent ego would have found Boehm’s total rejection of
his ideas very difficult to swallow. He would have been less than human
if the concept of “showing Boehm up” had not presented itself. This would mean that it was no longer simply a matter of
improving an already highly-developed instrument -- now it was personal,
and Clinton simply had to
show Boehm and the rest of the world that his rejected ideas were in
fact sound and he, John Clinton, had the answers which they were all
seeking. Furthermore, he would show them all by making the perfect
flute himself rather than simply selling the design!
This, at least, is our hypothesis. A large ego and a “driven”
personality are implied here!
Seen in this light, the collaboration with Potter
which resulted in our study flute must surely have been seen by Clinton
as no more than a stop-gap measure pending the development of the
“perfect flute”. Certainly,
Potter’s name does not appear in Clinton’s later writings (although
Potter did publish Clinton’s 1851 treatise to which reference has been
made and did receive a brief acknowledgement from Clinton in the text).
It may be deduced from this that Potter was seen essentially as a
pair of hands for making Clinton’s flutes until such time as Clinton
himself was able to do so, and was credited with little or none of the
thinking behind the flutes that he made for Clinton.
We may surmise that, after his perceived let-down by Boehm,
Clinton had determined to keep all credit for his future designs firmly
in his own hands.
It is our hypothesis that from 1847 on, Clinton was
driven to create a flute of his own that would equal or surpass anything
that Boehm could produce. In
other words, we submit that
he may well have been motivated by a professional rivalry with Boehm
rather than a general rivalry with all other designers and
manufacturers. Certainly, the Boehm flute was the only competing design
with which Clinton himself ever compared his subsequent efforts – it
was his own “standard of comparison”. The flute under study was the
first public manifestation of the lengths to which this rivalry would
drive him, and hence a direct comparison with Boehm’s 1832 and 1847
models would be of the greatest interest.
The authors hope to undertake such a direct comparison at some
The above view of Clinton’s possible rivalry with Boehm must in
fairness be tempered by the fact that Clinton remained at all times
willing to give Boehm full credit whenever he felt it was due. Even
though his 1851 “Treatise” (op. cit.) was written
well after the “split” with Boehm, Clinton flatly and specifically
refutes the notion that Boehm simply copied Gordon’s earlier design
(as Rockstro tried to imply) and is most generous in crediting
Boehm with the “first great advance in the knowledge and construction
of the flute generally”. In
his 1855 paper (op. cit.)
Clinton credits Boehm’s design as being
“by far the best for
open keys (our emphasis)
that has ever appeared”. Even the 1860 “Code of Instructions”
contains appreciative references to Boehm’s earlier development work. There is no indication in any of this that Clinton had
anything personal against Boehm – the rivalry (if such it was) appears
to have been professional rather than personal.
Clinton remained able to appreciate the value of specific aspects
of Boehm’s work and to give Boehm full credit for his efforts in these
departure from this state of affairs was Clinton’s apparent attempt in
1862 to appropriate credit for the graduated holes which had previously
been tried and rejected by Boehm (see above).
Even then, Clinton may have felt justified in that he had put the
graduated hole idea into a commercially practical form, while Boehm had
tried it and discarded it. We
shall never know.
The above scenario fits the facts as well as any
other that we can conjure up. It also offers a rational explanation for
Clinton’s extraordinary perseverance (including giving up his post at
the Royal Academy) in the pursuit of his goal.