The Ingenious Mr Charles Clagget: Inventor and Harmonizer of Musical Instruments

Rachael Durkin*

*Corresponding author for this work

Research output: Chapter in Book/Report/Conference proceedingConference contributionpeer-review


Charles Claggett (1733–1796) has proved, until now, to be an elusive yet colourful character of British and Irish music history. Moving in key musical circles of the eighteenth century, Clagget bounced from one job to the next in search of fame and fortune, latterly opening a museum of musical instruments of his own invention in Soho, London in the 1790s. Little has been done to understand his inventions or their impact on musical instrument design, nor what his quest tells us about attitudes towards the limitations of eighteenth-century musical instruments.

Born in Norfolk, England (and not Waterford, Ireland, as previously believed), Charles Clagget and his brother, Walter, were indoctrinated in music by their father, a professional dancer and dancing-master, who worked for a time at Sadler’s Wells Theatre in London. While Walter pursued a career as a cellist and composer, Charles started as a dancing master and musician but soon turned to musical instrument inventing and improving, spurred by his friendship with the engineer, and former musical instrument maker, James Watt of Scotland. Clagget’s experiments with musical instrument design centred around tuning and led to inventions such as an adjustable fingerboard for violins, a metallic organ known as the “aiuton,” the “Royal Teleochordon Stop” for harpsichord, and the first chromatic trumpet and French horn.

This paper will provide the first scholarly consideration of Clagget’s contributions to musical instrument history. I will start with a brief overview of Clagget’s life and training,
dispelling many of the myths which have surrounded him in scholarship. I will then consider his working relationship with James Watt, and how this developed into his fascination with musical instrument improvement. Finally, I will look at some of his inventions, his interactions with Joseph Haydn and Samuel Taylor Coleridge, and how his ambition led to his own demise.
Original languageEnglish
Title of host publicationThe American Musical Instrument Society
Subtitle of host publication49th Annual Meeting
Place of PublicationNew York, US
Number of pages2
Publication statusPublished - 4 Jun 2021
EventAMIS 2021: the American Musical Instrument Society: 49th Annual Meeting - Virtual, United States
Duration: 4 Jun 20216 Jun 2021


ConferenceAMIS 2021
Country/TerritoryUnited States
Internet address

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