“To bring a Science to perfection”: Charles Clagget, James Watt and musical innovation

Research output: Contribution to conferenceAbstractpeer-review


Charles Clagget started his career as a dancing-master, musician, teacher and composer, but by the 1760s he was buying and selling instruments in Dublin, later going into business briefly with William Gibson the guitar maker. From 1761 we have records of Clagget buying instruments from James Watt in Glasgow, Scotland: a maker of musical instruments and components and mathematical tools, who would later go on to become one of the most famous and influential engineers of the age. The relationship between Clagget and Watt has been largely overlooked, but the discovery of correspondence between the two men in the Watt Archive, Birmingham (UK), provides the first real insight into Clagget's interests, personality and financial struggles away from the puff and patter of his publications and advertisements. Most significantly, the letters position Watt as a key influence of Clagget's move from instrument sales into innovation, and particularly Clagget's interest in correcting intonation. This paper will consider Clagget's relationship with James Watt, and how this directly influenced his quest to improve intonation primarily for the domestic music-making market. Through examination of this newly discovered correspondence in the Watt Archive, this paper will start by considering the relationship between Clagget and Watt as two professionals initially working in the same trade, and how these letters illuminate part of Clagget's musical social network. The paper will then consider the inventions discussed and documented in the letters, and how these innovations fed into Clagget's own patented instruments and accessories. Finally, the paper will conclude by framing Clagget's work as part of wider discussions of intonation in the late eighteenth century, and posits that Clagget was at the forefront of the movement towards establishing agreed temperaments of our contemporary Western classical music tradition.
Original languageEnglish
Publication statusPublished - 23 Jun 2022
EventGS Conference on Musical Instruments 2022 - St Cecilia's Hall, University of Edinburgh, Edinburgh, United Kingdom
Duration: 23 Jun 202225 Jun 2022


ConferenceGS Conference on Musical Instruments 2022
Abbreviated titleGS Conference 2022
Country/TerritoryUnited Kingdom
Internet address

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