Clagget (Claget), Charles (c.1741–c.1820), musician and inventor, was born in Waterford. Together with his younger brother Walter (c.1742–c.1798) he moved to Dublin before 1762, having spent some time in Edinburgh, where they appear to have composed a piece entitled ‘Six duets for two violins’. A competent violinist, in 1762 Charles became leader of the orchestra at the Smock Alley theatre. The conductor, at this time, usually did little more than lead the band from the harpsichord, although Charles directed them from the first violins. In 1762 he also composed the music for Atkin's pantomime ‘Harlequin's funeral, or Sir Sawney outwitted’, which was produced in early December. During this time he also published several collections of songs for the guitar, and invented a double guitar with eighteen strings. In 1763 Charles succeeded Ferdinando Arrigon as head of music at the Great Britain St. Gardens, the first native Irishman to hold the post. With his ever-present sense of familial loyalty he appointed Walter to the cello section of the band at double the pay of the regular members. Charles's contract, however, was terminated in April 1769 and he was replaced by Tommaso Giordani (qv).
In 1764 he was appointed to a further post, as leader of the orchestra at Crow St. Theatre Royal, which he held for a number of years. On 1 May 1765 he was offered a benefit, which on account of his popularity became an annual occasion. In 1767 two benefits were held, one for Charles and one for Walter, and at the second of these the younger brother premiered his opera in two acts, ‘The power of sympathy, or The innocent lover’. It appears that Charles returned to his earlier post at Smock Alley in October 1766. In 1770 for one season, he was leader of the band at Capel St. Theatre before he and his brother, disillusioned with the lack of opportunities, moved to Liverpool, where Charles served as a bandleader for two years before moving on to Manchester. There he became the musical director of the theatre, a post he held for a further two years.
Seeking a new challenge, in December 1775 he moved to London, where he turned his attentions to inventing new instruments and perfecting old ones. Throughout his life he was obsessed by the problems of tonality, and many of his inventions reflected this concern. In December 1776 he took out his first patent for ‘improvements on the violin and other instruments played on fingerboards’. The innovation met with little acceptance, however, and, his hopes of revolutionising the musical world dashed, he refused to present any new inventions to the public for over a decade. During this time Walter continued to compose. In 1780 he wrote music for a comic opera, ‘The cabinet of fancy, or Evening's exhibition’, that was performed in the Haymarket theatre, London. In 1787 he composed the music for a pantomime, ‘The dumb cake, or The regions of fancy’.
On 15 August 1788 Charles took out patents for ten inventions. The most significant of these included the teliochordon, in appearance like a pianoforte but claimed to be better at keeping in tune, which allowed for three different types of intonation with each key; tuning-keys that were steadier and easier to use; a better method for fitting the soundpost of a violin in its place; and a chromatic trumpet or French horn that was capable of producing just intervals and regular melodies in all keys, minor as well as major, without the assistance of crooks or changes of instrument. The chromatic trumpet is considered to be his greatest achievement, although it did not achieve the fame it deserved, and in Germany in 1815 Blühmel and Stolzel patented something similar and were credited with inventing the first valved instrument. Another device that achieved some prominence was the aiuton, an organ that was constantly in tune. He published details of these inventions in Musical phoenomena (1793). During this period, Charles resided at 16 Greek St., Soho, where he opened a musical museum to display his inventions. None of the inventions achieved any widespread success, however, and musicians were generally suspicious of his innovations. In 1791 he exhibited his instruments at the Hanover Square Rooms. Joseph Haydn visited his premises in April 1792 and examined his work for the pianoforte and harpsichord. Impressed with what he saw, Haydn published an open letter in which he stated that the improvements made them ‘perfect instruments’. A year later Charles gave a concert at the King's Arms, Cornhill, at which he delivered ‘A discourse on music’ during the intervals; this was later published with a portrait included. In 1793 he set some songs to music for Samuel Taylor Coleridge which the poet praised for being done ‘most divinely’. He disappeared from Kent's Directory in 1795 and it is believed that he died in anonymity in 1820, possibly in Waterford. Walter also disappeared around this time and may have died in 1798.
Charles married (1762) Susannah Sophia Thompson. He was widowed within a few years, for in December 1767 he married a singer, Susannah Elizabeth Cross. It is not known whether there were any children from either marriage, although it is suspected that Theophilius Clagget, a musician in Dublin in the 1790s, was a son.