Monday, October 03, 2022

More About Lizzo and that Crystal Flute

My experience with Lizzo is probably typical of people of my age that occupy my usual musical world. It is also atypical, since I spent quite a bit of time playing the flute.

I first encountered Lizzo in a DIY video showing how you can transform a Barbie Doll into Lizzo, but I had no idea who Lizzo was. I did learn a few crafty tricks, though.

The next encounter was when she hosted Saturday Night Live, and played the flute. I rarely watch Saturday Night Live, and don't know most of the guest hosts, but I found Lizzo delightful.

When Lizzo played the few notes that the writers of the show allowed the audience to hear her play on the flute, she played them extremely well. I had a secret wish that she might use her celebrity to give a "traditional" flute concert somewhere, and let people know that there is something "there" in what consumers of popular culture often think of as an outmoded "kind" of music. I thought it would never happen. But earlier this week part of my dream came true. And it was all thanks to librarian Carla Hayden, who had the brilliant idea of inviting Lizzo to visit the collection at the Library of Congress when she was in town to perform.

You can see all the "specs" about this 1813 Claude Laurent flute as well as images of it on this page of the Library of Congress catalog.
"This flute was presented to Pres. Madison by someone in France (Lafayette) as inscribed. It passed to Madison's adopted son Payne Todd; it was willed by the latter to Cornelius Boyle of Washington, D.C. and passed to his five heirs. It was purchased from them (Miss Fanny G. Boyle) for this collection. It had been exhibited in the National Museum prior to 1903." However, a letter recently found in the Madison papers at the Library of Congress documents that Laurent himself sent the flute to Madison. Letter from Claude Laurent to President Madison, 25 Mar. 1815: “A Monsieur Madison, Président des Etats Unis d’Amérique. Monsieur le Président, J’ai pris la liberté de vous adresser, il y a environ trois ans, une flûte en Cristal de mon invention. Veuillez bien me permettre de vous témoigner le desir que j’aurais d’apprendre si elle vous est parvenue & si ce faible hommage de mon industrie vous a été agréable. Je vous prie de vouloir bien agréer l’hommage de la considération la plus distinguée avec laquelle j’ai l’honneur d’être, Monsieur le Président, Votre très humble et très obeissant serviteur Laurent Quai de Givrer N° 34 Paris, le 25. Mars 1815.” Translation: “To Mr. Madison, President of the United States of America, Mr. President, I took the liberty of sending to you about three years ago, a crystal flute of my invention. Please allow me to express to you the desire that I would have to learn if it has reached you and if this feeble homage of my industry has been agreeable to you. I beg you to please accept the homage of the most distinguished respect with which I have the honor of being, Mr. President, your very humble and obedient servant Laurent Quai de Givrer N° 34 Paris, 25 March 1815.”

- Instrument type: Flute in C
- Materials: Clear glass, silver keys and ferrules, safety locks. Clear glass faceted end cap with hemispherical silver reflector behind, held in place by a silver ring.
- 4 sections. Clear glass exterior of recessed diamond-shaped faceting except at embouchure.
- Key Holes System: 4 keys, round flat curved flaps, post and rod on silver flanges.
- Mark Maximum: Laurent / à Paris, / 1813. (cursive)
- Mark Additional: Mark on lower body. Mark on head: A.S.E. James Madison / President des Etats=unis.
- Condition: Safety bracket detached from head joint ferrule.
- Provenance: Estate of Cornelius Boyle, Miss Fanny G. Boyle, Washington, D.C., 6 Nov. 1923. - Location: Whittall. When not on display, belongs in M16, where box and catalogue card are located.
- In English. (language)
- DCM 0378 (dcm)

You will notice that this flute does not have modern Boehm-system keys. And I know that it takes a long time to learn the necessary fingerings to play a pre-Boehm-system flute. Most flutists would have a difficult time with the size and shape of the emboucher hole as well. I imagine that Lizzo prepared for her moment with the instrument by practicing a great deal on a flute with a similar fingering system.

A kind person put a cellphone video of Lizzo playing the tune and a variation from the Carnival of Venice on instagram.

In addition to learning a new fingering system, Lizzo certainly had to consider ways to make her signature nails work with the wide-bored glass instrument without keys.

I give special "props" to the designer of her nails for this experience. Not only do her nails match the flute beautifully, but they are raised above the tips of her fingers, allowing for the full pads of the fingers to cover the holes.


Geo-B said...

Wow, this was a unique way to touch the past.

Lisa Hirsch said...

Her every day flute is The Dryad's Touch, a very beautiful John Lunn instrument. There are photos of it at the Flute Center of NY and probably on Lynn's web site.

Weirdly, because I played recorder and flute, I picked up the fingering for some renaissance instruments very quickly at a workshop many years ago, and had concluded, probably incorrectly, that the crystal flute wouldn't present that big a challenge. Not that the LOC would ever give me a chance to play it!

Lisa Hirsch said...

Lunn's web site, darn it.