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U.Va.'s Rob Turner plays James Madison's glass flute
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Mr. Madison's Crystal Flute CD CoverU.Va.'s Rob Turner plays James Madison's glass flute

By Jane Ford

Dolly Madison loved social occasions and was known for her hospitality. She and President James Madison entertained a constant stream of guests and dignitaries, both at the President's House and later at Montpelier, the Madisons' home near Charlottesville. An evening with the couple often would include music, usually provided by the guests themselves.

Rob Turner, instructor in baroque flute and recorder in U.Va.'s music department, has recreated what could have been such an evening of entertainment on his new CD, "Mr. Madison's Crystal Flute." It was recorded in the Madisons' dining room at Montpelier -- "A perfect place to record," said Turner. "I wanted to create a sense of the time and place with the recording."

On the CD, Turner plays a lead crystal flute owned by Madison and made in 1813 by Claude Laurent in Paris. A clock maker turned flute maker, the innovative Laurent patented his flute-making techniques, including the use of glass for the body of the flute and a mounting system for keys that pioneered the way keys are still mounted on most woodwinds today.

crystal flutePrized for its superior musical qualities as well as its artistic value, it was common for European heads of state to own a Laurent glass flute. The list of European nobility and royalty who owned them includes Louis Bonaparte, King of Holland; Joseph Bonaparte, King of Spain; Franz I, Emperor of Austria; Louis XVIII Bourbon; and Napoleon I.

Madison's flute may be one of a pair originally made for Napoleon.

Until recently it was thought that Lafayette presented the flute to Madison, possibly on a visit to Montpelier in 1824. But a letter from Laurent to Madison, found in the Madison Papers at the Library of Congress, documents that Laurent himself sent the flute to Madison. A silver ring between the head and middle joint is inscribed "A S E Président Madison des Etats Unis" (to his Eminence President Madison of the United States).

Turner is no stranger to the Madison flute. It is one of 17 Laurent crystal flutes in the Dayton C. Miller Flute Collection in the Library of Congress, the largest collection of flutes in the world. A flute maker himself, Turner has been studying and restoring flutes in the collection for 25 years. In 1998, he played the Madison flute at the opening of the "Discovering Madison" exhibit celebrating Montpelier's reopening.

Not much is known about James and Dolly Madison's musical preferences, although the Library of Congress has a collection of bound sheet music for piano and vocal music with piano accompaniment that belonged to Dolly. Lacking such a historical reference for flute music associated with the Madisons, Turner chose typical early 19th-century salon music for flute and guitar. The program features solos and duets for flute and guitar composed by French flutist Louis Drouet and two guitarists, Ferdinando Carulli of Italy and Francesco Molino of Spain. The composers were respected virtuosi in Paris during the two decades following the creation of the Madison glass flute.

Guitarist Frank Wallace accompanies Turner, playing an 1854 guitar made by Manuel Gutierrez of Seville. Wallace, a composer and full-time performer, is a distinguished player of early guitars, vihuela da mano and lute, who performs medieval and renaissance music with his ensemble, LiveOak.

This is Turner's second CD of historical music. His 1997 CD, "Music in the Age of Jefferson," a collection of pieces by composers represented in Thomas Jefferson's music collection, was recorded in the Dome Room of the Rotunda at U.Va. Designed by the University's founder, Thomas Jefferson, one of the original uses of the Dome Room was as a place for musical performances.

Turner's recording company, PDI Recordings, Inc., returns over 10 percent of gross revenue from the sales of these CDs to preservation: at Montpelier, through the Friends of Montpelier Fund, and at the University, through Historic Preservation at the Office of University Development.


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