the cmrc blog
Shandy Hall I: Coppel – a narrative.
This blog describes a short film carried out in a collaborative project between Roger Marsh, Carmen Troncoso and Lynette Quek
With thanks to Patrick Wildgust and Chris Pearson, from Shandy Hall.
You may have visited or heard about ‘Shandy Hall’… in the village of Coxwold on the edge of the North Yorkshire moors? Well, I will provide a brief introduction, since it is important for me that you familiarise yourself with this special location and its creative potential.
In this house, Coxwold’s vicarage, built probably around 1430, lived the Anglo Irish writer Laurence Sterne. He lived there as vicar of Coxwold from 1760. As described on ‘The Laurence Sterne Trust’ webpage, the house was christened “Shandy Hall” – the word ‘shandy’ being a dialect word for ‘crack-brained’ or ‘odd’ – by Sterne’s friends, celebrating Sterne’s success as a writer after having published the first two volumes of his The Life and Opinions of Tristram Shandy, Gentleman. He lived there until his death in 1768 and he wrote the subsequent seven volumes of Tristram Shandy and A Sentimental Journey through France and Italy’. The thing is that this house is linked with the three anecdotes related to this blog’s topic – Words and Music – that I will share.
The first story, Shandy Hall I, began when I was searching for a place – a unique, out of the ordinary, unusual place – to create a story-telling film around a piece by Roger Marsh called Coppel written between 2016-2017 as part of my PhD project. The piece is for one recorder performer playing a basset, a tenor, a treble, one or two sopranos and a sopranino and reciting the poem ‘Arte poética’ by the Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro.
You may ask yourself about this word, ‘Coppel’. It was while researching the origins of the recorder and its use that I came across the word. A ‘coppel’ was described by Sebastian Virdung in his Musica getutscht. A treatise on musical instruments (1511) as follows:
You need to know that one generally makes four recorders in one chest, or six together, which is called a “coppel”: two discants, two tenors, two basses.
Six centuries later, David Lasocki, a central figure in recorder research, interpreted Virdung’s explanation as follows:
We know from Virdung that by his time four to six recorders were generally put together in a case called a coppel: two discants, two tenors, and two basses. (David Lasocki, 2011)
Taking into consideration both explanations and accepting the resultant ambiguity, I decided to include both meanings – a recorder consort (or a set of recorders) and a[n old] recorder case – to contextualise a new project: COPPEL. I imagined a case for recorders abandoned somewhere, found empty but with the recorders’ slots in it, and thought that there was something interesting and poetic in the image. I carried on searching for information about cases for recorders and realised I wasn’t the first person wanting to know about them. David Lasocki compiled a listing of inventories and purchases of flutes, recorders, flageolets and tabor-pipes between 1388-1630, and, one of the personages that caught my attention was Petrus Alamire – best known as a music calligrapher, but also a singer, composer and spy, perhaps even a wind player – who in 1553-34 would have provided the town of Mechelen with a coker jluyten (case of recorders). Where is that case? I wondered… Which recorders did it store? In the article Renaissance recorders and their makers, again Lasocki but now with recorder maker Adrian Brown stated that:
The least disputable source of information about the composition and pitch of sets of recorders is their cases – of which eight examples have survived from the 16th century, six still containing some or all of their original instruments.
…Ah! The idea of these mysterious cases acts as an inspirational object. I needed a coppel…urgently…but where could I find one? Nowhere…it was better to craft an imaginary one (thank you dear Carlos, You, skilled craftsman!!!), which turned out to become protagonist of the film.
Picture of Coppel in Shandy Hall.
Now, let’s go back to the creation of the piece Coppel, composed by Roger Marsh. When we began our collaboration, we talked about the idea of a new work for several recorders which could convey the idea of ‘a never-ending-register recorder’. That is to say, we wanted a multi-recorder piece in which the need to change the instruments to pass from one register to another would be somehow hidden, faked, so that the new instrument would appear magically in the performer’s hands. We wanted to make possible the impossible! An ideal performance situation, which is helped by the score’s indications of several spins that the recorder performer must do in all the places where the change of instrument is required, providing a suitable situation for creating the effect of a magic swap. Moreover, the different recorders’ lines develop a music that goes continuously upwards, with all the instrumental transitions thoroughly written to give the impression of continuity.
But what about the words?
The poem ‘Arte Poetica’ by Vicente Huidobro was added along the way and accompanies the scenes. The tone of the poem in its Spanish-original version acts as a “spell”, which, together with the sounds, would have ‘the power’ to awaken the coppel-case and its memories. The English translation that I propose attempts to convey that spell-tone:
‘Arte Poética’ (1919)
By Chilean poet Vicente Huidobro (1893 – 1948).
Translation: Carmen Troncoso
Let the verse be like a key
That opens a thousand doors.
A leaf falls; something flies by;
All that which the eyes may see,
And the listener’s soul to remain trembling
We are in the cycle of nerves.
The muscle hangs,
Like a memory, in museums.
Nonetheless, we do not have less strength:
The true vigour
Resides in the head.
Why singest thou the rose? Oh Poets!
Make it bloom in the poem;
Only for us
Live all the things under the Sun.
There is a closer relation between the content and meaning of this poem – its idea of trespassing the ‘possible’, proposing a new reality, a ‘truly new thing’, as an example of ‘Creationism’, a literary movement initiated by Vicente Huidobro around 1912 – and the core compositional idea of Coppel of creating a work for an imaginary recorder with an extended voice.
Thus, having all the ingredients (the instruments, a case and a special score) for what aspired to be an enchanting outcome, we set out to film ‘the story of the coppel’. First, we needed to place it in the perfect room where it could be discovered and awoken, so that it would release all the memories embodied in it transferring them to the recorders, whose voices would express them. For that, I found the perfect place: if you live in York, you may know Bootham Bar, the oldest of the city’s four defensive bastions, with some of the stones dating to the 11th century. If you go upstairs, you find a peculiar room which houses the portcullis. I put the coppel there, and it did look abandoned, as well as puzzling, enigmatic. The film Coppel. A narrative begins there, with a long, low A (LAAAAAAAAAAAAAA) both calling the coppel and being called back by it. Then, once time awakens, the scenes move to Shandy Hall, where the memories are released and where the coppel finally stores them (the recorders) in its slots. The film Coppel can be watched here.
Shandy Hall is a place with huge scope for the imagination. During this filming and among these museum objects and Sterne’s characters, appeared the protagonist of the following anecdote, in Shandy Hall II: a picture of Maria, the damsel who ‘is sitting upon a bank playing her vespers upon her pipe, with her little goat beside her’.
But that’s a very different story…