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Simon Holt

Publisher: Chester Music

The Coroner's Report (2004)
Commissioned by the BBC
Chester Music Ltd
Large Ensemble (7+ players)
Year Composed
18 Minutes
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Programme Note
Simon Holt The Coroner's Report (2004)
The Coroner’s Report is the second of three satellite pieces connected with my 2003 music-theatre piece Who put Bella in the Wych Elm?, which concerns a woman’s body found stuffed in a wych elm in the early 1940s by four boys out bird’s nesting. To this day, nobody knows who she was or why she was killed; it is still an open case.

This ensemble work, composed in 2004, is scored for alto flute (doubling piccolo), contrabassoon, horn, trumpet in Bb, harp, piano (doubling celesta), 2 violins and viola. It lasts approximately 18 minutes and comprises 8 exhibits: exhibits A to H.

Exhibit A is ‘a blue shoe’ (a blue crepe shoe was found near to the murder scene) and is a strange, slow moving dirge of 3 or 4 disjointed chords scored for the two wind and the two brass. Exhibit B is ‘gold ring’; scored for piano and celesta (one player); it is a wild and unleashed toccata; a gold ring was found in Bella’s mouth. Exhibit C is ‘buried hand’, scored for the wind and brass with a harp adding interjections; a hand was found buried close to the tree, which could be evidence of a black magic ritual. Exhibit D is ‘a scrap of taffeta’; there was a scrap of taffeta found in Bella’s mouth along with the gold ring. It is scored for both violins and harp. Exhibit E is ‘knife’; two thirds of the way through it, exhibit F, ‘throat’ for alto flute, begins. Exhibit G, ‘unmarked videotape’, is far and away the most complex and involved of the eight pieces and is scored for all the players. Exhibit H, ‘a sprig of belladonna’ is scored for solo harp, and emerges out of the residue of exhibit G.

The Coroner’s Report is dedicated to Laurence Crane.

© Simon Holt, Dec 2004

Holt's The Coroner's Report, an offshoot of his theatre piece Who Put Bella in the Wych Elm?, proved a gripping illustration of his style. Devised as eight 'exhibits' in the unsolved case of a woman's body found stuffed into a tree in the 1940s, the work seemed to invent not only new gestures, but new instruments. The piccolo/viola 'knife' duet was searing as one has seldom heard searing. As for the rippling 'gold ring' toccata for piano/celesta - Rolf Hind playing both at once! - it had the sort of magical novelty with which the celesta must have struck early listeners to Tchaikovsky's The Nutcracker. This was the Dance of the Sugar-Plum Murderee.
Paul Driver, The Sunday Times,27/02/2005
Rolf Hind played the piano with his left hand and a celeste with his right… the exertions seemed appropriate to this riveting, chilling ensemble piece.
Geoff Brown, The Times,22/02/2005
A murder in the V&A. At lunchtime! The Coroner's Report is a compelling piece of work. It turns each of the exhibits mentioned by the coroner - severed hand, gold ring, and so on - into furious outbursts showcasing each instrument in turn. In fact one player, the heroic Rolf Hind, was required to play the piano frenetically with his left hand while dazzling on the celesta with his right. (What a pity the severed hand wasn't available to help out.) I found its dark, almost sadistic mood gripping…
Richard Morrison, The Times,08/09/2004
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