Reviving Baroque at Mottisfont

An ensemble of musicians perform around a harpsichord in the red room at Mottisfont, Hampshire

On the first May Bank Holiday weekend we were privileged to have students from the University of Southampton Baroque Ensemble visit Mottisfont’s Red Room to perform works by Telemann, Rameau, Couperin and other eighteenth century composers.

It was a really beautiful performance by some talented musicians, and could be heard throughout the whole house. This was rather fitting really, after we’d recently been informed of a quote in Maud Russell’s unpublished diaries where on Tuesday August 6, 1968 she writes:

" Sydney [Newman] remained at the Couchet-Taskin and the Kirkman [harpsichords] till tea. I love the sound coming tinkling down the passages, completing in some sort of way a feeling already in all the rooms and passages of the house."
- Maud Russell, August 6, 1968

The event had been organised in order to complement our new interpretation currently on display throughout the show floor. Alongside Kate Hawnt, PhD student at the University of Southampton, we have worked to develop a new layer which delves into the life of Raymond Russell, youngest son to Maud and Gilbert Russell.

Whilst the interpretation spans much of Raymond’s life, a large focus is on his musical career and his collection of 17th and 18th century clavichords and harpsichords.

Raymond Russell was a leading figure in the early 20th-century harpsichord revival
An old photograph of Raymond Russell at the harpsichord
Raymond Russell was a leading figure in the early 20th-century harpsichord revival

So it would appear that “sound tinkling down the passages” would have been commonplace at Mottisfont during this time; and that’s why it was really important that part of this new interpretation brought music into the house.

We’ve borrowed a beautiful single-manual harpsichord for a year from local instrument maker Michael Johnson, which was made as a homage to Raymond’s favourite instrument, the Couchet-Taskin which Maud references in the diary entry above.

After Raymond died, Maud invited Michael to Mottisfont to advise on the maintenance of some of the instruments Raymond left behind, and during one visit Maud allowed him to take measurements from the Couchet-Taskin. Michael has used these measurements as the reference point in his workshop ever since.

Since putting Michael’s harpsichord in the Red Room, we’ve found out from previously unexplored archives that Maud did in fact keep one of Raymond’s harpsichord in this room. Great minds think alike!

Part of the performance was filmed in order to create a short video which will be used as part of an AHRC-funded project ‘Music, Home and Heritage: Sounding the Domestic in Georgian Britain’. The aim of their project is to get music back into historic houses and domestic spaces and to explore the interpretive possibilities this brings. You may have seen some of the fantastic work they’ve been undertaking at The Vyne.

On 23-24 May we’ll be bringing the house to life with music once more, with a visit this time from students from the Royal College of Music. They’re visiting us as part of a Heritage Lottery funded Music Roadshow and they’ll host a pop-up exhibition, their curator will give a behind-the-scenes talk and students will perform a lunchtime concert.