LOVE IN THE POST – Peter Coyte

Original Review by Alan RogersLove

The 2014 film Love In The Post, directed by Joanna Callaghan, is inspired by the book The Post Card: From Socrates to Freud and Beyond by French philosopher Jacques Derrida. The book (published in 1980) is divided into two halves, and first half contains a series of love letters by Derrida. In one of these letters he recounts the experience of seeing a card reproduction of a medieval depiction of Socrates taking dictation from Plato. The philosopher speculates on what Plato may be doing behind Socrates’ back, leading Derrida to wonder: “…imagine the day, when we will be able to send sperm by post card.” As with the book, which combines elements of fact and fiction, Callaghan’s film combines the stories of a professor of literature (an authority on Derrida and whose university department is about to be closed), a film director trying to complete a film about The Post Card and filmed extracts from interviews with real-life scholars of Derrida.. For the film’s protagonists, a series of letters act as a catalyst to events that will change everyone’s lives.

From the film’s reviews it seems that it is a difficult film to access, particularly for those with no prior knowledge of Derrida and his philosophical opinions. The score, however, is immediately accessible and is written by British composer Peter Coyte. Although Coyte has written a number of scores for the screen (including a couple of projects directed by Joanna Callaghan), he may be better known for his music for theatre. Having just finished working on a theatre adaption of Molière’s comedy of manners, The Misanthrope, where Coyte had composed a Baroque score, both composer and Love In The Post director Callaghan were keen to explore the use of Baroque-styled music for this movie. Therefore, the music relies heavily on a small ensemble of instruments: cello (Thomas Gardner), trumpet (Steve Waterman) and keyboards (Coyte). Budgetary constraints meant that, in order to give the score the period feel, the composer had replicate medieval lute and guitar on virtual instrument keyboards (which sound remarkably good).

Coyte’s score is based around musical ideas and textures for the various characters of the film. Having originally conceived the score to be based around the viola da gamba and the lute, Coyte asked the cellist to play the cello with the viola da gamba in mind. To my ears, Gardner does an excellent job and, in tracks such as “Love Letters” and “The End of a Life”, the cello has a soft quality that is a good approximation of the timbre of the viola da gamba.

The score opens with “Love In The Post – Main Theme”, and a lovely Baroque-style melodic line on lute. It’s a bright start to the score but it’s not long before this lightness is reined in by a counterpoint played on the cello/viola da gamba. A solitary trumpet then joins the duo, replacing the solo strings as the dominant musical presence. It’s an excellent opening. The score is at its brightest when the lute is featured. The short “Love As A Universal Phenomenon” is a nice injection of light that, despite the Baroque style being prominent, is remarkably introverted and bleak. Coyte’s writing for the trumpet goes a long way to giving the score this dark aspect. The solo trumpet opening of “Love Letters” is such a cold sound: the way in which the instrument is played and with the very slow tempo and elongated tones is very effective and the presence of restrained lute and deliberate cello adds to this feeling of desolation. This very effective combination of instruments crops up throughout the score (e.g., “Letters”). A dirge-like quality to the trumpet in “Surveillance” gives such an oppressive feel that’s it’s difficult to imagine any happiness in the scene for which it is written.

“Love Letters” – the track of longest duration on the album – is a highlight of the score despite its dark opening. With such a negative beginning, the only way is upwards for the track and the latter half of the cue features such a lovely (though still a relatively sad) cello melody. There’s a nobility to the string playing here as the cue subtly increases in intensity. But the cue stops abruptly before things can get too upbeat.

Pacing is an important aspect of Coyte’s score. The measured and deliberate tempo of cello and lute in “The Bodleian” give the cue a restrained track that is actually quite frustrating. The obvious Baroque styling here from the cello and lute shout out for the tempo to be much quicker. However, Coyte slows things down to an almost snail’s pace. “The End of A Life” is another track where the pace is slowed and the addition of a trumpet ostinato accentuates this feeling of lethargy. “The End of A Life” is sandwiched between two tracks where the generation of texture in the score is at its most obvious. “Envois, Part 1” and “Envois, Part 2” use sustained sparse synth tones to create a relatively static dreamy ambience. Being of a very low register, these textures reverberate within the soundscape which leads into the dirge-like trumpet of “Surveillance” mentioned earlier.

After the score finishes (“Love In The Post – End Titles”) the score features an alternate theme (“Love In The Post – Theme (Alternate)”). This is an interesting insight into the writing process for the film as it’s a track quite unlike anything heard in the rest of the score, despite featuring lute and cello. There’s a much fuller sound (tremolo strings in the background) and a Thomas Newman-like melody is played on lute and guitar. Accordion and organ join the lute, building the track up to give a much more optimistic feel to the music. I assume that this treatment did not end up in the final film but it would be interesting to know the backstory to this particular piece.

Love In The Post is an excellent little score – despite the feel of the music being particularly gloomy overall. I am particularly fond of the Baroque period in classical music and so was immediately drawn to the score from the opening cue. And my interest was maintained throughout. As far as the sound of the score is concerned, I was surprised to learn that the lute and guitar were virtual instruments and I am impressed how innovative Coyte is in achieving the sound he wanted with only a limited budget. I would certainly recommend this to anyone with an interest in smaller-scale film scoring and to those keen to hear how much can be achieved in a score with limited resources. Listening to Peter Coyte’s music on Soundcloud I am hoping that more of his music becomes available to purchase but, in the meantime, I hope people will check out this album.

Rating: ***½

  1. Love In The Post – Main Theme (2:40)
  2. The Stamp Centre (0:45)
  3. Theo’s Theme (2:07)
  4. Love As A Universal Phenomenon (0:51)
  5. Love Letters (3:34)
  6. Life Inside of Me (1:31)
  7. Envois, Part 1 (1:48)
  8. The End of A Life (1:07)
  9. Envois, Part 2 (1:00)
  10. Surveillance (2:09)
  11. The Bodleian (1:05)
  12. Letters (2:14)
  13. Love In The Post – End Titles (2:36)
  14. Love In The Post – Theme (Alternate) (1:56)

Running Time: 25:30

Peter Coyte (2015)

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