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A decade ago MacMillan composed a response to the Easter Story in his Seven Last Words of Our Saviour from the Cross, a work for SATB choir and strings premièred by the gifted Glasgow-based early music ensemble Cappella Nova. More recently, his symphonic triptych or Triduum, celebrating by turns Maundy Thursday (his Cor Anglais Concerto The Soul's Ransoming), Good Friday (the Cello Concerto) and Easter Sunday (his Symphony, entitled Vigil) has drawn attention to the centrality of Christian belief and ritual in his own life and thinking.

Other sacred settings have since followed with increasing regularity : Christus Vincit, an unaccompanied 8-voice setting for St Paul's Cathedral in London; A Child's Prayer (for Westminster Abbey in cluding two treble solo parts); Seinte Mari Moder Milde, MacMillan's setting (with organ) of 13th century texts for the service of Nine Lessons and Carols at King's College, Cambridge; Divo Aloysio Sacrum (SATB, with optional organ); and A New Song, an unaccompanied psalm setting.

Furthermore, Ayrshire-born MacMillan also set to with a will to produce two congregational settings of the Mass, one (The Galloway Mass, for unison congregation with SATB choir) for Ayr's Cathedral of the Good Shepherd; the other for St.Anne's Church, also in Ayr.

And this year, MacMillan has made two major contributions to liturgical setting : his Magnificat, a BBC commission composed to celebrate the new millennium, received its orchestral première at Wells Cathedral early in the year; and next week, on Saturday July l5th during evensong at Winchester Cathedral, his Nunc Dimittis receives its world première, together with the Magnificat, newly heard in the alternative version with organ, conducted by David Hill.

Was it inevitable MacMillan would be drawn to the Mass and to the liturgy itself?

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Copyright © 6 July 2000 Roderic Dunnett, Coventry, UK



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