James MacMillan on faith and music

Scottish Catholic composer James MacMillan, who is the composer of some of the music to be used at Pope Benedict’s visit to UK which begins tomorrow (see our earlier story), talks about faith and music at The Guardian.

5 comments

  1. It’s instructive that a composer who has had complex works performed by some of the world’s leading orchestras considers the responsorial psalm one of the hardest things to compose. I wish more possessed this insight.

  2. In terms of the musicality, it’s something like composing an original work for Itzhak Perlman and a second rate community orchestra. You have to make the fundamental elements of the work simple enough to be grasped readily by amateurs (or in the case of the responsorial Psalm, less than amateurs) while keeping the work musically worthy of it’s purpose.

    It’s not all that difficult to write a responsorial Psalm that “works”… one which the people can sing easily. It’s an entirely different thing to write one that is worthy of the Word of God. That’s where many, many settings fail. MacMillan’s settings of the Psalms (and the Mass setting for the Papal visit) are glorious and achieve this goal.

    1. JESUS: Let us sing Psalm 24 to tone 1.
      PETER: Again?
      JOHN: Lord, let us sing the Magnificat to tone 8. Your mom’s best work.
      MARY: Surely it would please your father.
      JESUS: Later. That goes flat this early. [SINGS] “The earth is the Lord’s…”
      [LIGHTNING AND THUNDER]
      FATHER: THAT IS NOT WORTHY OF OUR TEXT, MY SON
      JESUS: Sorry, dad. We’re doing the best we can with what we have.
      FATHER: TRY SOMETHING LIKE DURUFLE’s UBI CARITAS

  3. This ought to lay to rest any worry or presumption that an acclaimed professional composer must by nature be out-of-touch with the needs and capacities of worshipping congregations. I hope some visionary publisher of Catholic liturgical resources swings a savvy deal to make Dr. MacMillan’s music readily accessible to parishes in my neck of the woods.

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