James MacMillan's "The World's Ransoming" for Saturday, July 20, 2019
Many composers have produced works inspired by their deep religious faith: in the 18th century, the sacred music of the devout Lutheran church musician Johann Sebastian Bach being a notable example.
Even in our more secular age, this is sometimes the case. The contemporary Scottish composer James MacMillan’s works have explicit Christian themes, and, like Franz Liszt in the 19th century, MacMillan has even taken minor religious orders in the Roman Catholic Church.
On commission from the London Symphony, MacMillan wrote three interrelated orchestral works, two concertos and a symphony, all based on the Passion and Resurrection story. The first of these, entitled “The World’s Ransoming,” for English horn and orchestra, focused on Maundy Thursday of Holy Week, and was premiered at the Barbican Center in London on today’s date in 1996.
Of this piece, MacMillan wrote, “’The World's Ransoming’ includes musical references to [traditional liturgical] plainsongs for that day, as well as a Bach chorale … which I have heard sung in the eucharistic procession … The title of the piece comes from St. Thomas Aquinas's [Latin] hymn ‘Pange Lingua’”.
An English translation of part of the Aquinas hymn reads:
Sing, my tongue, the Savior's glory,
Of His Flesh, the mystery sing;
Destined, for the world's ransom,
From a virgin’s womb to spring.