UPDATED WITH AUDIO: On hearing Sir James Macmillan’s “A European Requiem”

UPDATE 8 Aug 2017

MacMillan’s piece is first up.  Then at about 42:45 Beethoven’s 9th starts.


Originally Published on: Aug 7

Would that I were in London and able to attend the Proms.  I would have very much enjoyed hearing the premiere of Catholic composer Sir James Macmillan’s A European Requiem.  I’ve just finished watching the BBC archived broadcast.  Whew.

If you want more on Macmillan and this piece, may I direct you to Damien Thompson (a darn good music critic, if you ask me) who wrote about it at The Spectator?  I can quite easily believe that the nattering radio commentators didn’t have clue.  Damien called the new piece “gloriously subversive”.   Surely he is right.  This “Requiem” is for Europe, and Europe’s Western Civilization.

It even has a counter-tenor.

Damian found the right word: lament.  What it sings and sounds indeed brings on the pensivehead.  It seems to be too late for Europe.  Whatever else might be over there across the herring pond, in a few decades Europe, as described by, for example, Joseph Ratzinger, may be no more.

Damian points out the irony of the new composition’s juxtaposition with Beethoven’s 9th Symphony (think unofficially canonized EU anthem).


About Fr. John Zuhlsdorf

Fr. Z is the guy who runs this blog. o{]:¬)
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  1. Gripen says:

    A link, a link! My kingdom for a link!

  2. Liam says:

    Here is a link. Forward to about 1:05


  3. Gripen says:

    Thanks for the link, Father.

    Currently listening to it. My thoughts so far are variations on a theme of, “What a massively ugly piece”, and I’m looking forward to the Beethoven. But then, I’ve always preferred beautiful, melodic music, of the sort MacMillan rarely composes.

    You might enjoy listening to some pieces by Tonu Korvits if you like modern religious music. Antony Pitts and Bob Chilcott have some nice pieces, too.

  4. PTK_70 says:

    Still early…..but it’s rather frenetic and tense for my taste. Might this actually accompany celebration of Holy Mass according to the usus antiquior? I mean, is that what the composer had in mind?

  5. Mario Bird says:

    I feel like I’m listening to the soundtrack of Peter Jackson’s adaptation of Lord of the World.

  6. jilly4life says:

    There are some really pretty sections with the acapella choir and the Lux Aeterna is pretty good, but overall, it is a jarring piece. I was just going to declare that I like the last 15 minutes better than the first, but then the luceat section burst in. Not that I can complain, I sang Stephen Paulus’ “To Be Certain of the Dawn” a Holocaust Oratorio, it too has some pretty section, but is mostly framed around similarly harsh musicality. It reminds me much of 20th century full orchestra music, especially that which was written after the first World War. I much prefer Arvo Part (umluat omitted) if I am going to listen to music written in an extremely modern style.

  7. clarinetist04 says:

    Love the exposed contrabassoon lines. But can’t envisage this in the context of an actual mass. It’s like feeling sorry for the victims of WWII after listening to Penderecki’s “Threnody” – it’s hard to get over feeling sorry for ones ears first.

  8. TonyO says:

    clarinetist04 is right: a lament is supposed to make you feel sorry, but not about listening to the music. The sorrow might be WITH the music, but never ABOUT the music.

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