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MacMillan, James: Magnificat (1999) 14'
for SATB choir and organ

Music Text

1662 Book of Common Prayer (E)

Abbreviations (PDF)


This work is available from Boosey & Hawkes for the world.

World premiere of version

Cathedral, Winchester
Choir of Winchester Cathedral / David Hill

Composer's Notes

The Magnificat was commissioned by the BBC for the first choral evensong of the new Millennium, at Wells Cathedral. There are two versions, one for orchestra and choir and one for organ and choir. The choral writing is simple and homophonic, each phrase punctuated by an introspective instrumental echo. The music gradually builds to a joyous climax in the doxology.

James MacMillan

Reproduction Rights
This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer

Repertoire Note

Choral level of difficulty: 2-3 (5 greatest)

MacMillan’s large-scale festival settings of the Magnificat was commissioned by the BBC for the first Choral Evensong of the new Millennium. The choral style is simple and often homophonic (unusual for the composer) as in the celebratory Gloria. Much of the elaboration of the textual imagery occurs in the introspective, Messiaen-tinged non-choral episodes, evoking evening and birdsong.

The Magnificat is a large-scale work which is genuinely straightforward to sing. It lasts some 12 minutes, although when the organ accompanied version is used liturgically this reduces to about ten minutes as MacMillan has authorized a major cut from the introduction. The contrast between the colourful orchestral/organ interludes and the simple homophonic statements from the choir is marked. As so often in MacMillan’s music it all leads somewhere, however, and the build up towards the Gloria becomes intensely contrapuntal before the Gloria returns to the stark statements of earlier, but this time fortissimo. The work subsides to a meditative end.

Repertoire note by Paul Spicer

Recommended Recording

BBC Philharmonic Orchestra / BBC Singers / John Scott
Chandos CHAN9997 

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