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MacMillan, James: O bone Jesu (2002) 10'
for chorus a cappella

Music Text

Anon, 16th century (L)

Abbreviations (PDF)


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

World Premiere

Southwark Cathedral, London
The Sixteen / Harry Christophers

Repertoire Note

Choral level of difficulty: 5 (5 greatest)

The work was commissioned by The Sixteen for a programme that paired it with Robert Carver’s setting of the same text. MacMillan, like Carver, employs silences after each repetition of the word ‘Jesus’, creating a penitential fermata which in the 16th century setting would have allowed time for the bowing of heads by the congregation.

This reflective work has the challenging nature relished by professional choirs, but is without the extreme demands of a score like Màiri. The emphasis here is on textures. These are solo lines, duets and more developed contrapuntal textures interspersed by rich, quiet chordal phrases emphasizing the spiritually ecstatic nature of the text. MacMillan has an uncanny ability to extract the essence of words and translate this into musical terms that both clarify and amplify the text. Right from the start the lyrical lines in this work possess an ancient feel which summons memories of chant, of medieval secular music, of renaissance polyphony and other sources which well up through the music. This is a grateful score for singers and audiences alike and the composer’s religious conviction adds a commanding weight to the work.

Repertoire Note by Paul Spicer

Recommended Recording

The Sixteen/Harry Christophers
Coro COR 16069

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