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MacMillan, JamesThe Company of Heaven (1999) 30'
for children's voices (in 2 parts) and organ, with optional wind band and carnyx

Music Text  
John Bell (E)
Abbreviations (PDF).

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

Composer's Notes  
Company of Heaven was a response to a request from Partick 2000, a grouping of churches and community organisations in the Partick area of Glasgow, to celebrate the Millennium. It is a setting of a specially composed text by John Bell for children’s voices and organ, with ad lib sections for wind band and carnyx solo. (The carnyx is an ancient war-horn used in Scotland at the time of Christ.)



The vocal setting is simple and strophic, with an episodic structure. It begins with the younger voices singing a Kyrie Eleison. This provides underlay, over which the older voices sing the first section of the text. Out of this emerges the carnyx, processing in towards the stage. Various techniques, pioneered by John Kenny, are employed, Some of the main themes are alluded to along with open-air hunting calls, but a lot of the music is based on the various onomatopoeic and zoomorphic characteristics of the instrument.

Gradually, the other wind instruments enter with fanfares and ‘birdcalls’ which lead to a loud punctuation point and a sudden halt. The voices reappear, and we gradually hear the other main themes presented and repeated in juxtaposition.

Eventually, an exultant Hosanna gives way to another instrumental interlude. More fanfares are blared out by the band and organ. They eventually subside, leaving the carnyx audible for its second solo. Gradually it leaves the hall. The voices reiterate a few more verses of the text before a final, serene Alleluia, once again sung by the younger voices.

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: 1-2 (5 greatest)

Written as a Millennium celebration piece for churches and community organizations in the Partick area of Glasgow, this work is another example of MacMillan responding imaginatively to the needs of the community. This gebrauchsmusik element in MacMillan’s output is critical to his function as a composer and is part of what makes him so valuable, and such a particular asset to his community in Scotland. The ability to write well for young people – not to ‘write down’ or patronize them, is a rare one. Britten had a genius for it and MacMillan also demonstrates intuitive skill.

The Company of Heaven
is fun for the performers with the additional colours of wind instruments and the carnyx (an ancient war-horn used in Scotland at the time of Christ) who all enter after the piece has started and gradually take over the central part of the work. The voices re-emerge and all join together for loud Hosannas. Soon afterwards, the band and carnyx leave the hall again and the work ends by the older voices singing a text based on the title words and then the serene singing of an Alleluia by the younger voices.

An ideal, straightforward project for a community group looking for something slightly unusual but with drama and newsworthiness.

Repertoire Note by Paul Spicer




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