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James MacMillan Timeline

A year by year alignment of MacMillan's life and works

For works published by Boosey & Hawkes, links are provided to useful information including scorings, durations and repertoire notes.



Born 16 July at Kilwinning in Ayrshire, Scotland, son of a joiner and a teacher (later social worker)


The family moves to Cumnock where he attends the local Roman Catholic School


Tuition in piano and trumpet soon leads to earliest compositions, including a small piano piece and some orchestral music


Attends secondary school at Cumnock Academy where his musical activities embrace Renaissance church music. Meets future wife Lynne


Studies music at Edinburgh University where Rita McAllister introduces him to Stravinsky, Webern, Messiaen and 20th century Russian music


Begins postgraduate composition studies at Durham University with John Casken, and through ethnomusicology develops interest in gamelan


Returns to Ayrshire working as a part-time teacher. Starts playing and singing Scottish and Irish folk music. Local political and welfare activities during miners’ strike.

Beatus Vir for chorus and organ (withdrawn)

The Road to Ardtalla for chamber sextet

Three Dawn Rituals for chamber ensemble

Wedding Introit for organ

Sets The Tryst by William Soutar in the style of an old Scots ballad; the melody is to be a source of inspiration in many future works



St Anne's Mass for unison voices and organ (or piano)

Takes up a lecturing post at Manchester University

Festival Fanfares for brass band

Two Visions of Hoy for solo oboe and ensemble

Awarded doctorate from Durham University. His music is performed for the first time at the Musica Nova festival in Glasgow.

Untold for wind quintet (1987, rev.1991) 

Returns to Scotland and settles in Glasgow, heralding an extremely creative period. Catholicism and political concerns meet in Búsqueda, a turning point in the composer’s output. Collaborations with the Scottish Chamber Orchestra begin through educational projects.

After the Tryst for violin and piano

Búsqueda for speaker, actors, sopranos and ensemble

Into the Ferment for ensemble and orchestra

Variation on Johnny Faa' for soprano, flute, cello and harp

Visions of a November Spring for string quartet (1988, rev.1991) 

Composer-in-Residence at the St Magnus Festival, Orkney, where Tryst is premiered by the SCO under Paul Daniel. Teaches his first composers’ course on Hoy with Peter Maxwell Davies. Tryst selected for broadcast by International Rostrum of Composers.

Tryst for orchestra


Cantos Sagrados for choir and organ or orchestra

The Exorcism of Rio Sumpúl for mixed ensemble or chamber orchestra

The Proms premiere of The Confession of Isobel Gowdie with the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Jerzy Maksymiuk is a momentous success, and its telecast boosts composer’s profile throughout UK. Búsqueda is performed at the Edinburgh Festival with Diana Rigg. Featured composer at Musica Nova in Glasgow where The Berserking is premiered by Peter Donohoe.

The Berserking Concerto for piano and orchestra others see us... for mixed ensemble


Sowetan Spring for wind band

Catherine's Lullabies for choir, brass and percussion

Conducts The Confession of Isobel Gowdie with Philharmonia Orchestra in London and is subsequently appointed Visiting Composer. Tuireadh, written in response to the Piper Alpha oilrig disaster, is premiered at the St Magnus Festival by the Allegri Quartet and James Campbell. Featured composer at Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival. Records the old Tryst song with his heroes of folk music, the Whistlebinkies. Attends performance of John Clifford’s play Inès de Castro and begins planning an opera.

Scots Song for soprano and quintet or piano

Tuireadh for clarinet and string quartet (or string orchestra)

Divo Aloysio Sacrum for choir and organ (optional)


Intercession for 3 oboes or 3 saxophones

Sinfonietta for orchestra or chamber orchestra

Tryst tours England on the Contemporary Music Network. First recordings of The Confession of Isobel Gowdie and Tryst released on Koch Schwann: the disc wins a Gramophone Award. Writes Veni, Veni, Emmanuel for percussionist Eveyln Glennie which is premiered to great acclaim at the BBC Proms. Launches the Philharmonia’s Music of Today series of early evening concerts in London, developing his interest in music beyond the central European mainstream, including Celtic, Nordic and Far Eastern composers, and those emerging from behind the former Iron Curtain.

Veni, Veni, Emmanuel Concerto for percussion and orchestra

Barncleupédie for piano

So Deep for choir with optional oboe and viola solos

Visitatio Sepulchri for 7 singers and chamber orchestra (1992-93) 

Featured composer at the Edinburgh Festival with 18 works performed, including premiere of Epiclesis by trumpeter John Wallace, a double-bill of Búsqueda and Visitatio Sepulchri, and Sinfonietta and The Confession of Isobel Gowdie conducted by Leonard Slatkin. Attends staged performances of Búsqueda in Wiesbaden. Recording of Veni, Veni, Emmanuel, the first under a new contract with BMG, wins Classic CD Award and Koch Schwann disc of The Confession of Isobel Gowdie and Tryst wins Gramophone Contemporary Music Record of the Year Award.

Kiss on Wood for violin or cello and piano


Angel for piano in hiding... for 4 male voices or unaccompanied choir

They saw the stone had been rolled away Fanfare for brass and percussion

Memoire imperiale for orchestra

Seven Last Words from the Cross Cantata for choir and strings


Travels to hear German premiere of Veni, Veni, Emmanuel with Sian Edwards conducting the Berlin Radio Symphony Orchestra, and first US performances with Mstislav Rostropovich conducting the National Symphony in Washington and the Cleveland Orchestra under Jahja Ling. On the strength of the work, Rostropovich asks MacMillan to write two scores: a cello concerto for him to play and a symphony to conduct. Seven Last Words from the Cross televised nightly through Holy Week on BBC TV, and premiered complete in Glasgow. The overture Britannia receives over 30 performances by UK orchestras in the 1994/95 season.

Ballad for voice and piano

Britannia for orchestra

Memento for string quartet

Christus Vincit for unaccompanied choir


Adam's Rib for brass quintet (1994-95)

North American performances of Veni, Veni, Emmanuel with Evelyn Glennie during 1995/96 include New York Philharmonic (Slatkin), Boston (Ozawa), Milwaukee (Elder), Toronto (Saraste), Philadelphia (Andrew Davis), Detroit (Järvi), St Louis (Alsop), Los Angeles (Gershon), plus performances in Netherlands, France, Sweden, Denmark, Czechoslovakia, Japan and Australia. Conducts all-MacMillan concert in Gdansk including new version of Tuireadh with string orchestra.

Màiri for 16-part unaccompanied choir

Seinte Mari moder milde for choir and organ

The Children for medium voice and piano

A Different World for violin and piano

Inés de Castro Opera in two acts (1991-95)

Premieres of The World’s Ransoming, the first of a triptych of commissions from the London Symphony Orchestra, and Inès de Castro by Scottish Opera at the Edinburgh Festival. The opera is a public success, but proves controversial for its blending of traditional narrative structure with postmodern musical style. Choreography of Confession of Isobel Gowdie by Mark Baldwin. Rostropovich is soloist in the Cello Concerto, with the LSO conducted by Sir Colin Davis.

The World's Ransoming for orchestra, with concertante cor anglais (1995-96)


A Child's Prayer for two treble soloists and unaccompanied choir

The Galloway Mass for unison voices, choir (or cantor) and organ

The Halie Speerit's Dauncers for children's choir and piano


Ninian Concerto for clarinet and orchestra

Í (A Meditation on Iona) for strings and percussion

Veni, Veni, Emmanuel reaches 100th performance in five years since its premiere. Celebrates anniversaries of St Ninian and St Columba with Ninian for clarinetist John Cushing, and Í (A Meditation on Iona). Fourteen Little Pictures premiered by György Pauk, Ralph Kirshbaum and Peter Frank. Featured composer at Bergen Festival. Premiere of Symphony ‘Vigil’, conducted by Rostropovich, completes the LSO’s Triduum series. 20 works performed at Raising Sparks festival in London, named after song cycle for Jean Rigby and Nash Ensemble.

Fourteen Little Pictures for piano trio


The Gallant Weaver for unaccompanied choir

Lumen Christi for piano

Symphony: 'Vigil' for orchestra

The Prophecy  for children's choir or high voice and instruments

Raising Sparks Four songs for mezzo and ensemble

Why is this night different?  for string quartet

Changed for mixed chorus, organ, harp, string trio or any three like instruments

Birthday Present for piano solo

A New Song for SATB chorus and organ

Premieres of Why is this night different? by Maggini Quartet, and orchestral version of Cantos Sagrados.

Exsultet for brass quintet and optional percussion


Quickening for soli (ATTB), chorus, children's chorus and orchestra

Cello Sonata No.1 for cello and piano

The Company of Heaven for children's choir, organ, wind band and optional carnyx

Cumnock Fair for piano sextet, or string orchestra and piano

Heyoka Te Deum for 3-part treble voices, flute, tubular bells and piano

Magnificat for choir and organ, or orchestra

Symphony No.2 for chamber orchestra

For Ian for solo piano

Mass (Original version) for choir (SATB) and organ

Nunc Dimittis for choir (SATB) and organ, or orchestra

Parthenogenesis Scena for soprano, baritone, actress and chamber ensemble

From Galloway for solo clarinet

Northern Skies Album of easy pieces for cello and piano

Cello Sonata No.2 for cello and piano

in angustiis... I for piano solo

in angustiis... II for solo soprano, oboe or cello

The Birds of Rhiannon Tone-poem for orchestra with optional chorus

Tremunt videntes angeli for choir a cappella (SATB)

Te Deum for choir and organ

Dutch Carol for unison treble voices and piano

A Deep but Dazzling Darkness for solo violin, ensemble and tape (2001-02)

For Neil for piano solo

25th May 1967 for piano solo

O bone Jesu for chorus a cappella

To My Successor for chorus a cappella


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