(Archbishop) Oscar Romero of El Salvador, trans. Julian Filochowski (E), Psalm 31: 13, 14
Choral level of difficulty: 3 (5 greatest)
This work commemorates an extraordinary priest. Blessed Oscar Romero, Archbishop of San Salvador, who was murdered while celebrating Mass in March 1980. He campaigned against social injustice and the violence of the Civil War in his country and this put him at odds with the right-wing Arena party who it is thought ordered his assassination. MacMillan was commissioned by Westminster Abbey for this work celebrating the centenary of Romero’s birth. The text is taken from his final homily in the Basilica del Sagrado Corazón right in the centre of San Salvador where, on that morning, protesters had occupied the cathedral. It begins ‘I would like to make a special appeal to the men of the army. Brothers, each one of you is one of us. We are all the same people. Before any order to kill a man may give, God’s law must prevail – ‘Thou shalt not kill’. And yet, kill they did.
The work is scored for up to eight voices and organ. It begins with a phrase reminiscent of the chant for the Credo sung by a tenor soloist and after a short organ continuation the tutti tenors and basses repeat the phrase fortissimo a tone apart. That MacMillan is deeply moved by this text is obvious from the emotional response in his music. There are several strepitoso (impetuous) markings which reflect the urgency and the anguish while the point in the text where he muses on the ‘whispering of many…as they scheme together to take my life’ moves from misterioso to battering chords from the organ and a powerful full choir singing the opening ‘Credo’ motif. The beautiful use of the soprano voices singing a random entry, familiarly ornamented phrase, ‘In the name of God’ while the lower voices intone quietly is deeply affecting. The choir stops abruptly as the organ interrupts with a violent interjection mirroring Romero’s execution. The final exhausted phrase ‘Stop the repression’ feels like Romero’s final words, and the organ pedals’ open fifths at irregular intervals see the his life ebbing away to its close.
This is a powerful and very special work which will affect all who perform and hear it. It is not especially difficult for many choirs and would make a really effective concert piece or a powerful anthem for Remembrance Sunday in place of the ubiquitous ‘Greater Love’ by Ireland, however special that work may be.
Repertoire Note by Paul Spicer