The term ‘tone poem’ would be relevant in describing this work as it is a response to the island of Islay, (off the west coast of Scotland), which is in no way programmatic but rather an outpouring of subjective perceptions of physical beauty. My most evocative memory of the place was of walking along the south coast of the island from port Ellen towards Ardtalla on a blazing hot Sunday morning.
Along the road one sees great standing stones dating back to the Bronze Age, evoking images of a primitive and pagan past, alongside the more recent carved stones and crosses of early Celtic Christianity. All this was seen through an almost Mediterranean’ heat haze which cast warm colours over the starker images on the road to Ardtalla. This visit to Islay was made in July 1983 and all these memories – heat, sun, sea, tenderness, peace, green land, the beloved, distant mountains, quietness, soft Gaelic speech, whisky, physical reminders of cultural heritage – all these combine to provoke a musical language which is lyrical, gestural and impressionistic.
© James MacMillan
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