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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Beatus Vir for chorus and organ (withdrawn)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.


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


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.


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

...as 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


for clarinet and string quartet (or string orchestra)

Divo Aloysio Sacrum 

for choir and organ (optional)


for 3 oboes or 3 saxophones


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


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


for piano

...here 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.


for voice and piano


for orchestra


for string quartet

Christus Vincit 

for unaccompanied choir

White Note Paraphrase 

for organ

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.


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


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


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.


for brass quintet and optional percussion

Quickening (1998 version) 

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


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


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

Symphony No.3: 'Silence' 

for orchestra

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