The World's Ransoming

James MacMillan (1959)

The World's Ransoming 1995-1996

2(I,II=picc).1.corA(obbligato).2(II=bcl).2(II=dbn)-4.2.3.0-timp.perc(1): crot/t.bells/2go-go bells/2tpl.bl/2bongos/lg tam-t/sm tam-t(or gong)/5tom-t/SD/lg sizzle cym/lg splash cym/lg plywood cube-strings
Duration 
21
Genre 
Publisher 

The World’s Ransoming is the first of three interrelated works forming a triptych, commissioned by the London Symphony Orchestra. The second work is a Cello Concerto for Mstislav Rostropovich and the third work a large symphonic score Symphony: Vigil , conducted at its premiere by Rostropovich. All three relate to the events and liturgies of the Easter Triduum, Maundy Thursday, Good Friday and the Easter Vigil.

The World’s Ransoming focuses on Maundy Thursday and its musical material includes references to plainsongs for that day, Pange lingua and Ubi caritas as well as a Bach chorale (Ach wie nichtig) which I have heard being sung in the eucharistic procession to the altar of repose. The cor anglais part emerges from the orchestra to carry the lamenting ritual through a long, slow and delicately scored introduction and then through a process of metric gear-changes as the music becomes more animated.

Although the music is through-composed and seamless, a series of trios emerge to carry the music forward. The cor anglais is first joined by a pair of bassoons, then a pair of cellos and later two horns, two percussionists, two piccolos and, briefly, two violins. The impetus of this 20 minute work grows cumulatively with a sense of urgent anticipation involving an increasingly violent and dramatic interplay of materials, taken from their liturgical sources. After the upheaval the music eventually subsides, the cor anglais returning to its original long, slow keening melody while the orchestral context shifts its perspective. Bleak, wooden percussive sounds finally manage emerge to bring the music to a close, while also setting the scene for the next piece in the cycle, the Cello Concerto.

The title came about through reflection on the melody and words of St Thomas Asquinas’ hymn, Pange lingua:

Of the glorious Body telling,
Oh my tongue, its mysteries sing,
And the Blood, all price excelling,
Which the world’s eternal King
In a noble womb once dwelling,
Shed for the world’s ransoming.

James MacMillan

(This programme note can be reproduced free of charge in concert programmes with a credit to the composer)

Comments 

First part of the orchestral triptych Triduum

Performances 
11.7.96: Barbican Hall, London: Christine Pendrill/London Symphony Orchestra/Kent Nagano
2/3.6.16 Santiago de Compostela, Spain: Esther Viúdez/Real Filarmonia de Galicia/Paul Daniel
10.6.16 Munich, Germany: Munich Radio Orchestra/Paul Daniel
2
Flute
both doubling piccolo
2
Oboe
2nd obbligato cor anglais
2
Clarinet
2nd doubling bass clarinet
2
Bassoon
2nd doubling contrabassoon
4
Horn
2
Trumpet
3
Trombone
1
Timpani
1
Percussion
crotales, tubular bells, 2 go-go bells, 2 temple blocks, 2 bongos, large tam-tam, small tam-tam (or gong), 5 tom-toms, side drum, large sizzle cymbal, large splash cymbal, large plywood cube
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