James MacMillan: Symphony no 3 "Silence"

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Media: CD
Genre: Classical
Catalogue Number: CHAN 10275
Label: Chandos
Released: 22nd February 2005

Works
Symphony no 3 "Silence"
Composer: James MacMillan (1959 - )
   Notes:  no notes
   Conductor: MacMillan, James - Ensemble: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
   Soloist: n/a - Instrument: n/a

The Confession of Isobel Gowdie
Composer: James MacMillan (1959 - )
   Notes:  no notes
   Conductor: MacMillan, James - Ensemble: BBC Philharmonic Orchestra
   Soloist: n/a - Instrument: n/a

The reason for the immense success of The Confession of Isobel Gowdie lies partly in the passionate involvement of the composer in his subject matter. MacMillan had been disturbed by accounts of the executions of alleged 'witches' in his native Scotland after the Reformation, where it is estimated that around 4,500 Scots, most of them women were murdered for being 'in league' with the Devil.

In 1662 a woman named Isobel Gowdie was induced under torture to confess to all manner of diabolical acts, for which she was strangled and burned at the stake. In the published score MacMillan wrote:
"On behalf of the Scottish people, the work craves absolution and offers Isobel Gowdie the mercy and humanity that was denied her in the last days of her life. This work is the Requiem that Isobel Gowdie never had".

The work is comprised of a densely textured and often violent middle part (vividly suggestive of trial, torture and mass hysteria), framed by two ravishingly beautiful elegies in the old Lydian church mode. Throughout, MacMillan makes ingenious use of chant as a unifying force. two ravishingly beautiful elegies in the old Lydian church mode.

The title of MacMillan's Symphony No. 3 "Silence" (2002) is something of a riddle: how can music express or portray silence? Certainly Western classical composers have used silence to great effect, but MacMillan is thinking less of dramatic effect than of theological concept: what happens when God himself falls silent? For many modern believers, faced with the atrocities of the Holocaust, Stalinism or the Cambodian Killing Fields, the problem of God's apparent non-intervention is acute. This theme is central to the novel 'Silence' by the twentieth-century Japanese writer Shusaku Endo, a novel with which MacMillan had already been deeply impressed when the commission for a new orchestral work came from the NHK Symphony Orchestra of Japan (jointly with the BBC Philharmonic)

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