Silent Song: James MacMillan – Cantos Sagrados

If Good Friday is emotionally draining, Holy Saturday feels emotionally empty, numbed and spent. i never quite know what to do with myself on this awful day; everything, somehow, feels wrong, trivial or stupid. i imagine i’m not alone in this; perhaps it’s this feeling that explains the general liturgical silence draped over the day (the Dutch very appropiately call today ‘Stille Zaterdag’, ‘Silent Saturday’). One of the few composers to have confronted this kind of void, and—more importantly—the human motivations that cause it, is James MacMillan.

While not a directly Holy Week composition, i find his piece Cantos Sagrados (Sacred Songs) to be powerfully appropriate at this time. The piece explores three poems by Ariel Dorfman, depicting the horrors of political repression and the mysterious, appalling ‘disappearances’ of political prisoners. The last of the three, entitled ‘Sun Stone’, recounts the execution of such a prisoner, and is especially powerful when viewed in light of Christ’s own execution, which in many ways was no less political. MacMillan makes the connection explicit by including the part of the Creed that refers to Christ’s Crucifixion, using it to frame the piece. If it’s not a contradition in terms, the sense i get from this piece is of a music that “fuels silence”.

This piece can be found on MacMillan’s own recording performed by the marvellous vocal group Polyphony, in 1994. The CD also includes his very thought-provoking Seven Last Words from the Cross, but Cantos Sagrados is the real highlight on the disc.

Posted on by 5:4 in Lent Series, Seasonal
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