Many of Scottish composer James MacMillan’s most essential works are influenced by his Catholic faith, and thematically focused on a theological expression of Incarnation and suffering worked out through a dissonant musical style. MacMillan has developed a robust public discourse that includes statements about his faith and the way it informs his music, and his forthright demeanor has often provoked tension with various figures and groups. This article suggests that these two forms of conflict—discordance in his composition, and elements of conflict in his public dialogue—are both driven by a Marian theology of Incarnation that provides the impetus both for what he says, and what he composes.

Employing both an extended examination of instances of conflict of MacMillan’s public discourse, as well as close musical analysis of motivic devices in two of MacMillan’s sacred works, Seven Last Words from the Cross and St Luke Passion, this article unveils the robust Marian theology driving all of MacMillan's forms of communication. It provides a new clarity to MacMillan’s life and work, not subdividing his public engagement from his creative expression, but seeing both as driven by the same theological lodestar, and a desire to communicate that theology through any available medium, creative or otherwise.

Author Biography

Joel Clarkson has recently completed a PhD in theology at University of St Andrews in Scotland. His research centers on the way systematic and liturgical theology informs, and is expressed in, the music of contemporary composers of sacred music. He is particularly interested in the reception of the theology of Pope Benedict XVI in the writing of 21st-century Catholic composers. His scholarship in theology and sacred music emerges from over a decade of experience as a composer, orchestrator, and conductor, for film, TV, and sacred music. He has written widely within the sacred music genre, from Mass settings to ancient Christian hymns, and is especially focused on composing liturgical music for use in the worship of various Christian traditions.

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