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James MacMillan: Funeral anthem for Queen Elizabeth II
The State Funeral of Queen Elizabeth II in London included the first performance of a specially composed anthem by James MacMillan, Who shall separate us? The Choirs of Westminster Abbey and the Chapel Royal sang the choral work at the end of the service, conducted by James O’Donnell.
A new choral score by leading Scottish composer James MacMillan was included in the Order of Service for the State Funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II on 19 September 2022. Who shall separate us? was sung for the first time at the close of the service in London, before the final blessing, the sounding of the Last Post and National Anthem.
The funeral anthem was especially commissioned for the service by the Dean & Chapter of Westminster and composed by MacMillan in 2011-12, seeing him join a list of composers of royal funeral music stretching back in history to Morley, Purcell, Croft and Handel. MacMillan’s new anthem received its first performance from the combined Choirs of Westminster Abbey and His Majesty’s Chapel Royal, St. James’s Palace, conducted by James O’Donnell.
James MacMillan comments: “I was deeply honoured to be invited to write this new anthem for the funeral of Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II. She was a constant presence in my life and an inspiration to countless millions across the globe.”
“We were always made aware of the Queen’s deep religious faith in Jesus, and astonished by her ability to speak thoughtfully and persuasively to many different kinds of people about it in her Christmas addresses. This beautiful text from Romans 8 was suggested to me as an anthem setting for her funeral, and it cuts straight to the core of the Queen’s relationship with Christ. I have rarely reflected and meditated on a text so much in its setting and in the aftermath of its composition.”
The New Testament texts from St Paul’s Epistle to the Romans speak of the spiritual power of Christ’s love to transcend all barriers. From its calm, meditative opening the anthem builds to radiant Alleluias and a tranquil final Amen.
Who shall separate us from the love of Christ? Neither death, nor life, nor angels, nor principalities, nor powers, nothing present, nor things to come, nor height, nor depth, nor any other creature, shall be able to separate us from the love of God, which is in Christ Jesus our Lord. Alleluia. Amen.
An alternative text from the Book of Revelation is available to replace the Alleluias during the penitential season.
Who shall separate us? is scored for unaccompanied SATB choir with divisi. It is published by Boosey & Hawkes and available both in physical and digital format from The Shop at Boosey.com and other music retailers. The premiere recording of the anthem was released by Decca in December 2022, performed by Voces8.
> Listen to the Voces8 recording on Spotify
James MacMillan is one of the world’s leading choral composers, whose output embraces sacred and secular, ancient and modern, meditative simplicity and rich ornamentation. Works range from unaccompanied gems such as O Radiant Dawn and The Gallant Weaver, through pieces established in the chamber choir repertoire including Tenebrae Responsories, Miserere and the 40-part motet Vidi aquam, to major statements with orchestra including Seven Last Words from the Cross, Quickening and the St John Passion. Recent large-scale scores with choir include St Luke Passion, Stabat Mater – the first work to be live streamed from the Sistine Chapel in 2018, Symphony No.5: ‘Le grand Inconnu’ and the Christmas Oratorio, acclaimed at its first performances last year in Amsterdam and London.
Two of James MacMillan’s works were performed at the Edinburgh service of thanksgiving for the Queen on 12 September: Offertorium for organ and the Strathclyde Motet Mitte manum tuam (Stretch forth your hand), sung by the choir of St Giles’ Cathedral. In addition to the newly unveiled funeral anthem, the composer’s other commissions for royal events have included a Fanfare for the historic reopening of the Scottish Parliament by the Queen in 1999 after an interval of 292 years. The composer’s community music festival in the Ayrshire town where he grew up, The Cumnock Tryst, runs 29 September to 2 October this year. MacMillan received a CBE in 2004 and was knighted in 2015.
> Further information on James MacMillan
> Explore James MacMillan’s music with our Choral Guide
> Listen to our MacMillan choral playlist on Spotify
> Read about The Queen, composers and royal memories
> View the full Order of Service for the State Funeral
> Further information on Work: Who shall separate us?
Photo: Jane Bown/The Observer