Largs composer on penning piece of music for the Queen's funeral

Sir James MacMillan composed Who Shall Separate Us which was performed at the close of the service in Westminster Abbey.

Largs composer Sir James MacMillan on penning piece of music for the Queen’s funeral

A composer from Largs was commissioned by the Queen to write a piece of music for her funeral.

Sir James MacMillan, who had met the monarch several times, says he drew upon his childhood experiences of playing a cornet in an Ayrshire-based brass band when he was writing the piece, which was based on the late monarch’s favourite text.

Who shall separate us? was performed 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. It was written in 2011.

“For various reasons I had to pinch myself, it was in some ways an exhilarating moment for me personally but a very sad moment for everyone who had admired the Queen throughout her life,” he told STV News.

“I was over the moon, especially when someone told me there was a live worldwide audience of between four and five billion.

“That’s never happened before and probably won’t happen again. It was even on BT sport at one time – when does that ever happen? I’ve certainly never heard music on BT sport!” he added.

The choral work was set to a text from Romans 8.

“It was very special,” he added.

“I think it became apparent to the world that this was a Scottish queen who died. She loved Scotland and I got to meet her a few times which was very exciting.”

Sir James MacMillan's piece was commissioned by the Queen

This week, Sir James is presenting the world premiere of a further work, a new violin concerto he has written for Nicola Benedetti.

“I’ve loved James as a citizen of Scotland as a musician and composer for a long, long time,” Nicola said.

“We worked together first when i was only about 17, he wrote a much shorter piece called ‘From Ayrshire’ and the very first melody you hear in this incredible new violin concerto is actually a quote from that early piece, our first collaboration.”

Sir James added: I’ve known Nicola for a while and she’s a patron of the Cumnock Tryst which is my little music festival down in East Ayrshire. I know that I’m writing, not just for an instrument or a sound but for a person I know.”

The Cumnock Tryst music festival runs from the September 29 to October 2.

He said: “I knew a music festival in Cumnock would work because I remember the great enthusiasm and love that there was for music in the community.

“My grandfather was a coal miner, like many thousands of men in the area. But he played the Euphonium in colliery bands as a young man and he instilled a love of music in me.

“It was my grandfather who got me my first cornet and took me to my first band practices. And I suppose a way in the back of my mind is that subliminal sound of brass players.”

The commission of the funeral anthem sees James join a list of composers of royal funeral music stretching back in history to Morley, Purcell, Croft and Handel.

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