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The Confession of Isobel Gowdie

Duration:
1 hour, 30 minutes
First broadcast:
Sunday 28 February 2010

Stephen Johnson examines The Confession of Isobel Gowdie with its composer James MacMillan and looks at the impact of the composer's Scottish heritage on his work in general.

MacMillan's orchestral work, The Confession of Isobel Gowdie, brought the composer great critical acclaim when it was first heard at the Proms in 1990, since then it has enjoyed numerous performances all over the world. The piece was inspired by the tragic account of a young 17th century Scots woman who was burned as a witch after an improbable confession was extracted from her.
As Macmillan himself says of the work:
"Initially I was drawn by the dramatic and programmatic potential of this insane and terrible story but the work soon developed a far more emotional core as I attempted to draw together various strands in a single, complicated act of contrition. 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. To do this I Have tried to capture the soul of Scotland in music and outer sections contain a multitude of chants, songs and litanies (real and imagined) coming together in a reflective outpouring - a prayer for the murdered woman. This work is the Requiem that Isobel Gowdie never had."

In the course of the programme Stephen Johnson also explores the importance of the composer's Scottish heritage on his work, and looks at how Sottish themes and ideas have coloured his compositions.

The BBC Philharmonic present illustrations and give a complete performance of "The Confession of Isobel Gowdie" conducted by the composer.

The programme also features extracts from the follwing recordings:

Edward McGuire - Calgacus
Performers: Takup Yuasa; BBCSSO
Linn Records: CKD / 008 Tr.10

James MacMillan: The Beserking
Performers: Martin Roscoe; BBC Philharmonic
Chandos Records CHAN / 10092 Tr.2

Niel Gow: Dunkeld Bridge
Performers: The Whistlebinkies
Greentrax CD TRAX / 095 Tr.5

James MacMillan: Tryst
Performers: Joseph Swenson; Scottish Chamber Orchestra
BIS CD BIS CD / 1019 Tr.1

Traditional: Pi Li Li Lui
Peformers: Mary McMaster
Linn Records CKD / 008 Tr.5

James MacMillan: Tryst
Performers: Joseph Swenson; Scottish Chamber Orchestra
BIS CD BIS CD / 1019 Tr.1

Traditional: Stroudwater Psalm
Performers: Lewis Congregation and Donald Macleod
Greentrax CD TRAX / 9006 Tr. 3

James MacMillan: Mairi
Performers: Stephen Betteridge; BBC Singers
Chandos CHAN / 9997 Tr. 4.

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