Journal Article

Crucifixion in the Concert Hall: Secular and Sacred in James Macmillan's <i>Passion of St John</i>

Hugh S. Pyper

in Literature and Theology

Volume 23, issue 3, pages 344-355
Published in print September 2009 | ISSN: 0269-1205
Published online July 2009 | e-ISSN: 1477-4623 | DOI:
Crucifixion in the Concert Hall: Secular and Sacred in James Macmillan's Passion of St John

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James MacMillan's Passion of St John is a prime exemplar of the issues that can arise when a sacred text is presented in a secular space. MacMillan takes not only the text of the Gospel but the liturgical experience of the Good Friday liturgy into the concert hall. This raises the question of how the audience is expected to react to the performance. A particular problem arises from the inclusion of the Improperia, or Reproaches, a text which has been a point of controversy between Jewish and Christian interpreters and which makes direct demands upon its audience and their response. The argument of this paper is that MacMillan's setting characteristically intensifies the challenge and presents the choice between belief and unbelief as a choice between an ethical and an aesthetic reaction to the Christian story. This is a common but misleading polarisation accepted by both secular and religious critics. Each group present their own attitude to the text as morally superior to that of their opponents. Kierkegaard's view that the religious is to be distinguished from both the ethical and the aesthetic, and that the key moment is that of humour, may offer another model for dialogue between the secular and the religious in public discourse.

Journal Article.  5327 words. 

Subjects: Literature ; Religion and Art, Literature, and Music

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