Scottish composer reveals 'almighty row' over his setting for the papal Masses in Glasgow and Birmingham

Scottish composer James MacMillan has claimed that Church liturgists tried to stop his Mass setting from being performed for the Pope last month.

He said an “almighty row erupted behind the scenes” after he submitted the setting earlier this year and it was passed on to Church officials who disliked it.

According to Mr MacMillan, they complained that the setting was “un-singable”, “not fit for purpose”, and “not pastoral enough”. They were unhappy that it required a competent organist.

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But they were overruled after Mr MacMillan contacted Scotland’s bishops, who had commissioned the setting, and all but one of them gave him their support.

He wrote on his Telegraph blog: “The bishops didn’t know anything about [the row] – until we raised it with them. Obviously, not having heard the music, they were in a quandary. What if the ‘liturgists’ were right? What if the new music couldn’t be sung by ordinary people?

“But they had put their faith in me, knowing what I had done for the Church so far… I was contacted, separately, by four members of the Scottish hierarchy, directly or indirectly. The one who phoned me allayed my fears and confirmed their full support.”

He added: “Only one of them seemed to have fallen to the subterfuge of the ideologues, and he sent me an upsetting letter.”

Mr MacMillan said that he and his publishers were “astonished” by the row. He said: “In all their years of facilitating the commission of new music, Boosey and Hawkes had never dealt with such rudeness and shoddy behaviour.

“They were deeply shocked; and I was embarrassed because of how my Church was being seen by my professional representatives and colleagues,” Mr MacMillan said.

The new setting was performed at Bellahouston Park, Glasgow, and Cofton Park, Birmingham, and followed the new translation of the Mass.

It was sung by choirs of 800 and 1,200 and accompanied by timpani and brass. Any parish can perform the setting as long as it has an organ.

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