Year: June 2017
Instrumentation: Chamber Sextet of Piccolo/Flute, B. Clarinet, String Quartet
Performance History: Written for The Assembly Project as part of the St. Magnus Composer’s Course in Orkney. Premiered in St. Magnus Cathedral, 21/06/17.
In the 1600s Presbyterianism arrived in Ulster as Scottish Presbyterians emigrated to Ireland to escape the persecution of a period known as ‘The Killing Times’. One of the more well-known accounts of this period is the martyrdom of Margaret Wilson and Margaret MacLauchlan, who were drowned in the bay at Solway Firth on May 11 th , 1685. Colloquially, they are often referred to as the Wigtown Martyrs. In a swathe of executions across Scotland, this event stood out for its particularly cruel method, and the vulnerability of its victims. The elderly widow MacLauchlan was bound to a stake further out in the bay, so that Wilson, who was still a teenager, could watch her drown from a stake closer to shore. Despite the anticipation of a slow, creeping death from the rising tide, neither woman recanted. Wilson in particular has been memorialised because of her youth, she is the subject of John Everett Millais’ painting ‘The Martyr of the Solway’. Her four older brothers were among those who escaped to Ireland, and Margaret’s bravery has long been celebrated by churches who have their historical roots in the Scottish Covenanters.
My piece is a reflection on the unfolding drama of this incident. The two wind instruments are pitted against the ever-expanding string chords that eventually overwhelm them both. Melodies are characterised by a breathless and panicked character, with occasional elements of resolved bravery in the face of death. It is a harrowing depiction, but not devoid of hope. The title of this work draws on the pictorial nature of the sacrament of baptism. Baptism is a death – the believer dies with Christ, and is raised to a new life, free from the punishment and power of sin. The resurrection of these two martyrs is not described, but as the sound of the sea slowly retreats the words of the apostle John might be recalled. ‘Then I saw a new heaven and a new earth… and the sea was no more.’ Revelation 21:1
Awards: First Prize in the 122nd Feis Ceoil Chamber Ensemble Composition Competition and winner of the Eric de Courcy Cup Mar 2018. Adjudicator: Eric Sweeney.
Artist Russell Gilmour produced four paintings in response to this piece, one of which is shown below.
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