The text of Christus vincit
comes from the Laudes regiae
or Royal Acclamations, in which the pope, king, queen and bishop would be acclaimed and placed under the protection of a particular saint in glorious ceremony which was common in the Middle Ages. It is a tradition which would have been used in Worcester, where these words were found in a medieval manuscript. Only the introductory words are set by MacMillan, however, and they concern only Christ himself—‘Christ conquers, Christ is King, Christ is Lord of all’—and act as a refrain throughout the Acclamations. MacMillan’s score turns its back on the pomp and circumstance attached to the original text, which is now treated in a more reflective manner, and with a Gaelic flavour which comes in the ornamentation of the vocal line. What was once a simple, punchy refrain is expanded both horizontally and vertically to become a massive statement of Christ’s glory and kingship.
Christus vincit was commissioned for performance at the St Cecilia’s Day Service in St Paul’s Cathedral, London, on 23 November 1994.
from notes by James Whitbourn © 2001