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The Pearl of Scotland by Helen MacKinnon was inspired by the extraordinary character of Saint Margaret, Queen of Scotland, with a reflection on Margaret’s early years. Helen wrote the work in 2023 following a pilgrimage to Belgium, where she had the honour of carrying a relic of Scotland’s great Saint.

The musical dedication reflects the 'feminine genius' (ref. St John Paul II) of Margaret’s character: her generosity of spirit, deep faith and devotion to the poor and pilgrims in Scotland; her dedication as a mother and wife; and her regality, which saw her supporting her husband’s rule while advancing the promotion of arts, education and religious reform in Scotland. 

The work premiered in March 2024 by EUMS Symphony Orchestra conducted by Will Conway.

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The work begins with an unfolding of musical ideas, an ‘awakening’, as a young Margaret and siblings leave England during a time of politic turmoil. Finding themselves shipwrecked off the coast of Scotland, they settle in the country that was to become home. Pedal notes and drones set the scene, as glimmers of youthfulness and brightness emerge and interplay with brief, resolving tensions.

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Reflecting the vitality of Margaret, the piece continues with an energetic Scottish flair with melodic elements based on the ninth-century hymn, set to Gregorian chant, 'Veni, Creator Spiritus' (Come, Holy Spirit, Creator Blest). The chant served as a foundation for the work and features in many forms to reflect the role of the Holy Spirit working in all aspects Margaret’s life.

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Known for living austerely and serving others, Margaret carried out her duties with unwavering focus, underpinned by a liberated sense of self that enabled her to fulfil many demanding roles faithfully. As the work unfolds, Margaret’s transition to her new regal duties is reflected in the stately brass and percussion, building to a triumphant close that gestures towards her Queenship, and now Sainthood.

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