Randall Thompson (1899 – 1984) is one of the most widely performed twentieth century American choral composers. He once said: “A composer’s first responsibility is, and always will be, to write music that will reach and move the hearts of his listeners in his own day”. The reason Thompson was and is so successful at reaching and moving the hearts of those who have heard his music can be attributed to his skill as a composer, his abiding interest in the text, and his respect for both performers and audiences.
The Last Words of David was commissioned in 1949 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra to celebrate the twenty-fifth anniversary of Serge Koussevitsky as its musical director. The text source is from the Old Testament and was selected by the composer while reading a Gideon Bible during a hotel stay.
Alleluia, probably the best known and loved of all Randall Thompson compositions, was written for the opening of the Berkshire Music Center in 1940. Expecting a piece that would be a joyful choral fanfare, the Center received instead this masterpiece of introspection. Alleluia reflects Thompson’s concern over circumstances in Europe, particularly the fall of France. His textual inspiration came from Job 1:21: “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”
Frostiana: Seven Country Songs utilizes the poetry of Robert Frost and was premiered in Amherst, Massachusetts in 1959 with Randall Thompson conducting and Robert Frost in the audience. Frost was so enthusiastic about the music that at the end of the performance, he leaped from his seat and shouted to the performers, “Sing that again!” This recording includes four selections from this American classic.
The Peaceable Kingdom had its first performance in Cambridge, Massachusetts on March 3,1936. It stands as a benchmark in American a cappella choral literature for its colorful and expressive text painting, mastery of compositional technique, and broad emotional scope. The subject and style of the work emerged from the composer’s impressions after viewing a painting by Edward Hicks entitled “The Peaceable Kingdom.” The painting depicts and quotes Isaiah 11:6-9: “And the wolf will dwell with the lamb. For the earth will be full of the knowledge of the Lord as the waters cover the sea.”
The Testament of Freedom was written in 1943, during the heart of World War II. Composed for the University of Virginia Glee Club in honor of the two hundredth anniversary of the birth of the university’s founder, Thomas Jefferson, this work provided Thompson with the opportunity to make a positive statement during the war. Choosing texts from the writings of Mr. Jefferson, Thompson composed a work that created great national pride at a time of world conflict. The chorus performs movements I and IV, utilizing texts written by Jefferson as a young idealistic thirty-one year old in 1774, and in 1821, when at the age of 78 he continued to hold on to his dream of life and liberty.
A critic once said of Randall Thompson that he was “a composer more often performed than honored.” It is our belief that perhaps the most meaningful way to honor a composer is to perform his music. To that end we hope to honor the memory of this significant and unique American composer in this recording of some of his finest music.
Notes by Michael O’Neal
1. The Last Words of David
3. Frostiana: The Road Not Taken
4. Frostina: The Pasture
5. Frostina: A Girl’s Garden
6. Frostina: Choose Something Like a Star
7. The Peaceable Kingdom: Say ye to the righteous
8. The Peaceable Kingdom: Woe unto them
9. The Peaceable Kingdom: The noise of a multitude
10. The Peaceable Kingdom: Howl ye
11. The Peaceable Kingdom: The paper reeds by the brook
12. The Peaceable Kingdom: For ye shall go out with joy
13. The Peaceable Kingdom: Have ye not known?
14. The Peaceable Kingdom: Ye shall have a song
15. The Testament of Freedom: The God who gave us life
16. The Testament of Freedom:I shall not die without a hope
© 1998 aca Digital Recording, Inc. CM20065 [Total Time 53:55]
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