The National Endowment for the Arts’ American Masterpieces: Choral Music initiative is designed to celebrate our national musical heritage by highlighting significant American choral composers and their works of the past 250 years. Stanton’s Sheet Music is proud to present this series highlighting the composers and their works featured in this groundbreaking project.
Randall Thompson (1899-1984) was the pre-eminent American choral composer of an earlier generation. His music, though grounded in traditional European rules, always seems very much of its time and place, perhaps because he frequently drew upon the early folk music of New England and the Appalachian region.
He was a Yankee by heritage, born in New York City to a New England family. His father was an English teacher, and sent him to Harvard University where he studied choral music and composition. After graduation he had some private lessons with Ernest Bloch. He won the Prix de Rome in 1922. After studying abroad he returned to the U.S. and spent the rest of his career teaching at various universities, most notably at his alma mater Harvard from 1948 to 1965. Among his most famous students were Leonard Bernstein and Lukas Foss.
Although Thompson wrote piano music and songs, chamber music and symphonies, and even a Biblical opera, it is for his exceptionally apt choral music that he has remained most admired. His “Alleluia,” written in 1940, quickly became a staple of church choirs in towns big and small and was recorded over a dozen times in the next few decades. Thompson seemed to understand by the 1950s that his style was no longer in vogue in academia; from then on he concentrated his efforts upon community, church, and college choir ensembles – and with enthusiasm, not regret.
Among his most famous larger works are The Peaceable Kingdom, The Testament of Freedom, and Frostiana, each of which evokes stirring elements of the American experience, whether in sound, structure or textual inspiration.