Thompson designed these works to be gracious for the singer and accessible for his audiences, writing mainly conjunct vocal lines and employing part-writing and voice-leading principles derived from models of both sixteenth- and eighteenth-century polyphony. Avant-garde developments and experiments in vocal-writing held no interest for him—in a speech given in 1959 extolling composers to write for amateur choruses he expressed his opinion that contemporary compositional techniques involving irregular rhythms and a pervasive use of dissonance and chromaticism were less than suitable for choral music. Thompson was content instead in expressing his musical ideas through more traditional, time-tested and conventional means. Within these self-imposed constructs he was able to compose choral works that are marked by skilful craftsmanship, a pervasive singability and uncommon beauty.
Randall Thompson began his higher education at Harvard University in 1916. Although his student application to join the Harvard Glee Club was unsuccessful (certainly an irony given his later history as a composer for the choir), he was able to come under the tutelage of the Glee Club’s conductor, Archibald T Davison, who guided Thompson’s early efforts in composition with a concentration on composing for chorus. Like many American composers of his generation, Thompson then travelled to Europe for further study, settling in at the American Academy in Rome where he composed his first important work, the five Odes of Horace in 1924.
Upon returning to the United States, Thompson received his first academic appointment as assistant professor of music at Wellesley College, where he conducted the choir and taught organ. He remained in academia for his entire career, teaching at a number of universities including Berkeley, Princeton, the University of Virginia, and Harvard. For two years he was director of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where among his students and assistants were Leonard Bernstein and Samuel Barber. During his long academic career Thompson assumed an important leadership role in developing the curriculum for the teaching of music at American universities.
from notes by Morten Lauridsen ©
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Alphabetical listing of all musical works
|At the last, tenderly First line to The last invocation (Thompson)|
|But these are they that forsake the Lord – For ye shall go out with joy Movement 6 of The Peaceable Kingdom (Thompson)|
|Fare Well (Thompson)|
|Have ye not known? Movement 7 of The Peaceable Kingdom (Thompson)|
|Howl ye Movement 4 of The Peaceable Kingdom (Thompson)|
|Mass of the Holy Spirit (Thompson)|
|Say ye to the righteous Movement 1 of The Peaceable Kingdom (Thompson)|
|The last invocation (Thompson)|
|The noise of a multitude Movement 3 of The Peaceable Kingdom (Thompson)|
|The paper reeds by the brooks Movement 5 of The Peaceable Kingdom (Thompson)|
|The Peaceable Kingdom (Thompson)|
|Woe unto them Movement 2 of The Peaceable Kingdom (Thompson)|
|Ye shall have a song Movement 8 of The Peaceable Kingdom (Thompson)|