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The Peaceable Kingdom

1936; a sequence of sacred choruses; commissioned in 1935 by the League of Composers for the Harvard Glee Club and the Radcliffe Choral Society
author of text

A commission from the League of Composers in 1935 led to the composition of The Peaceable Kingdom, scored for a cappella chorus. Thompson was greatly influenced by the eighteenth-century American artist Edward Hicks’s painting entitled The Peaceable Kingdom. The painting, reproduced on the cover of this booklet, portrays a child amongst a large group of animals serenely lying together as described in the book of Isaiah (11: 6–9, ‘The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid’, etc). Intrigued by this passage, Thompson studied the full book of Isaiah and from it selected eight texts referencing the themes of peace and good versus evil.

The choral cycle opens gently with a simple, hymn-like setting for men on the text, ‘Say ye to the righteous’ contrasted soon after by the declamatory ‘Woe unto the wicked!’. The text-settings throughout demonstrate Thompson’s penchant for mostly triadic harmonies, melodic sequences, imitative passages and quasi-Baroque ornamentations. The second movement, ‘Woe unto them’, is highlighted by alternating choral voices declaiming the text in recitative style, punctuated by tutti interjections on the word ‘Woe’.

The harmonic progressions in the third movement reference the Ecclesiastical modes (especially the Dorian) from the Renaissance, and again present the text in a declamatory manner, departing from the mostly triadic harmonies to add some dissonance in painting ‘they shall be in pain as a woman that travaileth’. The dramatic, imitative ‘Howl ye’ is contrasted by the quiet ‘The paper reeds by the brooks’, where the soprano melody is mirrored by the basses in contrary motion. Always tying his text to the underlying musical setting, the gently flowing melodic lines deftly paint the word ‘brooks’. For the final three movements Thompson reverts to a very straightforward neo-Baroque chorale style, employing simple diatonic triads and traditional harmonic progressions and utilizing a double choir in the final movement, ‘Ye shall have a song’.

Composed while the composer was in his mid-thirties, this oft-performed choral cycle displays Thompson’s careful attention to text-setting and his skill in composing for choral ensembles in a conservative style accessible to amateur singers and lay audiences.

from notes by Morten Lauridsen © 2008


Thompson: The Peaceable Kingdom & other choral works
CDA67679Archive Service


Movement 1: Say ye to the righteous
Track 1 on CDA67679 [5'36] Archive Service
Movement 2: Woe unto them
Track 2 on CDA67679 [2'20] Archive Service
Movement 3: The noise of a multitude
Track 3 on CDA67679 [2'08] Archive Service
Movement 4: Howl ye
Track 4 on CDA67679 [1'58] Archive Service
Movement 5: The paper reeds by the brooks
Track 5 on CDA67679 [2'59] Archive Service
Movement 6: But these are they that forsake the Lord – For ye shall go out with joy
Track 6 on CDA67679 [2'41] Archive Service
Movement 7: Have ye not known?
Track 7 on CDA67679 [0'36] Archive Service
Movement 8: Ye shall have a song
Track 8 on CDA67679 [5'04] Archive Service

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