A Quiet Alleluia, Famous for 75 Years

RandallThompson480[First published in WRTI’s Arts Desk…]

In this week in July of 1940, one of the most-loved and most-sung choral works, written by a composer living in Philadelphia, was premiered in western Massachusetts. I look at how Randall Thompson’s Alleluia is almost the opposite of an “alleluia,” and why.

 

From Randall Thompson, the composer who was then the Director of the Curtis Institute of Music, conductor Serge Koussevitzky requested a loud and festive choral fanfare. It was to open the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood.

But this was July 1940, and Thompson couldn’t do festive, not then. Evil was spreading in Europe in a world war America was debating whether to join; France had fallen the month before. So what did Thompson compose?

Over five days he took the word “Alleluia”—literally, “Praise the Lord”—and turned it on its head, just as (he said later) it is in the Book of Job: “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Thompson calls this a sad piece, this six-minute slow and insistent layered intoning of “Alleluia,” ending in “Amen.” It’s about the last thing you’d think of composing for an alleluia or for a fanfare. But Alleluia by Randall Thompson is one of the most beloved choral works of all time.

[For more on the 75th anniversary of the Thompson Alleluia, visit the Arts Desk at wrti.org.]

 

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s