Randall Thompson

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. But Randall Thompson’s Alleluia is almost the opposite of an “alleluia.”

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.

Randall Thompson was famous, and wrote in a medium that was his specialty. Yet now his 1958 masterpiece Requiem is having to be saved from decades of obscurity by The Philadelphia Singers. The Philadelphia Inquirer's David Patrick Stearns found out why such a resurrection was necessary.

Randall Thompson's Alleluia, performed by Voices of Ascension, Dennis Keene, conductor, is featured on CD 2 in the WRTI 60th Anniversary Classical 3-CD set.

From Randall Thompson, then Director of the Curtis Institute of Music, Serge Koussevitzky wanted a choral fanfare, loud and festive, for the opening of the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. But Thompson couldn’t do festive, not in July 1940. Evil was spreading in Europe, and France had fallen the month before.

Over five days Thompson 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 slow and insistent six-minute layered intoning of “Alleluia,” ending in “Amen.” It’s an atypical fanfare, but the Thompson Alleluia is one of the most beloved choral works of all time.

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