The coming week’s lectionary focuses on two particular passages from Isaiah. For this week’s writing, I went looking for musical settings of those scripture passages. What I found was, as is often the case, the adjacent possible: the connected, but distinct, random thing that is much better than what you originally set out to find.
What I discovered was Randall Thompson.
Ira Randall Thompson was born in New York City, April 21, 1899, and died in Boston, July 9, 1984. The son of an English teacher, Thompson studied music and composition at Harvard, and completed his doctorate at Eastman, where he studied with Ernest Bloch. Thompson’s most significant contributions were to undergraduate music, as a teacher, composer and administrator at the prestigious Curtis Institute of Music as well as at Harvard University. Though he composed symphonies, songs, operas and instrumental works, he is best known for his choral compositions, in particular, his Alleluia, which was commissioned by Koussevitzky and the Boston Symphony in 1940.
If you are familiar with choral music, this Alleluia will be immediately recognizable. It has glorious, soaring lines, which Thompson described as “introspective, (reflective of the passage in Job which says) the Lord gave, and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the Lord.”
Thompson’s attention to the selection and setting of the text, along with the sing-ability and beauty of each choral part, make his music rewarding to perform and to hear. His a’cappella work The Peaceable Kingdom is inspired by Edward Hicks’ famous painting. Thompson was drawn to the image of the wolf and the lamb, and chose texts from Isaiah to compose a song cycle reflecting on righteousness and wisdom.