The Kennedy Center

Randall Thompson



Biography

American composer Randall Thompson, born in New York City in 1899, had a long career as an educator and is best known for the choral Alleluia, heard at church services, choral concerts, and academic ceremonies. The son of an English teacher, Thompson grew up in an atmosphere that emphasized academic excellence, and while on summer vacations he became interested in an old parlor reed organ that lead to his earliest written works.

Entering Harvard University, Thompson was rejected for the Glee Club, causing him to spend much of his subsequent career attempting to strike back through his choral compositions.

In 1922 Thompson won a scholarship to the American Academy at Rome, returning to the United States later in the 1920s. Using a Guggenheim Foundation grant to examine the state of college music education, Thompson's published results in 1935 helped reset the collegiate agenda in music education.

Over his academic career Thompson taught at Wellesley, the University of California - Berkeley, the University of Virginia, Princeton, and Harvard, from which he retired in 1965.
Alleluia was written in 1940 for the opening of the Berkshire Music Center at Tanglewood. Among Thompson's other choral works were The Testament of Freedom in 1943, based on the texts of Thomas Jefferson, and Frostiana in 1959 on the texts of poet Robert Frost.

Although his writing for voice spanned his entire life, Thompson also produced three symphonies, two string quartets, and other instrumental pieces. His Symphony No. 2 was conducted by Leonard Bernstein in his first appearance as a conductor in 1931. Thompson also produced chamber and piano music and one short opera, Solomon and Balkis in 1942.

Despite criticisms as being sentimental and jingoistic, his choral works were more widely performed than any other American composer up to his time.
He died in 1964.

Randall Thompson