Author Topic: Randall Thompson(1899-1984): forgotten American composer?  (Read 5457 times)

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Offline Dundonnell

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Randall Thompson(1899-1984): forgotten American composer?
« on: September 16, 2011, 04:54:21 AM »
There have been a few-but very few-references on here to the American composer, Randall Thompson.

Thompson was a distinguished academic who served as Director of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia from 1939-41 and was Professor at Princeton, 1946-48 and at Harvard from 1948 until 1965. His pupils at Harvard included Leonard Bernstein.

Thompson wrote a substantial body of choral music, with which I am not familiar. Nor do I know whether much or indeed any of it is still sung in the US (Karl....?).
He wrote almost entirely to commission, claiming that this provided both the incentive and the discipline best suited to his composition.

I do know Thompson's three symphonies however. The First was the final product of a Guggenheim Fellowship and was premiered in 1930 conducted by Howard Hanson. It is an interesting work with clean, lean textures influenced by the composer's three years in Italy as a Fellow at the American Academy in Rome. Thompson had frequently visited Malipiero during that period and there are certainly some resonance of Malipiero in the symphony. It is on a Koch cd coupled with some Morton Gould with the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra under James Sedares.

The Second and Third Symphonies were recorded on another Koch cd with the New Zealand SO under the late Andrew Schenck. The Second was also recorded by Neeme Jarvi with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra for Chandos coupled with some music by George Chadwick.

The Second is probably Thompson's most popular symphony(or at least, best known!). Composed in Switzerland it too was first conducted by Howard Hanson in 1932. It is a delightful, tuneful, almost Schubertian piece in which Thompson used the symphony orchestra with a trademark discretion and good taste. I actually prefer the Third Symphony of 1949. It rather sank without much trace after its premiere and there is no doubt that, by the standards of the time, it is an old-fashioned composition but it does fizz along with an infectious energy which is never less than cheerful and uplifting.

I am certainly not going to claim that Thompson was a great American symphonist. He pales in comparison with people like William Schuman or Walter Piston and he is definitely no Roger Sessions ;D  But if you like the symphonies of Roy Harris, Howard Hanson or Paul Creston Thompson might be worth a go.

cilgwyn

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Re: Randall Thompson(1899-1984): forgotten American composer?
« Reply #1 on: September 16, 2011, 05:13:09 AM »
I have the Koch 2cd set of his symphonies. After the Bate c*** up I shall listen to them again before posting my opinions!!!!

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Randall Thompson(1899-1984): forgotten American composer?
« Reply #2 on: September 16, 2011, 01:50:38 PM »
Am very fond of Symphony No 2 - I have the Jarvi version + Bernstein on Sony.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline Daverz

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Re: Randall Thompson(1899-1984): forgotten American composer?
« Reply #3 on: September 16, 2011, 03:22:10 PM »
Everyone needs the Bernstein recording.

cilgwyn

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Re: Randall Thompson(1899-1984): forgotten American composer?
« Reply #4 on: September 16, 2011, 11:47:12 PM »
I will dig out the Koch set in a minute & put it on after the Naxos cd of Piston's chamber music has finished. I seem to remember enjoying theThompson symphonies. No 3 was very 'filmic' in places (in a good way!)

Listening to No 1,right now. Excitingly orchestrated.
« Last Edit: September 17, 2011, 12:42:46 AM by cilgwyn »

cilgwyn

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Re: Randall Thompson(1899-1984): forgotten American composer?
« Reply #5 on: September 17, 2011, 01:29:09 AM »
One small point. Is it my imagination,or does the sound quality of the second symphony seem more restricted than on the other symphonies? Put the cd player on repeat & No 1 seems to explode into life after the thin,constricted sound quality of No 2. Even the old Bernstein recording sounds better & I have to say,and I'm not a big Bernstein fan,he really gets those rhythms going. The newer performance seems a bit dull by comparison.

Next point. The first movement of No 3 is a little repetitive,but the second movement is worth the wait. There's something very Hollywood and swashbuckling about it.

Third point. Randall Thompson comes across as a sort of American George Lloyd. Lloyd's Seventh,especially that ott finale, springs to mind. Thankfully,Thompson has a little more,'oomph'!!!!!!!

Offline Dundonnell

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Re: Randall Thompson(1899-1984): forgotten American composer?
« Reply #6 on: September 17, 2011, 03:36:55 AM »
Leonard Bernstein had the ability to take a piece of American music and conduct it with the inspiration which is required to invest in the work  the required verve and dynamism.  The listener hears the work afresh, almost through entirely new ears.

Sir Thomas Beecham had the same capacity. Goldmark's Rustic Wedding Symphony springs to mind but there are so many other examples(a lot of French music and Delius, of course ;D)

This type of genius can transform a work which, in other hands, may seem simply second-rate, into something much, much more. I am sure that Bernstein does that with Thompson(although I haven't heard the performance myself) but the prime examples are probably the Schuman 3rd and the Harris 3rd. Koussevitsky in Boston, before Bernstein, is another example of a great conductor in American music.
« Last Edit: September 17, 2011, 06:02:17 AM by Dundonnell »

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Randall Thompson(1899-1984): forgotten American composer?
« Reply #7 on: September 17, 2011, 05:53:55 AM »
Leonard Bernstein had the ability to take a piece of American music and conduct it with the inspiration which is required to invest in the work  the required verve and dynamism.  The listener hears the work afresh, almost through entirely new ears.

Sir Thomas Beecham had the same capacity. Goldmark's Rustic Wedding Symphony springs to mind but there are so many other examples(a lot of French music and Delius, of course ;D)

This type of genius can transform a work which, in other hands, may seem simply second-rate, into something much, much more. I am sure that Bernstein does that with Thompson(althougfh I haven't heard the performance myself) but the prime examples are probably the Schuman 3rd and the Harris 3rd. Koussevitsky in Boston, before Bernstein, is another example of a great conductor in American music.

I've always regretted that Koussevitsky never recorded Copland's Third Symphony, especially as I think he conducted the first performance of the work. Koussevitsky's recording of Hanson's Third Symphony is a fine example of what you say Colin.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

snyprrr

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Re: Randall Thompson(1899-1984): forgotten American composer?
« Reply #8 on: June 06, 2013, 07:33:31 AM »
bump

snyprrr

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Re: Randall Thompson(1899-1984): forgotten American composer?
« Reply #9 on: June 06, 2013, 07:34:41 AM »
Specifically, have you heard the 2 String Quartets? From what I've heard, they have an epic quality missing in much early US music?

snyprrr

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Re: Randall Thompson(1899-1984): forgotten American composer?
« Reply #10 on: July 25, 2014, 04:17:22 PM »
ump

Ken B

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Offline calyptorhynchus

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Re: Randall Thompson(1899-1984): forgotten American composer?
« Reply #12 on: July 25, 2014, 07:09:52 PM »
I have to two string quartets (late 80s CD). I prefer them to the symphonies.

 ;)

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Randall Thompson(1899-1984): forgotten American composer?
« Reply #13 on: July 26, 2014, 01:40:58 AM »
Have been listening to Symphony 2 this week (Jarvi) - fine work which I like more and more.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Randall Thompson(1899-1984): forgotten American composer?
« Reply #14 on: August 18, 2017, 07:29:06 AM »
See under Barber thread for a discussion of this great new release if you are interested in RT:

"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).

Offline SymphonicAddict

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Re: Randall Thompson(1899-1984): forgotten American composer?
« Reply #15 on: August 18, 2017, 10:48:55 AM »
I have the 3 symphonies and some choral works. I don't have any idea about how his style is. I'll put them on my waiting list.

Offline vandermolen

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Re: Randall Thompson(1899-1984): forgotten American composer?
« Reply #16 on: August 18, 2017, 10:50:08 AM »
I have the 3 symphonies and some choral works. I don't have any idea about how his style is. I'll put them on my waiting list.
Symphony 2 is the best I think.
"Courage is going from failure to failure without losing enthusiasm" (Churchill).

'The test of a work of art is, in the end, our affection for it, not our ability to explain why it is good' (Stanley Kubrick).