The Greenwood Singers & Robert de Frece | Randall Thompson: Ode to the Virginian Voyage/Frostiana

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Classical: Choral Music Classical: Twentieth Century Moods: Type: Lyrical
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Randall Thompson: Ode to the Virginian Voyage/Frostiana

by The Greenwood Singers & Robert de Frece

Two choral works by American composer Randall Thompson (1899-1984): Ode to the Virginian Voyage (words by Michael Drayton), organ accomp. adapted from original orchestration, & Frostiana: 7 Country Songs (words by Robert Frost), original piano accomp.
Genre: Classical: Choral Music
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  Song Share Time Download
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1. Sinfonia
Greenwood Singers
4:05 $0.99
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2. You Brave Heroic Minds
Greenwood Singers
3:59 $0.99
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3. Earth's Only Paradise
Greenwood Singers
6:29 $0.99
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4. In Kenning of the Shore
Greenwood Singers
4:08 $0.99
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5. And in Regions Far
Greenwood Singers
3:05 $0.99
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6. Fuga: Thy Voyages Attend
Greenwood Singers
4:49 $0.99
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7. Finale: Go and Subdue
Greenwood Singers
1:52 $0.99
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8. The Road Not Taken
Greenwood Singers
5:39 $0.99
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9. The Pasture
Greenwood Singers
2:39 $0.99
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10. Come In
Greenwood Singers
5:48 $0.99
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11. The Telephone
Greenwood Singers
2:27 $0.99
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12. A Girl's Garden
Greenwood Singers
2:42 $0.99
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13. Stopping By Woods On a Snowy Evening
Greenwood Singers
5:20 $0.99
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14. Choose Something Like a Star
Greenwood Singers
6:29 $0.99
Downloads are available as MP3-320 files.

ABOUT THIS ALBUM


Album Notes
Randall Thompson: In His Own Words

"I am a passionate devotee of choral music. I always have been. But as I set out to tell you what I think and feel about it, I must warn you: I'm on fire about it; and if you don't want to hear what a fanatic has to say on the subject, please go away."

Those are the words of Randall Thompson, addressing a meeting of the Intercollegiate Music Council at Yale University in May, 1959. His topic –"Writing for the Amateur Chorus; A Chance and A Challenge" –was an altogether characteristic choice, and his words, in this and other public statements, provide fascinating glimpses both of his philosophy and of his compositional technique.

He told his Yale audience that "the 'outlet' for composers, their 'market’," though large, could be larger if a desperate need for capable leaders were met. "There are many more choral groups that want to sing well – and could sing well – than there are good choral conductors to lead them." It is not surprising to learn that these are the words of a man who is everywhere described, not just as "composer," but as "composer and educator." In 1927, after studies at Harvard University and the American Academy in Rome, Thompson took up his first teaching post, at Wellesley College. He subsequently held faculty positions at the University of California, the Curtis Institute of Music, the University of Virginia, and Princeton University. In the fall of 1948, he returned to Harvard University, where he remained until his retirement in 1965. In these positions, he taught and he composed, devoting himself to meeting the need for capable leaders and to the provision of music for their choirs to sing.

When he joined the faculty at Princeton, Thompson gave an inaugural address in which he summed up his artistic creed: "A composer's first responsibility is, and always will be, to write music that will reach and move the hearts of his listeners in his own day." This meant rejecting the Romantic aesthetic of the composer as "artist," writing to serve only his own expressive needs. Rather, Thompson espoused the classical concept of the composer as "craftsman," writing music for particular occasions, audiences, or performers. It also meant rejecting serialism and other avant-garde techniques that characterized the music of many of his contemporaries. Rather, he wrote in a conservative, accessible style. This approach proved controversial, and he felt a very real anger at being ignored by what he termed the "highbrows" of American music. But he saw himself vindicated by the successful relationship he had with his growing audience, and the constant stream of commissions he received. And he had his defenders, amongst them Quincy Porter, who wrote, "He rides eloquently through the present in the fine stagecoach of our ancestors. The important thing is that he is writing music which, regardless of its style, has a well justified place in our musical life."

In his Yale address, Thompson dispensed advice as well as philosophy. The advice, directed to composers, was informed by his philosophy, but also by his experience as a choral conductor. The choir was one of his responsibilities in his first appointment, at Wellesley College, and he was evidently already a master. Elizabeth Curtiss Willis, a student at the time, recalls that "rehearsals with R. T. frequently left me exhausted with the effort we all put into trying to meet his standards, but tingling with the excitement of undertaking something just beyond our capability, and managing to do the seemingly impossible." Thompson continued to be active as a choral conductor throughout his teaching career and well into his retirement.

"Writing for voices has been a passionate, life interest of mine," Thompson reminded his Yale audience. "Would it be decent for me to give you a feather or two out of my own cap?" And he then began to speak about his compositional procedures. Those who have sung Thompson's choral works would not have been surprised by what he said. "Read and re-read all the poetry you can-try to become a connoisseur of poetry." "Having found your text, commit it to memory. Sing it to yourself in a thousand different ways. Decide on the best, the most fitting melody for it." "Place the voices where they will sound. Avoid extreme ranges." "Don't believe for a moment that, to be good, the musical setting must follow slavishly the natural declamation of the words. Naturally one does not stress unimportant words. But neither does one have to follow the exact rhythm of the spoken word." "Sing the individual parts to yourself. If you con sing them, it doesn't necessarily mean that they are good; but if you can't sing them, there's something wrong, and you had better do some serious re-touching."

Randall Thompson often visited Europe. In 1922 he won the American Prix de Rome, and spent the next three years in Rome, at the American Academy. There he became a protégé of the Italian composer and musicologist, Gian Francesco Malipiero, whose fire of enthusiasm for the Renaissance Thompson came to share. In 1929 he was awarded a Guggenheim Fellowship, which allowed him for two years to devote himself exclusively to composition. Much of the time was spent abroad, first in Paris, and later in Gstaad, Switzerland. Thompson loved Gstaad, and eventually bought property there, where many of his later works were composed, in the intervals between university terms. Nevertheless, he remained a thoroughly American composer, setting American texts, addressing American themes, and writing for American occasions.

Ode to the Virginian Voyage was composed at the invitation of the Virginia 350th Anniversary Commission, in honour of the first permanent English settlement in the New World in May, 1607. A setting of a text by the English poet Michael Drayton (1563-1631), it is a work for chorus of mixed voices, with an accompaniment for piano or orchestra that was adapted for organ by Jeremy Spurgeon, who plays it on this recording.

Printed in the vocal score is a note by Thompson himself. "Michael Drayton wrote the text of the Ode in 1606. Sir Walter Raleigh had reported the glories of the New World; the Rev. Richard Hakluyt's Voyages had described the merits and methods of exploration; the defeat of the Spanish Armada had made the seas safe for British sailors. Why did the settlers not set forth? Drayton's Ode was an exhortation to 'Go and subdue: It is said that those who finally set sail on New Year's Day, 1607 sang the Ode during their four and a half months' voyage.

''This setting aims to recapture something of the musical spirit of the epoch in which the text was written. The 'Sinfonia' is a sarabande and hornpipe, both popular dances at the time. 'You brave heroic minds' opens with a strong dotted rhythm, long associated with bravery and heroism. There follows a glee urging a speedy departure. The next five stanzas, depicting the beauties of Virginia, are set as a ballad. In the organ interlude, a fanfare portrays the sighting of land and a chorale-prelude on the old hymn, St. Anne, suggests the voyagers' prayer of thanksgiving. General jubilation ensues, to the roar of cannons. Then in two lovely stanzas set as an unaccompanied madrigal, Drayton discourses on the future: people the land with heroes and crown your poets with laurel. The last stanza pays tribute to the genius of Hakluyt, and prophesies future glory for those about to sail. This is set as a fugue and leads directly into a 'Finale', exhorting the voyagers to set forth and find 'Earth's only paradise'.

"The music of the Ode was sketched in Gstaad, Switzerland, during the summer of 1956 and orchestrated in January, 1957. It was first performed in Williamsburg, \/irginia on 1 April 1957, by the Norfolk Symphony Orchestra, the Norfolk Civic Chorus, and the Choir of the College of William and Mary, Edgar Schenk man conducting."

In 1958, the town of Amherst, Massachusetts asked Thompson to write a work to celebrate the 200th anniversary of its incorporation, which would occur in the following year. Robert Frost's poetry was suggested as the source of the text. Frost and Thompson were acquainted, and both had Amherst connections: Thompson's father-in-law lived in the town, and from 1948 Frost had held the part-time post of Simpson Lecturer in Literature at Amherst College. Thompson drew on volumes of Frost's poetry published between 1914 and 1949 to select a sequence of seven poems that would have shape as a whole, as well as internal contrast. Because the new work was to be sung by the Bicentennial Chorus, formed by combining local church choirs of all denominations, a practical consideration affected its design. Ever the choral conductor, Thompson conceived a plan to accommodate the needs of male and female choirs with limited time to rehearse together. The second and sixth poems are set for men's choir, the third and fifth for women's choir, and the fourth as a dialogue between the men and the women. Only the opening and closing movements require the two groups to sing together. The work was composed at Thompson's chalet in Gstaad, between 15 June and 7 July 1959, and first performed at an Inter-Faith Convocation in Amherst on 18 October 1959. J. Heywood Alexander played the piano accompaniment, the composer conducted, and the poet was present. At the conclusion of the last movement, "Choose Something Like a Star", Frost rose spontaneously from his seat and bellowed, "Sing that again!" Thompson later orchestrated the accompaniment, and in that form the work was performed under his direction on 23 April 1965, as part of a program honouring him on his retirement from Harvard University.

Notes by Jim Whittle and Kent Sutherland.

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