Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia”: A Prayerful Fanfare

The American composer Randall Thompson (1899–1984) composed his famous Alleluia over the course of five days at the beginning of July, 1940.

The work for a cappella chorus was first performed on July 8th of that year for the formal opening of the Berkshire Music Center (now the Tanglewood Music Center). Serge Koussevitsky, the festival’s founder and the music director of the Boston Symphony Orchestra, asked Thompson to write a celebratory “fanfare” for voices. Yet, in the summer of 1940, totalitarianism was sweeping across the globe. Hitler’s armies were marching through Europe, and by the end of June, France had fallen. Under the circumstances, Thompson considered a festive piece to be inappropriate. His “fanfare” became an introspective prayer. He wrote that the Alleluia is

a very sad piece. The word “Alleluia” has so many possible interpretations. The music in my particular Alleluia cannot be made to sound joyous. It is a slow, sad piece, and…here it is comparable to the Book of Job, where it is written, “The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord.”

Here is a performance by the Kansas City Chorale, led by Charles Bruffy:

Recordings

  • Thompson: Alleluia, James Higdon, Kansas City Chorale kcchorale.org

About Timothy Judd

A native of Upstate New York, Timothy Judd has been a member of the Richmond Symphony violin section since 2001. He is a graduate of the Eastman School of Music where he earned the degrees Bachelor of Music and Master of Music, studying with world renowned Ukrainian-American violinist Oleh Krysa.

The son of public school music educators, Timothy Judd began violin lessons at the age of four through Eastman’s Community Education Division. He was a student of Anastasia Jempelis, one of the earliest champions of the Suzuki method in the United States.

A passionate teacher, Mr. Judd has maintained a private violin studio in the Richmond area since 2002 and has been active coaching chamber music and numerous youth orchestra sectionals.

In his free time, Timothy Judd enjoys working out with Richmond’s popular SEAL Team Physical Training program.

1 thought on “Randall Thompson’s “Alleluia”: A Prayerful Fanfare”

  1. I’ve heard the story that Randall Thompson worked out most of Alleluia while he was in a hospital waiting room as his three-year-old son was fighting for his life.

    If it’s true it puts a marvelous piece in an entirely new perspective.

    Reply

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