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Randall Thompson is a well-known composer of some of the most familiar and accessible American choral music of the twentieth century. His conservative harmonic language and idiomatic writing for voices has made many of his works popular with both amateur and academic choirs. They are particularly admired for their sensitive setting of English text.
In 1958, Thompson wrote a large work titled Requiem, inspired by a young terminally-ill choral conductor, and commissioned by the University of California. Though positively reviewed, it received only a handful of performances, and is little known today outside of a few extracted movements. The Requiem is Thompson’s largest unaccompanied work, an hour-long dramatic dialogue between two choirs on the topic of life and death.
The primary focus of this study is an extensive analysis of Thompson’s marriage of text and music in the Requiem, coupled with a thorough discussion of the background of the work based on dozens of Thompson’s personal letters. Through this analysis it is shown that the Requiem can be viewed as more than a neglected work—it is Randall Thompson’s masterpiece in text selection and setting. Thompson assembled an original libretto from a wide variety of Biblical passages, creating a cohesive musical structure and personal reflection on death. Each phrase of text is expertly set in terms of prosody, affect, and dramatic purpose, resulting in a uniquely American interpretation of the Requiem form. It is further concluded that the Requiem is worthy of revival and that many of the reasons for its lack of initial success are rooted in non-musical factors, such as the size and expense of the score. In closing, favorable performance recommendations are given to help facilitate the Requiem receiving many future performances.
Advisor: Therees Tkach Hibbard