Wednesday, November 01, 2006

"Sing that again . . . "


In 1958, Randall Thompson was commissioned to write Frostiana for the occasion of the 200th anniversary of the incorporation of the town of Amherst, Massachusetts. The town asked for a setting of some of Robert Frost's poetry as Frost had lived and worked there. Through family connections, Thompson and Frost had known each other for years and Frost admired Thompson's music. Thus, it was natural for the two of them to collaborate in selecting the poems to be set to music.

Frostiana was composed June 15-July 7, 1959, in Gstaad, Switzerland. Thompson knew that the choir that was to perform the work was going to be comprised of a women's and men's choruses (in those days the norm in American communities) "merged" for the event. Knowing that the choirs would have minimal rehearsal time together, Thompson composed most of the work for either men's or women's choir individually, with only the first and last poems to be sung SATB.

Both Thompson and Frost were present for the premiere performance on October 18, 1959. Thompson conducted and the choir was accompanied by piano, as it is tonight. At the conclusion of "Choose Something Like A Star," Frost rose spontaneously from his seat and bellowed, "Sing that again!"


Raul V said...

Did Frost say that because he liked it or because he couldn't figure out the interpretation that Thompson was conveying through awkward chord progressions and "Fair-en-hiiiiiiight... seen-ti graaaaaaade"? haha said...

I find, as a conductor and singer, nothing awkward about Thompson's chord progressions. They are easy to understand, certainly from a 20th/21st century point of view, and are extremely effective in their providing of a harmonic canvas for the vocal line. If Robert Frost did not understand or appreciate Thompson's music then he would be in good company, as immortal poets such as Goethe and Heine failed to appreciate the genius of musicians the likes of Schubert and Schumann.