Randall Thompson Composer
Frostiana, cycle for chorus & piano (or orchestra)
Musicology (work in progress):In 1958, preparing for the commemoration of the bicentennial anniversary of its incorporation, the town of Amherst, MA, commissioned composer Randall Thompson to set a group of texts by Robert Frost, a poet distinguished even in a town famous for its writers. Thompson was, at the time, professor of music at Harvard, one of the schools at which Frost had taught before finally returning to Amherst College. The product of the "collaboration" of these two naturalized New Englanders was a seven-song sequence for accompanied mixed chorus, Frostiana.
Frostiana, cycle for chorus & piano (or orchestra)Year: 1959
- 1.The Road Not Taken
- 2.The Pasture
- 3.Come In
- 4.The Telephone
- 5.A Girl's Garden
- 6.Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
- 7.Choose Something Like a Star
The first piece is a bold attempt to set perhaps the most famous poem in American literary history, The Road Not Taken. The result, however, somehow lands squarely in the English choral tradition, moving nobly along, but with a feel reminiscent of Vaughan Williams. The second and third songs are for men's and women's chorus, respectively. "The Pasture," for a TBB grouping, is so plaintively lilting that one wishes Frost had written more than two verses. For an SAA combination, "Come In" depicts orchestrally the call of a thrush, which grows more impassioned. Though the chorus is in turn moved by the birdsong, it ultimately resists, and the song dies away.
The central song of the cycle, "The Telephone," is a charming dialogue between men's and women's choruses, though the men almost monopolize the conversation. "A Girl's Garden," the fifth song, is a brisk, mostly unison, folk song-like setting for women's chorus. Another hugely famous Frost poem, Stopping By the Woods On a Snowy Evening, for men's chorus, follows. The simple poem is made more mysterious by enigmatic harmonic changes.
The final song of the cycle, mirroring the first, is a measured, stirring setting of "Choose Something Like a Star." Soprano voices soar for extended periods, while the lower voices declaim the text. In keeping with Thompson's general desire to set clearly the texts of the only poet ever to win four Pulitzer Prizes, the choral writing moves almost exclusively in homophonic fashion, occasionally even in unison. Each song starts simply and builds to a climax, with parts dividing further along the way.
Frostiana, composed over the course of a summer month in Switzerland, was premiered on October 18, 1959, in Amherst, with the composer conducting and the poet in the audience. An interesting, although likely apocryphal, anecdote has Frost leaping up at the conclusion, begging the performers to "sing it again." More probable, however, is the version that maintains that the poet had no public reaction, and likely did not hold it in high regard. Nevertheless, Frostiana, in whole or in part, has secured a place in the choral repertoire for moderately advanced groups due to its direct, highly singable melodic lines.
© Thomas Oram, Rovi