Music for the Fifth Sunday after Pentecost — February 7, 2021

Have ye not known / Ye shall have a song – Randall Thompson (1899-1984)

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For the past half century, the music of Randall Thompson has remained a staple in the choral repertoire. Rare is the chorus that has not performed his classic Alleluia, movements from his cycle on the poems of Robert Frost, Frostiana, or selections from his works setting liturgical texts.

Thompson designed these works to be gracious for the singer and accessible for his audiences, writing mainly conjunct vocal lines and employing part-writing and voice-leading principles derived from models of both sixteenth- and eighteenth-century polyphony. Avant-garde developments and experiments in vocal writing held no interest for him; Thompson was content instead in expressing his musical ideas through more traditional, time-tested and conventional means. Within these self-imposed constructs he was able to compose choral works that are marked by skilful craftsmanship, a pervasive singability and uncommon beauty.

Randall Thompson began his higher education at Harvard University in 1916. Like many American composers of his generation, Thompson then travelled to Europe for further study, settling in at the American Academy in Rome where he composed the five Odes of Horace in 1924.

Upon returning to the United States, Thompson received his first academic appointment as assistant professor of music at Wellesley College, where he conducted the choir and taught organ. He remained in academia for his entire career, teaching at a number of universities including Berkeley, Princeton, the University of Virginia, and Harvard. For two years he was director of the Curtis Institute of Music in Philadelphia where among his students and assistants were Leonard Bernstein and Samuel Barber. During his long academic career Thompson assumed an important leadership role in developing the curriculum for the teaching of music at American universities.

A commission from the League of Composers in 1935 led to the composition of The Peaceable Kingdom, scored for a cappella chorus. Thompson was greatly influenced by the eighteenth-century American artist Edward Hicks’ painting entitled The Peaceable Kingdom. The painting portrays a child among a large group of animals serenely lying together as described in the book of Isaiah (11: 6–9, “The wolf also shall dwell with the lamb, and the leopard shall lie down with the kid”, etc). Intrigued by this passage, Thompson studied the full book of Isaiah and from it selected eight texts referencing the themes of peace and good versus evil.

The seventh chorus, “Have ye not known?”, is the shortest of the work, being only fifteen measures in length. The text of Isaiah 40:21, from the first reading for this Sunday, is set in the style of a recitative which is reminiscent of the opening of the chorus which precedes it. The eighth chorus, “Ye shall have a song”, is a much longer double chorus with the soprano and alto voices pitted against the tenors and basses. The text is taken from Isaiah 30:29.

Composed while the composer was in his mid-thirties, this oft-performed choral cycle displays Thompson’s careful attention to text-setting and his skill in composing for choral ensembles in a conservative style accessible to amateur singers and lay audiences alike.


Have ye not known? Have ye not heard?

Hath it not been told you from the beginning?

Have ye not understood from the foundations of the earth?

Ye shall have a song, as in the night when a holy solemnity is kept;

And gladness of heart, as when one goeth with a pipe

To come into the mountain of the Lord.


Thou whose almighty word – Text: John Marriott (1780-1825) / Music: Felice de Giardini (1716-1796); adapt. Hymns Ancient and Modern, 1875.

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A genuinely modest man of great personal charm, John Marriott would not allow any of his hymns to be published during his lifetime, or even to be copied by his friends. Marriott had a brilliant career at Christ Church, Oxford, graduating with a BA in 1802 and MA in 1806. He took holy orders and served as a priest his entire life. Sir Walter Scott became a good friend of Marriott and dedicated to him the introduction to one of the cantos in Marmion. Some of Marriott’s ballads were included in Scott’s Minstrelsy of the Scottish Border 1802-1805.

The emphasis of this hymn, based on Genesis 1:3, is to be found in the final line of each stanza – “let there be light”. Light, the author appears to be saying, is the throbbing, living energy that conquers all that opposes the gospel in this world. The hymn also speaks to the theme of healing that runs through this Sunday’s readings, particularly in the Psalm and the Gospel.

The tune Moscow was composed by Felice de Giardini; it appeared, along with four others of his composition in a Collection of Psalm and Hymn Tunes 1769. The composer, born in Turin, Italy, began his musical education as a chorister in Milan Cathedral and later developed into a fine violinist, admitted to the opera orchestras in Rome and Naples. He spent the latter years of his career in London as first a leader and then an impresario of Italian opera.


THOU whose almighty word
Chaos and darkness heard,
And took their flight;
Hear us, we humbly pray,
And where the gospel day
Sheds not its glorious ray
Let there be light.

Thou who didst come to bring
On thy redeeming wing
Healing and sight,
Health to the sick in mind,
Sight to the inly blind,
O now to all mankind
Let there be light.

Spirit of truth and love,
Life-giving, holy Dove,
Speed forth thy flight;
Move on the water’s face,
Bearing the lamp of grace,
And in earth’s darkest place
Let there be light.

Blessèd and holy Three,
Glorious Trinity,
Wisdom, Love, Might,
Boundless as ocean’s tide
Rolling in fullest pride,
Through the world far and wide
Let there be light.

Gerald Harder