Published online by Cambridge University Press: 02 May 2020
The whole experience has been a disillusionment… .
THOMPSON'S DIRECTORSHIP BEGINS
Following President Bok's address at the beginning of the fall term, Thomp¬son led the student body in singing Bach chorales plus music by Mozart and Palestrina. During his years at Curtis there were two choral groups: a Madrigal Chorus of twenty-five students begun the year before he came conducted by Barber, and an Institute Chorus that Thompson established and conducted. Unfortunately, both were disbanded before his brief tenure end¬ed. Noted Barber authority Barbara Heyman has written:
The composer [Barber] commuted from New York every Monday to direct the group of twenty-five singers in their weekly two-hour rehearsals. Dur¬ing the 1939-40 school year they met twenty-two times and gave two radio performances and a concert as part of the institute's “Historical Series.” For the Madrigal Chorus, Barber wrote “The Virgin Martyrs” (1938), the last two pieces of Reincarnations—“Anthony O’Daly” and “The Coolin”—and A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map, all published by G. Schirmer in 1942.
Musicologist and performer Alfred Mann, who sang in both groups, remem¬bered the Institute Chorus.
It was a curious experience to attend rehearsals of the chorus, which were held by the Institute's director himself. The hall was filled with profes¬sional musicians of the highest talent; but suddenly, everyone seemed an amateur. Ensemble, diction, tone production were totally unfamiliar tasks to be faced. At the outset, Randall Thompson, an experienced choral con¬ductor in his own right, had made two wise decisions. The work he chose was Handel's magnificent Utrecht Jubilate—which no one knew—and the performance was to be under Fritz Reiner, who taught conducting at the Institute and directed the Curtis Orchestra. Unforgettable is the awe that befell the inexperienced chorus at Reiner's first appearance—none of the members had sung under one of the great masters of the baton before—but the project, though brilliant, remained the chorus's only one.
He also remembered that the Madrigal Chorus had two projects: rehearsing Monteverdi's Book 2 madrigal Ecco mormorar l’onde (not well known at the time) and making a studio recording for broadcast on April 23, 1940 of Bar¬ber's 1939 A Stopwatch and an Ordnance Map about the death of a soldier in the Spanish Civil War.