Randall Thompson, Frostiana (cut-offs for tied eighth notes)
Thank you for all your responses and suggestions. Here is a compilation of those I
Every time I think I have a handle on this, there seems to be a confusing
alternative. For instance, I had firmly implanted on me that in English music esp if
the note were tired to a eighth note on the beat, that is where the release is and
that does work most of the time but I have become very worried about Rutter's use of
this convention. In his recordings, it seems to me that he is actually releasing on
the following eighth rest.
My singers are really up in a tree about Orff's markings in Carmina in which a total
of say, five notes in the entire piece does not have some kind of marking. I have
used a succession of simple hand motions from light finger tap through punch which
has caught on. Good luck with this maze.
I feel sure that the release of those tied notes, and particularly relating to the
text, is very important to Thompson. I've seen him use that notation whether there
is a consonant at the end of the word or not, which makes me think that the exact
release, immediately on the beat, is very important to the sound he is looking for.
Much of his music paints sound with harmony and text, and I think that the notation
you're referring to is a good example. We're working on a piece called "Rosemary" by
Thompson, for women's choir. My first exposure to the work - it is fine.
My conducting mentor advised that Thompson wants this:
When the note is tied across the barline and ends in a staccato 8th note, (such as at
bar 33-34 of Choose Something Like A Star) the singers should sing "lah" on bar 33
and cut off with "awd" at the start of bar 34. This is in contrast to cutting off
with "d" either on the down-beat of 34 or the very end of 33.
>From what you describe in the score it would imply to me that the tied notes were
indicating releases both the metric and type of release (ie. short or long etc)
sounds like something Hebert Howells would do.
In my view (and speaking to folks who knew him) Thompson was, as you indicated,
careful regarding his wishes on everything, including articulation.
I have always interpreted that mark to mean maintaining (sustaining) the sound until
the precise moment of release point, and not a moment before.....Singers are
[unfortunately] not always as honest to note values as wind players. I believe he
was attempting to insure the integrity of the note length.
Might I suggest that the tied notes with staccatos are an indication of where singers
may breathe. Where Thompson ties over a barline is also a good place to breathe, if
there are phrases to be sung immediately following. I have had much experience with
Thompon's Choose Something Like a Star, the Road Not Taken, Alleluia, Last Words of
David, the Best of Rooms, and the Peaceable Kingdom. He is consistent in his
notation. He gives the choir time to articulate final consonants and time to
breathe. It seems other composers aren't as dedicated in thinking about these kinds
of things and leaves it up to the conductor to finess it.
I'm a graduate student at Butler University, Indianapolis. Another grad student & I
are about to begin preparing the newly-reinstated Men's & Women's Glee Clubs to
perform "Frostiana" this Spring.
I haven't done any scholarly research on your question, but this would be my
assumption regarding cut-offs. It seems that Thompson uses the tied staccato marking
to indicate a cut-off with a crisp articulated final consonant. Eg: m.16 "th" of
"growth", m.44 "ck" of "back", & m.69 "ce" of "difference". M.30 is a similar place
in that it is also the end of a verse, but my guess is that here he uses the tied
quarter note for the "m" of "same" because the "m" consonant takes a full beat to
sound and carry. In other words, you could tell the choir "close to the 'm' on
downbeat of m.30, but release & stop the sound by beat two." The place you
mentioned, m.53 "sigh", just requires stopping the sound and no final consonant,
therefore no tied note for the cut-off.
The only discrepancy with my theory, though, is the very next phrase, m.56 "ce" of
"hence" is not tied to a dotted eighth! Thompson probably neglected this because it
is only one phrase, rather than the end of an entire verse as the other examples are.
I would still have the choir cut off on the downbeat of the next measure, though.
Finally, why would the last cut-off, m.82 "difference", be a quarter note as opposed
to the dotted eighth that he writes for the same word "difference" in m.69? The
difference here (no pun intended), I believe, is one of the character of the music.
The first one (m.69) corresponds to the 'poco allegretto' and 'semi-staccato'
indications, therefore the choir should cut-off very crisply, in time, on the
downbeat. However, the final quarter note gives us permission to linger on the
"ssss" sound (yes! we get to sing "SSSSS"!) for one beat, since the tempo is slowing
and singers are fading out. A crisp, staccato cut-off would be abrupt and out of
I think it is Thompson's attempt to indicate precise cutoff time and avoid premature
cutoffs. Measures usually end with a note (ie: no rest indicated) and a consonant
ending of a word - but often the debate is "early release" or "on the down beat" of
the next measure. Thompson, I have come to conclude, wants to make sure the note is
held out and released at the final possible moment. I think Britten does this, too,
and possibly Hindemith. In my own work, I usually hold out for the cutoff on the
downbeat of the next measure when there is no note on the downbeat of the next
measure - and early cutoff if the following measure begins with a downbeat note.
Thompson was indeed very careful about where the notes and words concluded. In m.
44, he indicates that the final "t" be placed on the first beat, rather than just
before. In mm. 53-54, there is not final consonant, and the sound stops with silence
on beat 1. If you look at m. 56, the final "c" sound of "hence" is not carried
forward, and should be put in just prior to the first beat, presumably to let the vn.
1 suspended "g" stand out.
Can not offer an authoritative response, only my own thoughts about this when
preapring these wonderful pieces. My assumption is that Thompson is among those
composers who, having extensive experience with choruses, don't entirely trust them
to cut off a final note of a measure on the down beat and therefore tie the note to
an 8th on the down beat. However, when he ties it to a quarter-note I take that as a
real note value which must be cut off at the beat following it. I prefer the scores
that trust the chorus and its conductor to cut off accurately and therefore do not
use that notation.
I noticed this as well tonight during a reh. of The Road. My first reaction was
inconsistancy in editing, as some sections seem very British in editing practice,
while others seemed American. I think this is a good place for the conductor's
perogative, unless you know of a recording that Randall Thompson himself had a hand in.
Several years ago, my HS Choir sang 'Frostiana' with Atlanta Youth Symphony
Orchestra, Ann Howard Jones, conducting. The way she handled the tied eighth(s) was:
the consonant or final sound was placed at the beginning of the eighth rather than
at the end of the eighth. I've seen this type of writing in Alice Parker's music as
well. Since Ann Jones prepared ASO Chorus for years for Shaw, I always figured "Who
am I to do differently?" However, I don't remember hearing her address that specific
Robert F. Farr, rffarr(a)juno.com
Music Director, The Cantabile Singers, www.CantabileBoulder.org
Organist-Choirmaster, St. Andrew Presbyterian Church