The idea was for it to be sung at the opening ceremony by the entire student body, but this nearly didn't happen, as opening day approached and there was no sign of the comissioned score. According to legend the head of the center's choral department received a copy of the score a mere 45 minutes before the ceremony began, and commented to his large chorus: "Well, text at least is one thing we won't have to worry about."
The performance launched a tradition, and every summer the Alleluia is performed at the center's opening
The opening dynamic is Lento, which stands in obvious contrast to the usual intonation of the word that is its sole lyric. This needs to be understood in a historical context. France had just fallen to the Nazis and Thompson explained: "The music in my particular Alleluia cannot be made to sound joyous here it is comparable to the book of Job, where it is written: 'The Lord gave and the Lord has taken away. Blessed be the name of the Lord'."
Unusually, both commonly performed versions of the Alleluia (SATB and TTBB) were written by the composer himself.
An unusual attribute of Thompson's work generally is that, enviably, most of it was, like the Alleluia itself, comissioned.
Once, while at work on a composition, one of Thompson's students asked him in what "style" he was writing. "In my same old style," the composer replied. Although Thompson's answer might seem self-deprecating to us, there is more than a grain of truth to it. For his career of more than 60 years, Thompson composed in a strikingly unified style.
His compositions, however, don't all sound the same. Thompson's works are deeply rooted in the music of the past, yet keenly aware of contemporary developments (a phrase lifted staight from Stravinsky is evident in the Alleluia). Not only did he break free from the heavy influence of 19th century Romanticism, he is considered my many to have established a uniquely American choral style.