Thomson, Virgil

Thomson, Virgil,

1896–1989, American composer, critic, and organist, b. Kansas City, Mo. Thomson studied in Paris with Nadia BoulangerBoulanger, Nadia
, 1887–1979, French conductor and musician, b. Paris. Boulanger was considered an outstanding teacher of composition. She studied at the Paris Conservatory, where in 1945 she became professor.
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. Until about 1926 he wrote in a dissonant, neoclassic style, but after his 16-minute quintet Sonata da chiesa (1926) he began to employ a highly simplified style that shows the influence of Erik SatieSatie, Erik
, 1866–1925, French composer, studied at the Paris Conservatory; pupil of Vincent D'Indy and Albert Roussel at the Schola Cantorum. He early realized that the romantic Wagnerian style was incompatible with the expression of French sensibility, and he developed
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. He wrote two operas, Four Saints in Three Acts (1928) and The Mother of Us All (1947), for librettos by Gertrude SteinStein, Gertrude,
1874–1946, American author and patron of the arts, b. Allegheny (now part of Pittsburgh), Pa. A celebrated personality, she encouraged, aided, and influenced—through her patronage as well as through her writing—many literary and artistic
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; music for films including The River (1937) and Louisiana Story (1948); the ballet Filling Station (1937); an opera, Lord Byron (1972); and numerous works for voice, organ, piano, and chamber ensembles. Thomson was music critic for the New York Herald Tribune from 1940 until 1954. His books include The State of Music (1939), The Musical Scene (1945), The Art of Judging Music (1948), and American Music since 1910 (1971).


See T. Page, ed., Virgil Thomson: Music Chronicles, 1940–1954 (2014) and Virgil Thomson: The State of Music and Other Writings (2016); Thomson's autobiography (1966); biography by A. Tommasini (1997).

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Thomson, Virgil (Garnett)

(1896–1989) composer, music critic; born in Kansas City, Mo. Studying piano and organ as a youth, he grew up knowing the traditional Protestant hymns before going off to continue his music studies at Harvard, in Paris (1922), and at the Mannes Music School in New York City (1923–24). Returning to Paris in 1925, he lived there for the next ten years and developed a style characterized by a sophisticated simplicity, often drawing on American folk themes. He composed symphonies, ballets, choral and chamber music; over 100 musical "portraits" of well-known individuals; two operas with librettos by Gertrude SteinFour Saints in Three Acts (premiered 1934) and The Mother of Us All (1947); and several film scores, notably Louisiana Story (which won the 1948 Pulitzer Prize). When he returned to the U.S.A., he became the music critic of the New York Herald Tribune (1940–54) and continued to "hold court" at his apartment in the Chelsea Hotel in New York City to the end.
The Cambridge Dictionary of American Biography, by John S. Bowman. Copyright © Cambridge University Press 1995. Reproduced with permission.
References in periodicals archive ?
(8.) Virgil Thomson, Virgil Thomson (New York: Alfred A.