Virgil Thomson
Overview
Virgil Thomson was an American composer
Composer
A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...

 and critic
Critic
A critic is anyone who expresses a value judgement. Informally, criticism is a common aspect of all human expression and need not necessarily imply skilled or accurate expressions of judgement. Critical judgements, good or bad, may be positive , negative , or balanced...

. He was instrumental in the development of the "American Sound" in classical music. He has been described as a modernist, a neoclassicist, a composer of "an Olympian blend of humanity and detachment" whose, "expressive voice was always carefully muted," until his late opera Lord Byron
Lord Byron (Thomson)
Lord Byron is an opera in three acts by Virgil Thomson to an original English libretto by Jack Larson, inspired by the historical character Lord Byron. This was Thomson's third and final opera. He wrote the opera on commission from the Ford Foundation for the Metropolitan Opera , but the Met...

which, in contrast to all his previous work, exhibited an emotional content that rises to, "moments of real passion", and a neoromantic.
Virgil Thomson was born in Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City, Missouri is the largest city in the U.S. state of Missouri and is the anchor city of the Kansas City Metropolitan Area, the second largest metropolitan area in Missouri. It encompasses in parts of Jackson, Clay, Cass, and Platte counties...

.
Encyclopedia
Virgil Thomson was an American composer
Composer
A composer is a person who creates music, either by musical notation or oral tradition, for interpretation and performance, or through direct manipulation of sonic material through electronic media...

 and critic
Critic
A critic is anyone who expresses a value judgement. Informally, criticism is a common aspect of all human expression and need not necessarily imply skilled or accurate expressions of judgement. Critical judgements, good or bad, may be positive , negative , or balanced...

. He was instrumental in the development of the "American Sound" in classical music. He has been described as a modernist, a neoclassicist, a composer of "an Olympian blend of humanity and detachment" whose, "expressive voice was always carefully muted," until his late opera Lord Byron
Lord Byron (Thomson)
Lord Byron is an opera in three acts by Virgil Thomson to an original English libretto by Jack Larson, inspired by the historical character Lord Byron. This was Thomson's third and final opera. He wrote the opera on commission from the Ford Foundation for the Metropolitan Opera , but the Met...

which, in contrast to all his previous work, exhibited an emotional content that rises to, "moments of real passion", and a neoromantic.

Biography

Virgil Thomson was born in Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City, Missouri
Kansas City, Missouri is the largest city in the U.S. state of Missouri and is the anchor city of the Kansas City Metropolitan Area, the second largest metropolitan area in Missouri. It encompasses in parts of Jackson, Clay, Cass, and Platte counties...

. He displayed an extraordinary intelligence at an early age. As a child, he befriended Alice Smith, great-granddaughter of Joseph Smith, founder of the Mormon
Mormon
The term Mormon most commonly denotes an adherent, practitioner, follower, or constituent of Mormonism, which is the largest branch of the Latter Day Saint movement in restorationist Christianity...

 faith. After World War I, he entered Harvard University
Harvard University
Harvard University is a private Ivy League university located in Cambridge, Massachusetts, United States, established in 1636 by the Massachusetts legislature. Harvard is the oldest institution of higher learning in the United States and the first corporation chartered in the country...

 thanks to a loan from Dr. Fred M. Smith, the president of the Reorganized Church of Jesus Christ of Latter Day Saints, and father of Alice Smith. His tours of Europe with the Harvard Glee Club
Harvard Glee Club
The Harvard Glee Club is a 60-voice, all-male choral ensemble at Harvard University. Founded in 1858 in the tradition of English and American glee clubs, it is the oldest collegiate chorus in the US. The Glee Club is part of the Holden Choruses of Harvard University, which also include the...

 helped nurture his desire to return there. At Harvard, Thomson focused his studies on the piano work of Erik Satie
Erik Satie
Éric Alfred Leslie Satie was a French composer and pianist. Satie was a colourful figure in the early 20th century Parisian avant-garde...

. He studied in Paris on fellowship for a year, and after graduating, lived in Paris from 1925–1940. In Paris he forged relationships with such prominent cultural figures as James Joyce
James Joyce
James Augustine Aloysius Joyce was an Irish novelist and poet, considered to be one of the most influential writers in the modernist avant-garde of the early 20th century...

, Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Hemingway
Ernest Miller Hemingway was an American author and journalist. His economic and understated style had a strong influence on 20th-century fiction, while his life of adventure and his public image influenced later generations. Hemingway produced most of his work between the mid-1920s and the...

, e. e. cummings
E. E. Cummings
Edward Estlin Cummings , popularly known as E. E. Cummings, with the abbreviated form of his name often written by others in lowercase letters as e.e. cummings , was an American poet, painter, essayist, author, and playwright...

, Aaron Copland
Aaron Copland
Aaron Copland was an American composer, composition teacher, writer, and later in his career a conductor of his own and other American music. He was instrumental in forging a distinctly American style of composition, and is often referred to as "the Dean of American Composers"...

, Ezra Pound
Ezra Pound
Ezra Weston Loomis Pound was an American expatriate poet and critic and a major figure in the early modernist movement in poetry...

, Igor Stravinsky
Igor Stravinsky
Igor Fyodorovich Stravinsky ; 6 April 1971) was a Russian, later naturalized French, and then naturalized American composer, pianist, and conductor....

, Pablo Picasso
Pablo Picasso
Pablo Diego José Francisco de Paula Juan Nepomuceno María de los Remedios Cipriano de la Santísima Trinidad Ruiz y Picasso known as Pablo Ruiz Picasso was a Spanish expatriate painter, sculptor, printmaker, ceramicist, and stage designer, one of the greatest and most influential artists of the...

, Orson Welles
Orson Welles
George Orson Welles , best known as Orson Welles, was an American film director, actor, theatre director, screenwriter, and producer, who worked extensively in film, theatre, television and radio...

, Jean Cocteau
Jean Cocteau
Jean Maurice Eugène Clément Cocteau was a French poet, novelist, dramatist, designer, playwright, artist and filmmaker. His circle of associates, friends and lovers included Kenneth Anger, Pablo Picasso, Jean Hugo, Jean Marais, Henri Bernstein, Marlene Dietrich, Coco Chanel, Erik Satie, María...

, and Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein
Gertrude Stein was an American writer, poet and art collector who spent most of her life in France.-Early life:...

. He eventually studied with Nadia Boulanger
Nadia Boulanger
Nadia Boulanger was a French composer, conductor and teacher who taught many composers and performers of the 20th century.From a musical family, she achieved early honours as a student at the Paris Conservatoire, but believing that her talent as a composer was inferior to that of her younger...

 and became a fixture of "Paris in the twenties." His most important friend from this period was Gertrude Stein, who was an artistic collaborator and mentor to him. Following the publication of his book The State of Music he established himself in New York City
New York City
New York is the most populous city in the United States and the center of the New York Metropolitan Area, one of the most populous metropolitan areas in the world. New York exerts a significant impact upon global commerce, finance, media, art, fashion, research, technology, education, and...

 as a peer of Aaron Copland and was also a music critic for the New York Herald-Tribune from 1937 through 1951. His writings on music, and his reviews of performances in particular, are noted for their wit and their independent judgments. His definition of music was famously "that which musicians do," and his views on music are radical in their insistence on reducing the rarefied aesthetics of music to market activity. He even went so far as to claim that the style a piece was written in could be most effectively understood as a consequence of its income source.

In the 1930s, he worked as a theater and film composer. His most famous works for theater are two operas with libretti by Gertrude Stein, Four Saints in Three Acts
Four Saints in Three Acts
Four Saints in Three Acts is an opera by American composer Virgil Thomson with a libretto by Gertrude Stein. Written in 1927-8, it contains about 20 saints, and is in at least four acts...

, especially famous for its use of an all-black cast, and The Mother of Us All
The Mother of Us All
The Mother of Us All is an opera by Virgil Thomson to a libretto by Gertrude Stein. It chronicles the life of Susan B. Anthony, one of the major figures in the fight for women's suffrage in the United States...

, as well as incidental music
Incidental music
Incidental music is music in a play, television program, radio program, video game, film or some other form not primarily musical. The term is less frequently applied to film music, with such music being referred to instead as the "film score" or "soundtrack"....

 for Orson Welles' Depression
Great Depression
The Great Depression was a severe worldwide economic depression in the decade preceding World War II. The timing of the Great Depression varied across nations, but in most countries it started in about 1929 and lasted until the late 1930s or early 1940s...

-era production of Macbeth
Macbeth
The Tragedy of Macbeth is a play by William Shakespeare about a regicide and its aftermath. It is Shakespeare's shortest tragedy and is believed to have been written sometime between 1603 and 1607...

, set in the Caribbean, known as Voodoo Macbeth
Voodoo Macbeth
The Voodoo Macbeth is a common nickname for the Federal Theatre Project's 1936 New York production of William Shakespeare's Macbeth, featuring an all-African American cast directed by Orson Welles...

. He collaborated closely with "Chick" Austin
Arthur Everett Austin, Jr.
Arthur Everett "Chick" Austin, Jr. was the innovative and pacesetting director of the Wadsworth Atheneum from 1927 through 1944. Austin's visionary gift included persistence in the introduction of then-modern theater and modern design and especially contemporaneous art...

 of Hartford's Wadsworth Atheneum
Wadsworth Atheneum
The Wadsworth Atheneum is the oldest public art museum in the United States, with significant holdings of French and American Impressionist paintings, Hudson River School landscapes, modernist masterpieces and contemporary works, as well as extensive holdings in early American furniture and...

 in these early productions.

His first film commission was The Plow That Broke the Plains
The Plow That Broke the Plains
The Plow That Broke the Plains is a short documentary film which shows what happened to the Great Plains region of the United States and Canada when uncontrolled agricultural farming led to the Dust Bowl...

, sponsored by the United States Resettlement Administration
Resettlement Administration
The Resettlement Administration was a U.S. federal agency that, between April 1935 and December 1936, relocated struggling urban and rural families to communities planned by the federal government....

, which also sponsored the film The River
The River (1938 film)
The River is a 1938 short documentary film which shows the importance of the Mississippi River to the United States, and how farming and timber practices had caused topsoil to be swept down the river and into the Gulf of Mexico, leading to catastrophic floods and impoverishing farmers...

with music by Thomson. He won the Pulitzer Prize for Music
Pulitzer Prize for Music
The Pulitzer Prize for Music was first awarded in 1943. Joseph Pulitzer did not call for such a prize in his will, but had arranged for a music scholarship to be awarded each year...

 in 1949 with his film score for Louisiana Story
Louisiana Story
Louisiana Story is a 78-minute black-and-white American film. Although the events and characters depicted are fictional, it is often misidentified as a documentary film. In fact, it is a docufiction. The script was written by Frances H. Flaherty and Robert J. Flaherty, and also directed by Robert...

.

In addition, Thomson was famous for his revival of the rare technique of composing "musical portraits" of living subjects, often spending hours in a room with them before rushing off to finish the piece on his own. Many subjects reported feeling that the pieces did capture something unique about their identities even though nearly all of the portraits were absent of any clearly representational content.

Later in life, Thomson became a sort of mentor and father figure to a new generation of American tonal composers such as Ned Rorem
Ned Rorem
Ned Rorem is a Pulitzer prize-winning American composer and diarist. He is best known and most praised for his song settings.-Life:...

, Paul Bowles
Paul Bowles
Paul Frederic Bowles was an American expatriate composer, author, and translator.Following a cultured middle-class upbringing in New York City, during which he displayed a talent for music and writing, Bowles pursued his education at the University of Virginia before making various trips to Paris...

 and Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein
Leonard Bernstein August 25, 1918 – October 14, 1990) was an American conductor, composer, author, music lecturer and pianist. He was among the first conductors born and educated in the United States of America to receive worldwide acclaim...

, a circle united as much by their shared homosexuality as by their similar compositional sensibilities. However, women composers were not part of that circle, and some have suggested that, as a critic, he pointedly ignored their works, or adopted a patronizing tone.

Thomson's score for The River was used in the 1983 ABC made-for-television movie The Day After
The Day After
The Day After is a 1983 American television movie which aired on November 20, 1983, on the ABC television network. It was seen by more than 100 million people during its initial broadcast....

.

Virgil Thomson's personal papers are in a repository at the Archival Papers in the Music Library of Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

 and also additional effects regarding Thomson are included in the Ian Hornak
Ian Hornak
Ian Hornak was an American draughtsman, painter and printmaker associated with the Hyperrealist and Photorealist art movements.-Biography:...

 repository at the Smithsonian Institution
Smithsonian Institution
The Smithsonian Institution is an educational and research institute and associated museum complex, administered and funded by the government of the United States and by funds from its endowment, contributions, and profits from its retail operations, concessions, licensing activities, and magazines...

's Archives of American Art in Washington D.C.

He was a recipient of Yale University
Yale University
Yale University is a private, Ivy League university located in New Haven, Connecticut, United States. Founded in 1701 in the Colony of Connecticut, the university is the third-oldest institution of higher education in the United States...

's Sanford Medal.

In 1988, he was awarded the National Medal of Arts
National Medal of Arts
The National Medal of Arts is an award and title created by the United States Congress in 1984, for the purpose of honoring artists and patrons of the arts. It is the highest honor conferred to an individual artist on behalf of the people. Honorees are selected by the National Endowment for the...

.

He was a National Patron of Delta Omicron
Delta Omicron
Delta Omicron is a co-ed international professional music honors fraternity whose mission is to promote and support excellence in music and musicianship.-History:...

, an international professional music fraternity.

He died on September 30, 1989, in his suite at the Chelsea Hotel in Manhattan.

See also

  • Tommasini, Anthony, Virgil Thomson: Composer on the Aisle (New York City: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999)

External links

The source of this article is wikipedia, the free encyclopedia.  The text of this article is licensed under the GFDL.
 
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