Virgil Thomson

Biography

Born: November 25, 1896; Kansas City, MO   Died: September 30, 1989; New York, NY  
Perhaps best known for his collaborations with author Gertrude Stein, American composer and music critic Virgil Thomson was born in Kansas City. He began playing piano at the age of five and began taking lessons with local teachers at age 12. He studied organ from 1909 until 1917, and again in 1919. As a young man, Thomson worked as an organist in his family's church of Calvary Baptist, as well as in other churches throughout Kansas City. After Read more attending Central High School from 1908 to 1913, Thomson enrolled at a local junior college, where he studied from 1915 to 1917, and again in 1919. During World War I, Thomson enrolled in the Army, where he served in a field artillery unit. He also received training in radio telephony at Columbia University and in aviation in Texas. The war ended shortly before Thomson was to leave for France.

In the fall of 1919, Thomson enrolled at Harvard University, where he met three individuals who would come to have a profound influence on the young musician. The first of these was Edward Burlingame Hill, with whom Thomson studied orchestration and modern French music. Archibald T. Davison was the conductor of the Harvard Glee Club, a group with which Thomson spent three years as assistant and accompanist. Thomson also came into contact with S. Foster Damon, a Blake Scholar who introduced him to the music of Satie and the writings of Gertrude Stein. Thomson began to compose in 1920, while still a student at Harvard.

Thomson spent the summer of 1921 touring Europe with the Glee Club. As the tour wound down, Thomson decided to remain, and under a John Knowles Paine Traveling Fellowship, he studied organ with Nadia Boulanger and counterpoint privately. During this time, he continued to compose and had his first critical writings published by the Boston Transcript. Upon his return the U.S., Thomson returned to Harvard and became organist/choirmaster at King's Chapel in Boston. After his graduation from Harvard in 1923, a grant from the Juilliard School allowed him to go to New York, where he studied conducting with Chalmers Clifton and counterpoint with Rosario Scalero.

From 1925 to 1940, aside from occasional visits to the U.S., Thomson resided in Paris. It was there, in 1926, that he met Stein. The two began to plan an opera, the result of which is Four Saints in Three Acts, perhaps Thomson's most famous work. For a period of approximately seven years after the composition of Four Saints in Three Acts, Thomson explored the problems of "pure" music as he worked on expanding his technical facility as a composer, especially in regards to writing for string instruments. During the late 1930s, Thomson returned to a more nationalistic vein with the scores to two films, The Plow That Broke the Plain and The River, and a ballet, Filling Station.

In October of 1940, Thomson became music critic for The New York Herald Tribune. Although he continued to compose during his 14 years at the post, Thomson established himself as one of the foremost critical writers of the era. His writings, which are characterized by a brilliant and at times deeply provocative, but always highly opinionated whit, furnished material for three anthologies; The Musical Scene, The Art of Judging Music and Music, and Right and Left. Throughout the 1950s and 1960s, Thomson traveled extensively as a guest lecturer, or a conference participant, all the while continuing to conduct, write articles, and compose. Read less

There are 83 Virgil Thomson recordings available.

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Works

Virgil Thomson


MOST POPULAR WORKS
I Introduction and Allegro
II Andante cantabile
III Allegretto
IV Alla breve
The Plow That Broke The Plains - Suite: Prelude
The Plow That Broke The Plains - Suite: Pastorale (Grass)
The Plow That Broke The Plains - Suite: Cattle
The Plow That Broke The Plains - Suite: Blues (Speculation)
The Plow That Broke The Plains - Suite: Drought
The Plow That Broke The Plains - Suite: Devastation
WORKS
No. 1. O gentle heart
No. 2. Love, like a leaf
No. 3. O, happy were our fathers
No. 4. Weep for the little lambs
No. 5. Go down, O Sun
No. 6. Behold, O Earth
No. 7. Immortal Zeus controls the fate of Man
Autumn (Concertina For Harp, Strings & Percussion): Salute To The Wind
Autumn (Concertina For Harp, Strings & Percussion): Dialogue
Autumn (Concertina For Harp, Strings & Percussion): Love Scene
Autumn (Concertina For Harp, Strings & Percussion): Promenade
I. Rider on the Plains
II. Variations on a Southern Hymn
III. Children's Games
I. Rapsodico
II. Lento
III. Ritmico
Introduction
Mac's dance
Motorist and Mac
Truck Driver's Dance
Scene: Trooper and Truck Drivers
Dance of Family Life
Tango
Waltz
The Big Apple
The Hold-up
The Chase
Finale
I. Cynthia Kemper, A Fanfare
II. Anne Miracle
III. Alice Toklas
IV. Yvonne de Casa Fuerte
V. Mary Reynolds
No. 1. The Divine Image
No. 2. Tiger! Tiger!
No. 3. The Land of Dreams
No. 4. The Little Black Boy
No. 5. And did those feet
No. 1. Follow Your Saint
No. 2. There is a Garden in Her Face
No. 3. Rose Cheek's Laura, Come
No. 4. Follow Thy Fair Sun
My Shepherd Will Supply My Need
No. 1. The Morning Star
No. 2. Death, 'tis a Melancholy Day
No. 3. Green Fields
No. 1. Pour chercher sur la carte des mers
No. 2. La premiere de toutes
No. 3. Mon amour est bon a dire
No. 4. Partis les vaisseaux
Kyrie
Gloria
Credo
Sanctus
Benedictus
Agnus Dei
No. 1. Love Song
No. 2. Down at the Docks
No. 3. Let's Take a Walk
No. 4. A Prayer to St. Catherine
No. 3. Georges Hugnet, Poet and Man of Letters
No. 1. Senorita Juanita de Medina Accompanied by her Mother
No. 2. Madame Marthe-Marthine
No. 4. Miss Gertrude Stein as a Young Girl
No. 5. Cliquet-Pleyel in F
No. 6. Mrs. C[hester] W[hitin] L[asell]
No. 7. Sauguet, from Life
No. 8. Ruth Smallens
I. Allegro moderato
II. Adagio
III. Tempo di waltzer
IV. Lento - Presto
No. 1. Follow Your Saint
No. 2. There is a Garden in her Face
No. 3. Rose-Cheek'd Laure, Come
No. 4. Follow Thy Fair Sun
I Allegro militaire
II Andante
III Allegro
I Allegro moderato
II Tempo di Valzer
III Adagio sostenuto
IV Allegretto
I Introduction and Allegro
II Andante cantabile
III Allegretto
IV Alla breve
Act I Scene 1: Yes, I was (Susan B. Anthony, Gertrude S., Anne, Virgil T.)
Act I Scene 2: Pity the poor persecutor ... (Virgil T., Daniel Webster, Jo the Loiterer, Chris the Citizen, Gertrude S., Susan B. Anthony, Indiana Elliot, Jo the Loiterer, Angel More, Henrietta M., Henry B., Anthony Comstock, John Adams, Thaddeus Stevens, Constance Fletcher, Isabel Wentworth, Gloster Heming, Anna Hope, Lillian Russell, Jenny Reefer, Ulysses S. Grant, Herman Atlan, Donald Gallup, A.A. and T.T.)
Act I Scene 3: It is cold weather (Andrew Johnson, Henrietta M., Thaddeus Stevens, Constance Fletcher, John Adams, Lillian Russell, Herman Atlan, Jenny Reefer, Donald Gallup, Jo the Loiterer, Chris the Citizen)
Act I Scene 4: I do not know (Susan B. Anthony, Jo the Loiterer, Negro Man, Negro Woman, Donald Gallup, Daniel Webster, Thaddeus Stevens, Andrew Johnson, Chris the Citizen)
Act I Scene 5: Will they remember? (Susan B. Anthony, Anne, Jenny Reefer, Jo the Loiterer, Indiana Elliot, John Adams, Constance Fletcher, Daniel Webster, Angel More, Ulysses S. Grant, Indiana Elliot's Brother)
Act II Scene 1: Susan B., they want you (Anne, Susan B. Anthony, Jenny Reefer, Jo the Loiterer, Indiana Elliot, Thaddeus Stevens, Andrew Johnson)
Act II Scene 2: Oh, it was wonderful (Anne, Susan B. Anthony, Jenny Reefer, Lillian Russell, John Adams, Constance Fletcher, Daniel Webster, Indiana Elliot, Jo the Loiterer)
Act II Scene 3: The vote! (Anne, Susan B. Anthony, Henry B., Angel More, John Adams, Andrew Johnson, Thaddeus Stevens, Daniel Webster, Henrietta M., Constance Fletcher, Indiana Elliot, Gloster Heming, Isabel Wentworth, Anna Hope, Lillian Russell, Anthony Comstock, Jenny Reefer, Ulysses S. Grant, Herman Atlan, Donald Gallup, Jo the Loiterer)
I. Prelude
II. Cold Weather
III. A Political Meeting
IV. Hymns
Prelude
Pastorale (Grass)
Cattle
The Homesteader
Warning
War and the Tractor
Speculation (Blues)
Drought
Wind and Dust
Devastation
The Plow That Broke The Plains - Suite: Prelude
The Plow That Broke The Plains - Suite: Pastorale (Grass)
The Plow That Broke The Plains - Suite: Cattle
The Plow That Broke The Plains - Suite: Blues (Speculation)
The Plow That Broke The Plains - Suite: Drought
The Plow That Broke The Plains - Suite: Devastation
Prelude
First Forest
A Big River
Cotton Pickers
Ruins
Logging
Coal
Floods
Requiem
Tenancy
Finale
The River Suite: The Old South
The River Suite: Industrial Expansion in the Mississippi Valley
The River Suite: Soil Erosion and Floods
The River Suite: Finale
No. 1. English Usage
No. 2. My Crow Pluto


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