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
Browse 1-25 of 77 Available Recordings
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  • 1.
    American Psalmody of the 20th Century / Gloriae Dei Cantores
    Label: Paraclete Recordings   Catalog: GDCD8299 Release Date: 09/30/2016   Number of Discs: 3
    Composer:  Samuel Adler,  Charles Ives,  Alan Hovhaness,  Daniel Pinkham  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gloria Dei Cantores Schola Choir
    CD: $39.99
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  • 2.
    Songs to Fill the Void / Barefield, Hague
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 1625 Release Date: 05/10/2016   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Virgil Thomson,  Charles Ives,  Scott Wheeler,  Theodore Chanler  ... 
    Performer:  Robert Barefield,  Carolyn Hague
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  • 3.
    Bowles: Complete Piano Works, Vol. 1 / Invencia Piano Duo
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8559786 Release Date: 04/08/2016   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Paul Bowles,  Virgil Thomson,  Leonard Bernstein
    Performer:  Andrey Kasparov,  Oksana Lutsyshyn
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Invencia Piano Duo
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  • 4.
    The Complete Songs of Virgil Thomson for Voice and Piano / Pelletier, Osborn
    Label: New World Records   Catalog: 80775 Release Date: 02/09/2016   Number of Discs: 3
    Composer:  Virgil Thomson
    On sale! $61.98
    CD: $48.99
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  • 5.
    The Piano in America / Dubal, Waldoff
    Label: Arkiv   Catalog: 70002 Release Date: 06/24/2014   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  William Brown,  James Hewitt,  Louis Moreau Gottschalk,  Richard Hoffman  ... 
    Performer:  David Dubal,  Stanley Waldoff
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  • 6.
    Virgil Thomson: The Mother of Us All / Osgood, Manhattan School of Music Opera Theater
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 1486 Release Date: 04/08/2014  
    Composer:  Virgil Thomson
    Performer:  Scott Russell,  Alexander Frankel,  Noragh Devlin,  Addison Hamilton  ... 
    Conductor:  Steven Osgood
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Manhattan Opera Orchestra
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    On sale! $41.98
    CD: $35.99
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  • 7.
    Panorama Of American Piano Music / Yvar Mikhashoff
    Label: Mode   Catalog: 262 Release Date: 12/03/2013   Number of Discs: 4
    Composer:  Leo Ornstein,  Charles Tomlinson Griffes,  Percy Aldridge Grainger,  Aaron Copland  ... 
    Performer:  Yvar Mikhashoff
    CD: $52.99
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  • 8.
    Leonard Slatkin Conducts American Portraits - Copland
    Label: Rca Victor Red Seal   Catalog: 60983 Release Date: 10/01/2013   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Aaron Copland,  William Schuman,  Dudley Buck,  Edwin Eugene Bagley  ... 
    Performer:  H. Norman Schwarzkopf
    Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  St. Louis Symphony Orchestra
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  • 9.
    Mercury Living Presence - The Collector's Edition Vol 2
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 001831802 Release Date: 06/04/2013   Number of Discs: 55
    Composer:  Arnold Schoenberg,  Anton Webern,  Alban Berg,  Ottorino Respighi  ... 
    Performer:  Helga Pilarczyk,  Yehudi Menuhin,  Mihaly Székely,  Olga Szönyi  ... 
    Conductor:  Antal Doráti,  Rafael Kubelik,  Anatole Fistoulari,  Frederick Fennell  ... 
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  London Symphony Orchestra,  Minneapolis Symphony Orchestra,  Philharmonia Hungarica  ... 
    CD: $181.49
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  • 10.
    Remembering The Beach
    Label: Mark Custom Recording Service,   Catalog: 50279 Release Date: 03/26/2013   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Virgil Thomson,  Michael Colgrass,  David Maslanka
    Performer:  Kevin Cobb
    Conductor:  William Berz
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Rutgers Wind Ensemble
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  • 11.
    American Spirit: Roots & Transformations
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8505233 Release Date: 10/30/2012   Number of Discs: 5
    Composer:  Charles Ives,  Vincent Persichetti,  Roy Harris,  Ernst Bacon  ... 
    Performer:  Barry Scott,  Sharon Mabry,  Roger Wiesmeyer,  Anthony LaMarchina  ... 
    Conductor:  Leonard Slatkin,  Angel Gil-Ordóńez,  Thomas Wilkins,  Peter Boyer
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Nashville Symphony Orchestra,  Nashville Symphony Chorus,  Post-Classical Ensemble  ... 
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    CD: $32.99
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  • 12.
    Quadrants: Modern String Quartets
    Label: Navona   Catalog: 5883 Release Date: 09/25/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Marie Incontrera,  Michael G. Cunningham,  Alan Beeler,  Ulf Grahn  ... 
    Conductor:  Vit Muzik
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston String Quartet,  New England String Quartet,  Moravian Philharmonic Chamber Players  ... 
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  • 13.
    American Song / Meriel Dickinson, Peter Dickinson
    Label: Heritage   Catalog: 231 Release Date: 07/17/2012   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  George Gershwin,  Elliott Carter,  Virgil Thomson,  John Cage  ... 
    Performer:  Peter Dickinson,  Meriel Dickinson
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  • 14.
    The Legacy Of Nadia Boulanger / United States Army Field Band Soldiers' Chorus
    Label: Altissimo   Catalog: 61382 Release Date: 11/15/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Adolphus Hailstork,  Daniel Pinkham,  David Diamond,  David Conte  ... 
    Performer:  Mark Dwyer,  Rose Ryon,  William Gabbard
    Conductor:  Daniel Toven
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  United States Army Field Band Soldiers' Chorus
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  • 15.
    Label: Composers Recordings, Inc. (Cri)   Catalog: 411 Release Date: 02/01/2011   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Virgil Thomson,  Robert Helps
    Conductor:  James Bolle,  Zoltán Rozsnyai
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  New Hampshire Symphony Orchestra,  Columbia Symphony Orchestra
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  • 16.
    Louisiana: A Pianist's Journey / Kenneth Boulton
    Label: Cambria   Catalog: 1171 Release Date: 10/26/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Walter Niemann,  Roy Spaulding Stoughton,  John Parsons Beach,  Ferde Grofé  ... 
    Performer:  Kenneth Boulton
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  • 17.
    Thomson: Three Pictures / Gil Rose, Boston Modern Orchestra Project
    Label: Bmop/Sound   Catalog: 1018 Release Date: 09/14/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Virgil Thomson
    Conductor:  Gil Rose
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Boston Modern Orchestra Project
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  • 18.
    Label: Composers Recordings, Inc. (Cri)   Catalog: 207 Release Date: 07/01/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Virgil Thomson
    Performer:  Paul Ingraham,  Peter Simenauer,  Lillian Fuchs,  Frederic Mills  ... 
    Conductor:  Virgil Thomson
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  • 19.
    Heaven Is Music - Choral And Vocal Music Of Virgil Thomson / Gregg Smith Singers
    Label: Albany Records   Catalog: 1166 Release Date: 02/09/2010   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Virgil Thomson
    Performer:  Rosalind Rees
    Conductor:  Gregg Smith
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Gregg Smith Singers
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  • 20.
    Greatest Hits Of The 1900s / Kapp, Philharmonia Virtuosi
    Label: Cbs Masterworks   Catalog: 42125 Release Date: 06/25/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Barber,  Jacques Ibert,  Gabriel Fauré,  Virgil Thomson  ... 
    Performer:  Maureen McGovern,  David Burgess,  Bob James
    Conductor:  Richard Kapp
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Philharmonia Virtuosi
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  • 21.
    Simple Gifts / Fullington, The Tudor Choir
    Label: Gothic Records   Catalog: 49265 Release Date: 04/14/2009   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Joseph Brackett,  Hammond, Thomas, Jr.,  Susanna Brady,  Traditional  ... 
    Conductor:  Doug Fullington
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Tudor Choir
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  • 22.
    Aliyah! Israel / Gloriae Dei Cantores
    Label: Paraclete Recordings   Catalog: 3417 Release Date: 11/18/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Leonard Bernstein,  Samuel Adler,  Alan Hovhaness,  Darius Milhaud  ... 
    Performer:  Emily Lewis,  Fred Fried,  Siobhan Kelleher,  Linda Houle
    Conductor:  Elizabeth C. Patterson
    CD: $14.99
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  • 23.
    Jamestown Concerto - American Music For Cello And Orchestra
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8559344 Release Date: 08/26/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Virgil Thomson,  William Schuman,  William Perry
    Performer:  Yehuda Hanani
    Conductor:  William Eddins
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland
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  • 24.
    At The Beach / Hardenberger, Pontinen
    Label: Philips   Catalog: 422344 Release Date: 05/27/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Marcel Bitsch,  Max Reger,  William Weide,  Jacques Ibert  ... 
    Performer:  Roland Pöntinen,  Hĺkan Hardenberger
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  • 25.
    Corigliano: The Red Violin Caprices / Quint, Wolfram
    Label: Naxos   Catalog: 8559364 Release Date: 05/27/2008   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Virgil Thomson,  John Corigliano
    Performer:  Philippe Quint,  William Wolfram
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