Virgil Thomson

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Virgil Thomson, photo by Carl van Vechten , 1947

Virgil Garnett Thomson (born November 25, 1896 in Kansas City , Missouri , † September 30, 1989 in New York ) was an American composer .


Thomson studied from 1919 at Harvard University and 1921/22 with Nadia Boulanger in Paris. There he came into contact with the Groupe des Six , Pablo Picasso and Gertrude Stein, among others . From 1925 to 1940 Thomson lived entirely in Paris, having previously returned to the USA for a while. In 1940 he settled in New York . From 1940 to 1954 he wrote as a music critic for the New York Herald Tribune . He also authored several books, including an autobiography. In 1948 he was elected to the American Academy of Arts and Letters and in 1958 to the American Academy of Arts and Sciences .

Work and awards

In the 1930s Thomson worked as a theater and film composer. His first film assignment was The Plow That Broke the Plains (funded by the United States Resettlement Administration ). In 1949 he won the Pulitzer Prize for Music with his film music for Louisiana Legende ( Louisiana Story ), which he also reworked into two concert suites. In addition, Thomson was awarded the Kennedy Prize in 1983 . In 1988 he received the National Medal of Arts from President Ronald Reagan .

Gertrude Stein , with whom he was friends, wrote the libretti for two of his three operas : Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of Us All .

His other works include the ballet Filling Station , orchestral compositions (including three symphonies , concerto for flute , harp , strings and percussion , cello concerto), piano and chamber music as well as vocal works (including three masses and a requiem ). As a composer, for example, he influenced Aaron Copland .

Publications (selection)

  • A Virgil Thomson Reader . Houghton Mifflin, 1982, ISBN 0-395-31330-9 .
  • Music, Right and Left. Greenwood Press Reprint, 1969, OCLC 758571125 .
  • State of Music. 1939. (New edition: Greenwood Press, London, ISBN 0-8371-7258-6 )
  • with Minna Retzer and Adalbert Brunner: Music happening in America. Kasparek, 1948, DNB 455058067 .


  • Steven Watson: Prepare for Saints: Gertrude Stein, Virgil Thomson, and the Mainstreaming of American Modernism . University of California Press, 1995, ISBN 0-520-22353-5 .
  • Anthony C. Tommasini: Virgil Thomson's Musical Portraits (Thematic Catalogs) Pendragon Press, New York 1986, ISBN 0-918728-51-7 .
  • Kathleen O. Hoover, John Cage: Virgil Thomson: His Life and Music . Ayer Co Pub, ISBN 0-8369-5376-2 .

Web links

Individual evidence

  1. ^ Members: Virgil Thomson. American Academy of Arts and Letters, accessed April 29, 2019 .
  2. Lee Stacey, Lol Henderson (Ed.): Encyclopedia of Music in the 20th Century. Routledge, New York 2013, p. 631: Virgil Thomson Biography. ( (English)
  3. Virgil Thomson. Library of America and Penguin Random House, New York 2016, ISBN 978-1-59853-476-4 , p. 479. ( (English)
  4. ^ Virgil Thomson: Music Chronicles 1940-1954. Library of America and Penguin Random House, New York 2014, ISBN 978-1-59853-309-5 See Chronology 1988 Virgil Thomson and National Medal of Arts and Ronald Reagan. ( (English)