Thomson, Virgil, 1896-1989
- Existence: November 25, 1896 - September 30, 1989
Virgil Thomson, whose centennial was celebrated in 1996, was a many faceted American composer of great originality and a music critic of singular brilliance. Born in Kansas City, Missouri, on 25 November 1896, Thomson studied at Harvard. After a prolonged period in Paris where he studied with Nadia Boulanger and met Cocteau, Stravinsky, Satie, and the artists of Les Six, he returned to the United States where he was chief music critic for the New York Herald Tribune from 1937 to 1951.
Virgil Thomson composed in almost every genre of music. Utilizing a musical style marked by sharp wit and overt playfulness, Thomson produced a highly original body of work rooted in American speech rhythms and hymnbook harmony. His music was most influenced by Satie's ideals of clarity, simplicity, irony, and humor. Among his most famous works are the operas Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of Us All (both with texts by Gertrude Stein with whom he formed a legendary artistic collaboration), scores to The Plow That Broke the Plains and The River (films by Pare Lorentz), and Louisiana Story (film by Robert Flaherty). In addition to his compositions, he was the author of eight books, including an autobiography.
Included in his many honors and awards are the Pulitzer Prize, a Brandeis Award, the gold medal for music from the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters, the National Book Circle Award, the Kennedy Center Honors, and 20 honorary doctorates.