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Virgil Thomson

Photo credit: Maggie Kotuk
1896 - 1989


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Virgil Thomson trained first as a pianist and organist, then studied composition at Harvard University and with Nadia Boulanger in Paris * After working as an organist in Boston he settled in Paris (1925-40) * Influenced by Les Six, Eric Satie and Stravinsky * Music is characterised by clarity, irony and playful invention * Met Gertrude Stein, with whom he collaborated on an innovative series of stageworks * Drew wide inspiration from hymn tunes, cowboy songs, baroque fugues, tangos and parlour waltzes * Music ranges in harmonic idiom from simple tonality to the occasional example of complex serial writing * He returned to USA and was chief music critic of New York Herald Tribune (1940-54) * Influential in charting development of first generations of internationally acclaimed American composers

Works by Virgil Thomson include:
Sonata da Chiesa (1926) for instrumental quintet
Stabat Mater (1931) for soprano and strings
Filling Station (1937) Ballet
Crossing Brooklyn Ferry (1958) for chorus and orchestra
"My advice to young composers is, let your music sound like anything it wants to... Don't calculate: submit yourself to the discipline of spontaneity. Anything is legitimate to mix with anything else if the miracle of unity or continuity occurs." — Virgil Thomson

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