Thomson, Virgil, 1896-

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Virgil Thomson was born in Kansas City, Missouri on November 25, 1896. As a boy, he took lessons in piano and organ, and soon found work as a church organist. He attended public schools and then Kansas City Polytechnic Institute, a junior college. In 1917 he enlisted in the Army, but World War I came to an end before he could be sent to Europe.

After his discharge from the military, Thomson attended Harvard, where he sang in the Glee Club and studied with Edward Burlingame Hill and Archibald Davison. His college career was interrupted by a fellowship that enabled him to spend a year in Paris, where he studied counterpoint and organ with Nadia Boulanger, and became a lifelong Francophile. After his Harvard graduation in 1923 and some additional training at the Juilliard School, Thomson moved to Paris, where he befriended many prominent musicians, artists, and writers, including his fellow expatriate Gertrude Stein. She provided the libretto for Thomson's first opera, Four Saints in Three Acts, which created a sensation when it was first performed in 1934. Although it never entered the standard repertory, Four Saints made Thomson a celebrity, and it remains his best-known work to this day.

In the spring of 1940 the German invasion compelled Thomson to leave France. He settled in Manhattan, renting an apartment in the Chelsea Hotel that would remain his home until his death nearly six decades later. From 1940 to 1954, Thomson was a staff writer for New York Herald Tribune . His unconventional opinions, elegantly clear prose, and devastating wit made him the most admired music critic in America, and he was often compared to earlier composer-critics such as Berlioz and Debussy.

Thomson continued to compose throughout his years at the Herald Tribune and after. In 1947 he produced a second opera, The Mother of Us All, again to a libretto by Gertrude Stein. Thomson wrote his last opera, Lord Byron (libretto by Jack Larson) in response to a commission from the Metropolitan Opera, but it received its first performance at the Juilliard School, in 1972. Thomson composed in many other genres, ranging from symphonies and film scores to songs and choral works. He was also known for his musical "portraits"--short works inspired by specific persons and rapidly sketched in their presence.

Thomson received many awards, including the 1949 Pulitzer Prize (for his film score Louisiana Story ), the Kennedy Center Honors, the French Légion d'honneur, and at least nineteen honorary doctorates.

Virgil Thomson died in New York on September 30, 1989.

From the guide to the The Virgil Thomson Papers, 1804-1990 (inclusive), (Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Yale University)

Archival Resources
Role Title Holding Repository
referencedIn The Richard Donovan Papers, 1913-1971 (inclusive) Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Yale University
referencedIn Autograph File, T, 1580-1975. Houghton Library, , Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Eugenie Gershoy papers, 1914-1983 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
referencedIn The Leonard Burkat Papers, 1943-1981 (inclusive) Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Yale University
referencedIn Sherry Mangan papers, 1923-1961. Houghton Library, , Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn The John Kirkpatrick Papers, 1836-1993 (inclusive) Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Yale University
referencedIn Paul Bowles Collection TXRC99-A15., 1897-1995 Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Paul Jacobs collection of noncommercial recordings [sound recording], 1967-1983 The New York Public Library. Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound.
referencedIn George Balanchine archive, 1924-1989 (inclusive), 1961-1983 (bulk). Harvard Theatre Collection, Houghton Library, Harvard College Library, Harvard University.
referencedIn The Papers of the Society for the Publication of American Music, 1924-1974 Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Yale University
referencedIn E. Robert Schmitz Papers, 1909-1991 (inclusive) Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Yale University
referencedIn The Moldenhauer Archives at Harvard University: Manuscript music compositions, 1880-1985. Houghton Library, , Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn National Orchestral Association collection of rehearsal and concert recordings [sound recording], 1938-1968 The New York Public Library. Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound.
referencedIn Henry-Russell Hitchcock papers, 1919-1987 Archives of American Art, Smithsonian Institution
referencedIn The Hershy Kay Papers, 1940-1974 (inclusive) Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Yale University
referencedIn Sidney Finkelstein Papers MS 128., 1914-1974 Special Collections and University Archives, University of Massachusetts Amherst Libraries
referencedIn Joe Brainard Archive, 1960-1992 University of California, San Diego. Geisel Library. Mandeville Special Collections Library.
referencedIn Victoria Ocampo papers, 1908-1979. Houghton Library, , Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Papers, 1884-1971 Schlesinger Library, Radcliffe Institute
referencedIn Jacques Barzun Papers, ca.1900-1999. Columbia University. Rare Book and Manuscript Library,
referencedIn Quincy Porter Papers, 1897-1975 (inclusive) Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Yale University
referencedIn Gertrude Stein Collection TXRC06-A12., 1914-1973, (bulk 1946-1967) Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Henry Cowell collection of noncommercial recordings [sound recording], 1940-1953 The New York Public Library. Rodgers and Hammerstein Archives of Recorded Sound.
referencedIn Register to the Papers of Kurt Weill and Lotte Lenya, 1890-1984, inclusive Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Yale University
referencedIn The Frederick and Rose Plaut Papers, 1907-1986 (inclusive) Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Yale University
creatorOf Hitchcock, Henry Russell, 1903-. Henry-Russell Hitchcock papers, 1919-1987. Smithsonian Archives of American Art
referencedIn S. Foster Damon Festival papers, Damon (S. Foster) Festival papers, 1967-1968 John Hay Library, Special Collections
referencedIn E. E. Cummings papers, 1870-1969. Houghton Library, , Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn E. E. Cummings additional papers, 1870-1969. Houghton Library, , Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn John Mason Brown papers, 1922-1967. Houghton Library, , Harvard College Library, Harvard University
creatorOf The Virgil Thomson Papers, 1804-1990 (inclusive) Irving S. Gilmore Music Library, Yale University
referencedIn Additional papers, 1917-1962 and undated. Houghton Library, , Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Gore Vidal papers, 1875-2004 (inclusive), 1936-2000 (bulk). Houghton Library, , Harvard College Library, Harvard University
referencedIn Georges Hugnet Papers TXRC06-A17., 1920-1971 Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
referencedIn Bacon, Ernst. Papers, 1926-1990 Stanford University. Libraries. Dept. of Special Collections and University Archives.
referencedIn Millicent Dillon Papers TXRC92-A25., 1905-1990 Harry Ransom Humanities Research Center
Role Title Holding Repository
Direct Relationships
Relation Name
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correspondedWith Brainard, Joe, 1942- person
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associatedWith Dlugoszewksi, Lucia, 1931- person
associatedWith Dlugoszewski, Lucia, 1931- person
associatedWith Donovan, Richard, 1891-1970 person
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associatedWith Eugenie Gershoy person
associatedWith Falla, Manuel de, 1876-1946 person
associatedWith Faulkner, William, 1897-1962 person
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correspondedWith Finkelstein, Sidney Walter, 1909-1974 person
associatedWith Finney, Ross Lee, 1906- person
associatedWith Foss, Lukas, 1922- person
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associatedWith Franklin, Benjamin, 1706-1790 person
associatedWith Frederick and Rose Plaut person
associatedWith Fukushima, Kazuo, 1930- person
associatedWith Fussell, Charles. person
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associatedWith Geiringer, Karl, 1899- person
associatedWith Gershwin, Ira, 1896- person
associatedWith Ginastera, Alberto, 1916- person
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associatedWith Harrison, Lou, 1917- person
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associatedWith Heghinian, Rose. person
associatedWith Hershy Kay person
associatedWith Hitchcock, Henry Russell, 1903- person
associatedWith Hoover, Kathleen and Cage, John. person
associatedWith Hoover, Kathleen O'Donnell. person
associatedWith House, L. Margueritte L. person
associatedWith Houseman, John. person
associatedWith Howitt, Wayne Andrew. person
associatedWith Hughes, Langston. person
associatedWith Hugnet, Georges, 1906-1974 person
associatedWith Hundley, Richard. person
associatedWith Jacobs, Paul person
associatedWith Jones, Charles person
associatedWith Joyce, James, 1882-1941 person
associatedWith Katz, Leon. person
associatedWith Kay, Ulysses, 1917- person
associatedWith Kennedy, John Brodbin. person
associatedWith Kernis, Aaron Jay. person
associatedWith Kierman, Carson. person
associatedWith Kingman, Daniel. person
associatedWith Kirchner, Leon. person
associatedWith Kirkpatrick, John, 1905- person
associatedWith Kirstein, Lincoln, 1907- person
associatedWith Koch, Kenneth. person
associatedWith Koch, Kenneth. Poems. n. d. person
associatedWith Kochnitzky, Léon. person
associatedWith Kodály, Zoltán, 1882-1967 person
associatedWith Koehne, Graeme. person
associatedWith Krenek, Ernst, 1900- person
associatedWith Lang, Paul Henry, 1901-1971 person
associatedWith Larson, Jack. person
associatedWith Lee, Noël, 1924- person
associatedWith Leinsdorf, Erich, 1912- person
associatedWith Leisner, David. person
associatedWith Lenya, Lotte person
associatedWith Leonard Burkat person
associatedWith Leonid Berman. person
associatedWith Levin, Harry. person
associatedWith Lieberson, Goddard. person
associatedWith Lister, Rodney. person
associatedWith Lloyd, Caroline. person
associatedWith Lowell, Robert. person
associatedWith Luening, Otto, 1900- person
associatedWith Lutyens, Elisabeth, 1906- person
associatedWith Mabel Wheeler Daniels person
associatedWith Mabille, Pierre. person
associatedWith MacDowell, Edward, 1860-1908 person
associatedWith Maceda, José. person
associatedWith MacLeish, Archibald, 1892- person
associatedWith Malipiero, Gian Francesco, 1882-1973 person
associatedWith Mangan, Sherry. person
associatedWith Mangan, Sherry, 1904- person
associatedWith Martin, Marty. person
associatedWith Massot, Pierre de. person
associatedWith Mehta, Zubin. person
associatedWith Menotti, Gian Carlo, 1911- person
associatedWith Milhaud, Darius, 1892-1974 person
associatedWith Mitropoulos, Dmitri, 1896-1960 person
associatedWith Moldenhauer, Hans person
associatedWith Moore, Douglas, 1893-1969 person
associatedWith Mozart, Wolfgang Amadeus, 1756-1791 person
associatedWith Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903- person
associatedWith Nabokov, Nicolas, 1903-1978 person
associatedWith Nash, Ogden, 1902-1971 person
associatedWith National Orchestral Association (U.S.) corporateBody
correspondedWith Ocampo, Victoria, 1891- person
associatedWith O'Keeffe, Georgia, 1887-1986 person
associatedWith Ono, Yoko. person
associatedWith Ormandy, Eugene, 1899-1985 person
associatedWith Paris, Matthew. person
associatedWith Partch, Harry, 1901-1974 person
associatedWith Pinkham, Daniel. person
associatedWith Pons, Lily, 1898-1976 person
associatedWith Porter, Quincy, 1897-1966 person
associatedWith Posner, David. person
associatedWith Poulenc, Francis, 1899-1963 person
associatedWith Purdy, James. person
associatedWith Rabinof, Sylvia Smith. person
associatedWith Ramey, Phillip. person
associatedWith Robbins, Jerome. person
associatedWith Rorem, Ned, 1923- person
associatedWith Rosen, Charles, 1927- person
associatedWith Rosenthal, Manuel, 1904- person
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associatedWith Rudhyar, Dane. person
associatedWith Russo, William. person
associatedWith Salazar, Adolfo. person
associatedWith Saslow, Kenneth. person
associatedWith Satie, Erik, 1865-1925 person
associatedWith Satie, Erik, 1866-1925 person
associatedWith Sauguet, Henri, 1901- person
associatedWith Schippers, Thomas. person
associatedWith Schoenberg, Arnold, 1874-1951 person
associatedWith Schumann, Robert, 1810-1856 person
associatedWith Schuman, William, 1910- person
associatedWith Schuyler, James. person
associatedWith Sellars, James. person
associatedWith Shakespeare, William. person
associatedWith Shere, Charles, 1935- person
associatedWith Siegmeister, Elie, 1909- person
associatedWith Sims, Ezra, 1928- person
associatedWith Singing label on discarded envelope person
associatedWith Slonimsky, Nicolas, 1894- person
associatedWith Smith, Melville, 1898-1962 person
associatedWith Spizizen, Louise M. person
associatedWith Stein, Gertrude, 1874-1946 person
associatedWith Stettheimer, Florine, 1871-1944 person
associatedWith Stokowski, Leopold, 1882-1977 person
associatedWith Stravinsky, Igor, 1882-1971 person
associatedWith Surinach, Carlos. person
associatedWith Sutherland, Donald. person
associatedWith Sutherland, Donald, 1915- person
associatedWith Tcherepnin, Ivan. person
associatedWith The Society for the Publication of American Music person
associatedWith Thomson, John Bain. person
associatedWith Thomson, Virgil. person
associatedWith Thorne, Francis. person
associatedWith Toklas, Alice B. person
associatedWith Toynbee, Philip. person
associatedWith Trimble, Lester, 1923-1986 person
associatedWith Tucker, Alfred. person
associatedWith Tulan, Fred. person
associatedWith Turok, Paul, 1929- person
associatedWith Tyler, Parker. person
associatedWith Urbano, Jorge d'. person
associatedWith Vanderbilt, Gloria, 1924- person
associatedWith Van Vechten, Carl, 1880-1964 person
associatedWith Varèse, Edgard, 1883-1965 person
correspondedWith Vidal, Gore, 1925- person
associatedWith Villa-Lobos, Heitor. person
associatedWith Vinton, John. person
associatedWith Watts, Schuyler. person
associatedWith Webster, John. person
associatedWith Weill, Kurt, 1900-1950 person
associatedWith Weiner, Stanley. person
associatedWith Welty, Eudora. person
associatedWith Wheeler, Scott. person
associatedWith White, John Reeves, 1924-1984 person
associatedWith Widney, William. person
associatedWith Williams, Jonathan. person
associatedWith Williams, W. C. person
associatedWith Williams, William Carlos, 1883-1963 person
associatedWith Wilson, Richard, 1941- person
associatedWith Yellin, Victor Fell. person
Place Name Admin Code Country
Subject
Opera
Motion picture music
Composers--Correspondence
Music--United States--20th century
Music critics
Occupation
Function

Person

Birth 1896

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SNAC ID: 65091239