Virgil Thomson

Thomson is one of the few true modernists in America. Thomson's music is almost disconcertingly spare and direct. In the consciously American pieces especially, there is a kind of aural equivalent to Cubist collage, as ragtime, waltzes, tangos, two-steps, fiddle tunes, and hymns get pasted onto the texture. Unlike Ives, there's an unsentimental distance and clarity to it all, like someone without illusions able to state exactly what's on his mind. Thomson gets this effect in his prose, too.

Although overshadowed by Copland (who, by the way, always ackowledged his debts to Thomson), Thomson achieved far more in the realm of opera and vocal music, in which almost everyone acknowledges him a master. Try the powerful (and, to my ear, deeply American) 5 Songs from William Blake, the incredibly beautiful Feast of Love for baritone and chamber ensemble (a real lesson in how to vary orchestral texture and how to continue a musical line), 4 Southern Hymns (a choral classic), the sinewy cello concerto, the Symphony on a Hymn Tune, Acadian Songs and Dances (which deserve the recognition given to the sister suite "Louisiana Story"), Praises and Prayers, the delicate 4 Songs to Poems of Thomas Campion for voice and chamber group, and the heartbreaking Stabat Mater for mezzo and string quartet. ~ Steven Schwartz

    Kansas City, MO
  • BORN
    Nov 25, 1896

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