1896-1989 Possibly the most important operatic composer of the early twentieth century
In 1921, in Paris, he studied with internationally famous music teacher Nadia Boulanger. It was at this time he met the avant-garde Erik Satie. He stayed on in Paris from 1925-1940 and wrote his early music which was influenced by the iconoclastic composer Satie and his disciples, and Igor Stravinsky, as well as the group of young composers known as Les Six.
Often whimsical or irreverent, Thomson also wrote deeply moving religious music, notably the Missa Pro Defunctis (Requiem Mass, 1960). His musical style was basically neoclassical (reinterpreting older forms in modern ways).
His musical score for the documentary film Louisiana Story in 1948 received the only Pulitzer Prize 1949 ever awarded for a film score.
In 1924, he got his start as a writer from the infamous editor H.L. Mencken who suggested he write an article on Jazz, the first serious treatment of the topic to appear in print. This increased his income enough to realize his dream of returning to Paris, which he did in 1925.
Upon his arrival in Paris, a city in the midst of vibrant renaissance. Many experiments were taking place, political, social, artistic, literary and sexual. He struck up a friendship with fellow American composer George Antheil who was also in Paris at the time. It was Antheil who introduced Thompson to James Joyce. It was also Antheil who caused Virgil to be introduced to the Stein salon. Gertrude invited Antheil who insisted Thompson com along for moral support. His friendship with Stein is legendary, they hit it off perfectly and went on to collaborate quite a bit. He also became friends with Alice B. Toklas and remained friends with her long after Gertrude was dead. His masterpiece is considered to be his opera Four Saints in Three Acts 1934, a libretto based on a text by his friend Gertrude Stein). It was also during this period that he met and began a lifelong relationship with painter Maurice Grosser.
From 1940 to 1954 he was principal music critic for the New York Herald Tribune.
Among his more important works:
Books he wrote include:
He preceded Aaron Copland in the use of many references to other music in his own composition; ragtime, waltzes, tangos, two-steps, fiddle tunes, and hymns get pasted into the texture.
People who were friends of Thompson include:
Last Updated 05.28.03