Today in KC’s Music History: Virgil Thomson Born

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Virgil Thomson, the composer and music critic who collaborated with Gertrude Stein and won the Pulitzer Prize for composition, was born in Kansas City on Nov. 25, 1896.

Thomson helped develop the “American sound” in classical music in the 1920s and 30s, but he also composed for theater and film. He also was a music critic for the New York Herald-Tribune from the late 1930s to early 1950s.

Thomson is best known for Four Saints in Three Acts, an opera featuring a libretto by Gertrude Stein. It ran on Broadway and was directed by a speculator in the international grain markets who had only recently began working in the theater: John Houseman.

Four Saints is about the lives of two 16th-century Spanish saints and featured an all-African-American cast, and is said to be a groundbreaking work.

Thomson also collaborated with Orson Welles and won the Pulitzer Prize for Music in 1949. He won the National Medal for Arts in 1988.

Thomson’s work continues to be performed, and the Boston Modern Orchestra Project recently released an album of Thomson compositions.

He died in 1989 and is buried at Slater, Mo., about 100 miles northeast of Kansas City.


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