Robert Greenberg

Historian, Composer, Pianist, Speaker, Author

Archive for Virgil Thomson

Dr. Bob Prescribes Virgil Thomson: Symphony on a Hymn Tune

Yesterday’s Music History Monday post recognized the 123rd anniversary of the birth of the American composer and critic Virgil Thomson (1896-1989). That Music History Monday post focused on the particular pitfalls when a practitioner (in Thomson’s case, a composer) deigns also to become a critic. Today, we turn to Thomason’s music. As a composer, Thomson has been variously described as a “modernist”, a “neoclassicist”, and a “neoromantic”, terms that when taken altogether are pretty much neo-useless. Like Charles Ives (1874-1954) before him, Thomson was profoundly affected by the music he heard and played while growing up: popular parlor songs and dance music, Protestant hymns, ragtime, children songs, and band music. But unlike Ives, who spent his compositional life subjecting the musical experiences of his childhood to an increasingly modernistic musical treatment, Thomson’s music retained a certain childlike innocence and wonder to the end, displaying a directness of expression and simplicity of utterance that together elevate “naiveté” to a stylistic aesthetic. Thomson’s ability to employ musical Americana in a manner both naive and yet powerfully affecting is clearly demonstrated in his Symphony on a Hymn Tune of 1926-1928, a work that anticipates many aspects of Aaron Copland’s so-called “populist style”, which […]

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Music History Monday: A Critical Voice

We recognize the birth on November 25, 1896 – 123 years ago today – of the American composer and music critic Virgil Thomson in Kansas City, Missouri.

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