Virgil Thomson : music chronicles, 1940-1954
Tim Page, editor.
When, in October 1940, the New York Herald Tribune named the composer Virgil Thomson (1896-1989) its chief music critic, the management of the paper braced itself for an uproar. Perhaps best known for his collaboration with librettist Gertrude Stein on the whimsically nonsensical "anti-opera" Four Saints in Three Acts, Thomson was notorious among conservative concertgoers as a leader of America's musical avant-garde and a maverick writer who delighted in unmasking the timidity, amateurism, and artistic pretensions of New York's music establishment. But controversy--together with wit, good writing, and critical authority--was exactly what the Herald Tribune was looking for. "Only such an assumption can explain," Thomson later concluded, "why a musician so little schooled in daily journalism, a composer so committed to the modern, and a polemicist so contemptuous as myself of music's power structure should have been offered a post of that prestige." in Virgil Thomson the Herald Tribune got its full share of controversy. It also got something American music journalism had not had before and has rarely had since: a critic who could describe from experience the sounds he hears, the presence and temperaments of the musician producing them, and the urgent matters of art, culture, tradition, talent, and taste that a musician's performance embodies, all in a signature style that charmed a wide readership. "Thomson was open to every stylistic persuasion," John Rockwell of The New York Times has written, and he "concerned himself with music that most music critics didn't consider music at all--jazz, folk, gospel. ... He wrote with enthusiasm and perception about the new music he liked, sweeping his readers along with him. By so doing, he built bridges--long dilapidated or never constructed--between music, the other arts, and the American intellectual community. Indeed, in his music and in his prose, he has given us as profound a vision of American culture as anyone has yet achieved." Music Chronicles 1940-1954 presents the best of Thomson's newspaper criticism as the author collected it in four books long out of print: The Musical Scene (1945), The Art of Judging Music (1948), Music Right and Left (1951), and Music Reviewed (1967). The volume is rounded out by a generous selection of other writings from the Herald Tribune years and, in an appendix, eight early essays in which Thomson announced the themes and developed the voice that would distinguish him as America's indispensable composer-critic.-- Publisher description.View details »Place a hold »