Composer/critic Virgil Thomson, back in print

Posted on: August 2, 2016

“The composer Virgil Thomson was also one of the most astute and influential critics of the 20th century,” writes Anthony Tommasini in Sunday’s (7/31) New York Times. “From 1940 to 1954, he brought feisty opinions and lucid, colloquial prose to The New York Herald Tribune, where he championed living composers, especially Americans. Every practicing and aspiring critic today should read Thomson’s exhilarating writings, and it’s easier than ever: The Library of America recently released the second of two volumes devoted to his criticism. Yet in many ways Thomson, who died in 1989, is no model for a contemporary critic…. He reviewed ensembles and artists who performed his music, usually quite favorably…. In time, Thomson understood that the protocols of journalism had changed.” Thomson on Dmitri Mitropoulos conducting the New York Philharmonic in Schumann’s Third Symphony in 1953: “He whipped it up as if it were a cake, kneaded it like bread, shuffled and riffled an imaginary deck of cards, wound up a clock, shook a recalcitrant umbrella.… Really, there were very few moments when a film taken of the conductor alone, without sound, would have given any clue to the fact that he was directing a musical composition.”

Posted August 2, 2016