Thomson, Virgil (1896–1989) By Langlois, Christopher
Virgil Thomson was born in Kansas City, Missouri. During his childhood Thomson’s creative and intellectual gifts did not go unnoticed, and with the assistance of a scholarship financed by the Mormon Church, he enrolled in Harvard in 1919. It is safe to say that Virgil Thomson’s prestigious career as a composer, conductor, and music critic for the New York Herald Tribune would have unfolded differently had he refused a trip to Paris as accompanist with the Harvard Glee Club in June 1921. The Glee Club toured Europe, accumulating an assortment of favorable reviews in the process. When the Glee Club arrived in Italy, its conductor, Archibald Davison, fell ill and turned the concert reins at Pesaro over to the young twenty-four-year-old Thomson for what would prove to be one of the Glee Club’s most exciting performances. Having survived the demands placed on an American orchestra touring the artistic capitals of Europe, Thomson’s Harvard precociousness was transformed virtually overnight into an esthetic of maturity that his subsequent life and career would continuously validate afresh.