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A fresh look at the songs of Virgil Thomson.


Virgil Thomson's songs, although interestingly varied in content and high in quality, are typically not given their due, either in university level song literature classes or on the concert stage. When it comes to American song composers, more attention is given to the works of such people as Stephen Foster, Charles Ives, and Aaron Copland. When one glances through major studies about American song, Virgil Thomson is given only a cursory mention. Neither Ruth Friedberg's tome, American Art Song and American Poetry (1) nor Victoria Villamil's A Singer's Guide to the American Art Song: 1870-1980 (2) accord Virgil Thomson the recognition his songs rightly deserve. Additionally, although some analysis of Thomson's more than seventy songs exists, much more attention has been given to his operatic collaborations with Gertrude stein.

Pedagogically, Thomson's songs have much to offer. The vocal lines are set with great attention to prosody, and every attempt is made by the composer to make them easy to sing. Meanwhile, their sometimes cryptic qualities and delicate emotional shadings ensure discovery for beginners and advanced students alike.

That said, there are many reasons why Thomson's songs remain outside the canon of musical scholarship. First and foremost, he refused to adhere to one method or school of composition. Thomson was a cultured man and deeply involved in many artistic movements of the twentieth century. His songs exhibit trends in modern literature, art, and music, as well as articulate a distinctly American perspective. While this makes for a varied and interesting body of work, it is not one that is easily categorized or tidily explained. It should also be noted that Thomson's willingness to delve outside the American experience meant that he composed in three languages. While fascinating, this plurality, in the context of American musical scholarship, has likely contributed to the marginalization of his work. Finally, in his day, Thomson was known as much, if not more, for his critical writings about music, as for his music itself. It may be that this established literary fame, along with Thomson's own dismissive view of art song as something of an exhausted genre, has helped to keep his songs on the periphery of music scholarship and performance.

The best way to gain an understanding of the songs of Virgil Thomson is to look to his critical writing about music. The last book that Thomson wrote before his death, Music With Words, clearly articulates many of his ideas about successfully marrying music and text, and also provides specific instructions for singers. Furthermore, many of the concert reviews he wrote for the Herald Tribune offer unique insight into his compositional aims, style, and sense of musical aesthetics. The ideas presented in those writings are condensed below, in order to lead singers and pianists to more rich, complete performances of Thomson's works.


Thomson was himself an avid reader and, in the realm of nonfiction, an accomplished writer. It is true that his creative gifts were limited to prose and descriptive writing, but he cared deeply about the literary arts and about the inherent value of the texts he set. He agonized over the librettos he selected for his operas. If a text was not up to his standards, he discarded it. In his treatise, Music with Words, Thomson states his credo.

If songs really need words (as indeed they mostly do, since the human voice without them is just another wind instrument) then there has to be in the marriage of words and music a basic compatibility in which the text's exact shape and purpose dominate the union, or seem to. (3)

He stresses repeatedly the importance of an equal collaboration between composer and poet, and even though the book is designed primarily as an aid to composers, he includes this piece of advice to young writers:

Don't get mixed up with composers who have no respect for poetry, who think they can pick up a plot just anywhere and treat their librettist like a hired man. The subject of serious opera has to be something that touches both you and the composer deeply enough to inspire you both through long labor. Opera writing, in my view, is a two-man job. It takes a poet and a composer, working at the same theme, to pull it off. It also helps if they can bear each other's company for the length of time they may be working together. (4)

He also espouses the view that, "there is no greater pleasure in music than hearing one's own language vocalized." (5) Although this commentary applies directly to writing operas, it can be equally applied to Thomson's songs, which demonstrate a commitment to poetry, and a disciplined, unsentimental, text-driven approach to word setting. Although Thomson often set lesser known poets-chiefly his friends-he also set the words of William Shakespeare, William Blake, Thomas Campion, Marianne Moore, and Gertrude Stein.

Stein is particularly of note. Thomson fell under her influence after arriving in France following the First World War. The two were fast friends, and Thomson looked to her when he was busy formulating his own sense of style. He admired Stein's spontaneity, her humor, and the manner in which her texts eschewed conventionality and overt meaning in favor of open forms and obscurity. He also admired her texts for their capacity to inherit multiple meanings, and for their purely sonic properties. The first page of "Susie Asado" provides a wonderful example of this aesthetic, as well as Thomson's affinity for it (Example 1).

In addition to caring deeply about texts and their quality, Thomson also had an almost obsessive concern for declamation itself. This worthy preoccupation has been a concern of composers from different places and time periods, ranging from the members of the Florentine Camerata to the lutenists in Elizabethan England, to Hugo Wolf in Germany and, in Thomson's day, to the composers of French melodie, such as Debussy, Ravel, and Poulenc. It was, in fact, Thomson's most pressing concern that poetry be set to music in such a way that the text itself was always clearly understood. He felt that there were certain inviolable laws for correctly declaiming English, and the proper observance of these laws was the responsibility of composer and singer alike.

Throughout his compositional career and his career as a music critic, Thomson was disturbed by the carelessness with which singers approached the texts of the songs they performed. In a 1952 Herald Tribune essay entitled "Recital Songs," he writes,

It is pathetic to hear our artists, especially the younger ones, mouthing French and German that they scarcely understand. But it is even more painful to see them struggle with poorly conceived and amateurishly written English songs. There is nothing to be done about the matter. Only a great repertory of English songs can change it. And for that we must wait till our composers acquire the knack of working closer to poetry than they are accustomed to do just now. A good melody is not just a poem's new suit. It must be a new skin, inseparable. (6)

From this quotation, one can infer Thomson's belief that the music should serve the text, rather than that the text should serve the music. Thomson goes on to bemoan English and American composers' general lack of skill at setting English words according to the natural stresses of the English language.


The rhythmic inflections of the English language are more often than not correctly observed and neatly dramatized. But vowel quantities are handled with as complete disregard for their exigence as could well be imagined ... Is it any wonder that our American singers are not masters and mistresses of their art, when the repertory they all learn music through is so incompetently composed? They don't know that English vowel lengths, like Continental ones, are immutable. They don't know that poetic expression, no matter what its subject, falls into four or five styles, or genres rather, and no more. They don't know that lyric poetry does not permit an aggressive mood, that impersonation of the poet by the interpreter is unbecoming to it, that it can be recited or sung but never acted ... How can they know these things when the composers of the music that is virtually their whole fare write as if they didn't know them either? (7)

Thomson is quite damning here. He indicates that English and American composers have very poor command of their native tongues. His comment about vowel quantities refers to situations where vowels of naturally short duration are extended to the point where the meaning of the word is no longer reflected in its utterance. As an example, Thomson would object to someone setting the word "bump" on a long held high note. This is because the word is most expressive of what it means when the consonants clip the vowel off quickly.

Thomson also addresses a general lack of education among singers. He asserts that they neglect to study textual matters seriously when rendering their songs in performance. His solution to the problem, a call for compositional reform, is grounded in the belief that clarity, simplicity, and sincerity are the path to truthful artistic expression.


Thomson was openly disdainful of the Germanic style of composition, which he thought it to be overly dramatic and emotive, clotted, and overblown. Not surprisingly then, he found affinity with the French. In his biography, he wrote: "I came ... to identify with France virtually all of music's recent glorious past, most of its acceptable present, and a large part of its future." (8) His aims to simplify and purify his music are not unlike the aims of Lully or Gluck in their day, or Satie in his. In fact, Satie was the composer with whom Thomson felt the most kinship. His spare, powerful symphonic drama Socrate remained one of Thomson's favorite works. Thomson was equally taken with Satie's ingenious use of musical humor and irony, the likes of which can be found in many of Thomson's works.

Thomson's strong commitment to Gallic aesthetics and clear declamation is plainly evident in his songs. Although his compositional style is difficult to define, it is unmistakably governed by his artistic credo. In a conversation with John Rockwell, Thomson states,

Being born in 1896, I grew up as an impressionist and a neoclassical writer and in an ambiance of maximum dissonance, which was the pre-World War I setup of Schonberg, Stravinsky, Debussy, and so forth. One hundred percent dissonance saturation, we all learned to do it. It was about 1926, when I was thirty years old, that I had a kind of enlightenment, a moment of truth if you wish, in which I said to myself, "This is old-fashioned and there is very little profit to be derived from trying to continue it beyond its recent masters. What I had better do is to write as things come into my head rather than with any preoccupation of making it stylish and up to date, and it was the discipline of spontaneity, which I had come in contact with through reading Gertrude Stein, that made my music simple. It became quite radically something or other--it's not for me to describe--that's for other people. I was accused, oh very early, as were indeed my colleagues in France, of being arbitrarily simpliste." (9)

What is clear is that Thomson's simplicity, rather than being born of a lack of creativity or inventiveness, comes from his own commitment to intellect, reticence, brevity, and unsentimental expression. As Thomson himself states in the same conversation with Rockwell, "My simplicity was arrived at through an elaborate education." (10) One such example of Thomson's simplicity can be found in the opening song of his Shakespeare Songs. Note the sparse chordal textures in the piano, triadic melody in the voice, and circumscribed vocal range and dynamic markings (Example 2).

In her brilliant thesis, Alexandra Sundman outlines various elements of Thomson's simple style. These include:

1) musical allusions to major genres and styles of Western art music, including Gregorian chant, renaissance motets, and baroque sonatas;

2) musical parody and satirization of the dichotomy between cultivated and vernacular art;

3) improvisational/free flowing approach to composition;

4) simple diatonic harmonies, banal contrapuntal textures, uncomplicated singable melodies. (11)

All of these elements can be found in Thomson's many songs. Chant-like passages are a favorite device to which Thomson returns again and again. La Valse Gregorienne is an example of a work which exhibits this tendency. A juxtaposition of waltz rhythms with dramatic recitatives in The Portrait of F. B. is an example of Thomson's satirizing of the dichotomy between high and low art. Tres estampas de ninez is not easy to analyze and exhibits Thomson's free-flowing approach to composition. The Shakespeare Songs are the height of simplicity harmonically and melodically.

Thomson's own approach to song composition is thus exhibited clearly in his output. Further, his analysis of the art of successful song composition is presented in great detail in his own book, Words and Music, and includes eight key principles:

1) allowing the text to dominate the union;

2) setting the words in such a way that the natural stresses and accents of the English language are not violated;

3) organizing words into meaningful word groupings and composing according to those textual divisions;

4) employing dynamic markings minimalistically, with clear intention toward clarification of the text/emotion of the text being sung;

5) setting the melodic line in a clear, intelligible part of the singer's vocal range and avoiding the extremes;

6) composing the accompaniment with an idea of what it means, what it represents, what it is saying with regard to the text and not allowing it to "call too much attention to itself";

7) not allowing "too many notes" to get in the way of the text;

8) cutting ruthlessly as a matter of practice in order to ensure direct, simple, concise expression. (12)



Thomson's views, as previously stated, did not end with an eye toward the composer, but extended into the realm of performance as well. Thomson studied singing from a young age. His teacher was the tenor, Robert Leigh Murray. He also sang for many years as a member of the Harvard Glee Club during its glory days following the First World War. As a music critic Thomson attended and reported on performances of song recitals and operas involving such noted singers as Maggie Teyte, Victoria de los Angeles, Licia Albanese, Lawrence Tibbett, Ezio Pinza, Lauritz Melchior, Lotte Lehmann, Margaret Harshaw, Bidu Sayao, Mary Garden, Martial Singher, Kirsten Flagstad, Alexander Kipnis, Marian Anderson, John Charles Thomas, and Jennie Tourel. Consequently, he was uniquely qualified to offer strong views on the art of singing itself.

Of specific interest to this article is Thomson's clearly stated belief that the singer's means of expression should be very different for operatic and song repertoire. Specifically, Thomson felt that it was the duty of the singer to act and submerge himself in a character when singing opera. When singing song, however, Thomson viewed acting as distasteful, and disloyal to the art form.

Tradition requires that all concert music, even vocal music, be rendered as music and not as theater. Hence the vocalist is not expected to appear either amused or depressed by the substance of what he is singing. He is expected, on the contrary, to make his effects by musical means, not by pantomime. John Charles Thomas and Kirsten Flagstad and Alexander Kipnis and Helen Traubel, for example, all sing with a perfectly straight face, though Thomas does occasionally add a little staging to a cowboy ditty. (13)

One can clearly see that, according to Thomson, when singing art song, in no way are singers supposed to submerge themselves in a role and take on a character. Instead, Thomson's view is that art song should be delivered simply, clearly declaimed, and with no dramatic intensity beyond that which is already present in the words and the music.

His recital reviews are equally revealing. Two in particular go a long way toward illustrating Thomson's artistic sensibilities: one is of the Wagnerian soprano Kirsten Flagstad, and the other of the famed contralto Marian Anderson. Thomson praises Flagstad for her straightforwardness, practicality, refinement of expression, and simple candid rendering of her songs. He goes on to state,

She eschews the exploitation of her personality and is not constrained to seek to please her listeners by any trick of willful charm or cuteness or feigned emotion ... She can sing loud and she can sing soft. She can sing fast and she can sing slow. She can sing high, low, in strict time, in free time, with clear words, on pitch, swelling or diminishing in volume. This, plus a clear comprehension of the human significance of the music one wishes to sing, is the whole art of singing. (14)

By way of contrast, of Anderson, he says,

In view of Miss Anderson's great loyalty to the art of music-making, [I found her,] under the physical appearance of simplicity, to be a little ornate for [my] taste, ornate and timid. Rarely does she attack a note frankly; she hums her way into them nearly all. Almost never does she end one, either, without tapering it off. This constant crescendo and decrescendo, though most tastefully encrusted upon every phrase, gives to the whole articulation of a song or aria, as well as to its phrases a carved-in-mahogany quality that is more genteel than authentically stylish, more lady-like than wholly frank. (15)

As can be seen, Thomson's primary complaint when it came to singers was their general lack of taste. Too often, he felt that they made music more about themselves than about the work being performed. In addition, he felt they would do more for the art of song if they would present themselves simply, with solid technique and clear intentions. To this end, he provides some unambiguous instruction.

Singers, let me say it firmly, must not be allowed to stagger, lurch, weave about or make faces. Musical expression comes from singing the words and the music, not from mugging. Nor from doing anything else while singing. Any movement required should be done at other times, between phrases, never on the phrase, excepting comedy. (16)

Thomson's call for simplicity and intellectual rigor is one that resonates as strongly today as it did when he was living. It is the key to understanding his works, both in terms of their composition and their performance.


Virgil Thomson's earliest published songs are among his most interesting. Five Phrases from the Song of Solomon is a set of pentatonic melodies for soprano and percussion. (17) In each short song, one phrase from the Bible is explored. Chant-like intonation alternates with melismas. The work is exotic in flavor and displays Thomson's lack of conventionality and experimentalism.

A pivotal year, 1926 marks the beginning of Thomson's lifelong relationship with Gertrude Stein. Oddly enough, although their collaboration brought him much fame, Stein's texts make up only a small portion of his songs. "Susie Asado," Preciosilla, and Portrait of F. B. are among the cryptic Stein texts he set. Preciosilla and Portrait of F. B. are both cantatas in which recitatives alternate with aria-like passages. These works display Thomson's blending of the old with the new.

In 1927 Thomson first set the French language. He returns to it regularly, setting primarily the words of his friend, surrealist poet Georges Hugnet, but also those of Jean Racine and surrealist Max Jacob, who later died while being held prisoner by the Nazis. (18)

The composer's interest in setting the French language seems to have died out after his return to the States following the onset of the Second World War. With the exception of Tres estampas de ninez, Thomson's remaining songs are in English. These are among his most successful works due to the directness of musical expression, lyricism, and careful attention to prosody. The year 1951 is a particularly prolific one. Thomson's Four Songs to the Poems of Thomas Campion and Five Songs to William Blake come from this period. The religious settings from this year exhibit the same simplicity and straightforwardness.

Thomson attains a height of simplicity in 1956-57 with his Shakespeare Songs. These texts are all ballads taken from the plays of William Shakespeare and set as parlor tunes by Thomson. They are completely without ostentation and are sweet, simple melodies accompanied with the most basic of harmonic accompaniments. Tres estampas de ninez was written around the same time as the Shakespeare Songs, but could not be more different in character. Here we see again Thomson's experimental side. This is his only set of Spanish songs. It displays adventurous harmonic procedures and a spontaneous voice, which, although lyric, is not melodic. Together, the Shakespeare Songs and Tres estampas de ninez offer a miniature portrait of Thomson's compositional range and eclecticism.

Two major song cycles remain, Mostly About Love and Praises and Prayers, both further examples of Thomson's duality. Although he grew up in church, he never considered himself to be religious. This did not stop him, however, from writing many effective religious songs. Praises and Prayers is an assortment of religious texts by authors known and unknown. The cycle is varied, ranging from a three-page lullaby with single-voiced accompaniment to a lengthly, intense, and harmonically dense setting of St. Francis of Assisi's fervent meditations. Mostly About Love is perhaps Thomson's best known song cycle. Each of the four songs explores a different aspect of love. Kenneth Koch's texts are funny and "off the wall," filled with imagery that makes sense only when one allows rational thought to take a back seat to pleasure. Thomson's music is light-handed and melodious without being predictable; it perfectly captures the humor and whimsy of Koch's expression.

Two by Marianne Moore is a miniature set of songs dating from around the same period as Mostly About Love. These songs recall Thomson's earlier settings of Gertrude Stein, both in terms of the textual material, which is cryptic, and the music, which alludes to Gregorian chant.

In the 1970s, Thomson wrote two final songs. "What Is It?" is a simple setting of a Campion text. "From 'Sneden's Landing Variations'" was written in tribute to its lyricist, poet Frank O'Hara.


It is worth stating that as a general rule, Thomson's songs provide ideal material for novice singers. His obsession with declamation and prosody as well as his desire for simplicity led Thomson to compose songs with modest ranges and comfortable tessituras for the given voice types. Their melodic content is most often scalar and triadic, and singers are rarely required to sing at the extremes of the dynamic spectrum.

Fortunately, Schirmer recently published a collection of Virgil Thomson's songs for both high and low voice (New York: G. Schirmer; Milwaukee, WI: distributed by Hal Leonard, c. 2011). In addition to Schirmer, Southern Music Publishing and Boosey and Hawkes have also published songs and song cycles by Thomson. Those seeking more in depth information should also visit the Virgil Thomson Foundation online at The Appendix is a chronological list of his entire published song output, along with information about the voice type for which each work was composed.


Today, Thomson's songs remain fresh and can surprise and delight the listener with their diversity and their quality. As performers and scholars, we are fortunate to have his critical writings to aid us. In addition, we have the works themselves, which are the embodiment of Thomson's sense of humor, refinement, intellectuality, and musical style.
A Chronological List of Virgil Thomson's
Published Songs (19)

[Where no voice type is noted, one can assume a medium tessitura.]

1924-26   Five Phrases from The Song of Solomon
          Text: (English) Bible
          for soprano and percussion (1 player)
          1. "Thou that Dwellest in the Gardens"
          2. "Return, O Shulamite"
          3. "O, My Dove"
          4. "I Am My Beloved's"
          5. "By Night"

1926      "Susie Asado"
          Text: (English) Gertrude Stein
          for voice and piano

1927      Preciosilla
          Text: (English) Gertrude Stein
          for voice and piano

1927      La Valse Gregorienne
          Text: (French) Georges Hugnet
          for voice and piano
          1. "Les ecrevisses"
          2. "Grenadine"
          3. "La rosee"
          4. "Le wagon immobile"

1928      "Le berceau de Gertrude Stein ou le mystere de la
          rue des Fleurus"
          Text: (French) Georges Hugnet
          for voice and piano

1928      "Jour de chaleur aux bains de mer"
          Text: (French) Duchesse de Rohan
          for voice and piano

1928      "Pigeons on the Grass Alas"
          Text: (English) Gertrude Stein
          for baritone and piano

1928      "La seine"
          Text: (French) Duchesse de Rohan
          for voice and piano

1928      "Les soirees bagnolaises"
          Text: (French) Georges Hugnet
          for voice and piano

1929      Portrait of F. B.
          Text: (English) Gertrude Stein
          for voice and piano

1930      "Air de Phedre"
          Text: (French) Jean Racine
          for soprano and piano

1930      "Film: Deux soeurs qui ne sont pas soeurs"
          Text: (French) Gertrude Stein
          for voice and piano

1930      "Oraison funebre de Henriette-Marie de France,
          Reine de la Grande-Bretagne"
          Text: (French) Jacques Bossuet
          for voice and piano

1930      "Le signe et le leopard"
          Text: (French) Jean de La Fontaine
          for voice and piano

1931      La belle en dormant
          Text: (French) Georges Hugnet
          for voice and piano
          1. "Pour chercher sur la carte des mers"
          2. "La premiere de toutes"
          3. "Mon amour est bon a dire"
          4. "Partis les vaisseaux"

1931-60   Stabat Mater
          Text: (French) Max Jacob
          for soprano and piano

1937      "My Shepherd Will Supply My Need"
          Text: (English) Isaac Watts's paraphrase of Psalm 23
          for voice and piano

1951      Four Songs to the Poems of Thomas Campion
          Text: (English) Thomas Campion
          for mezzo soprano and piano
          1. "Follow Your Saint"
          2. "There is a Garden in Her Face"
          3. "Rose Cheek'd Laura, Come"
          4. "Follow Thy Fair Sun"

1951      Five Songs from William Blake
          Text: (English) William Blake
          for baritone and piano
          1. "The Divine Image"
          2. "Tiger! Tiger!"
          3. "The Land of Dreams"
          4. "The Little Black Boy"
          5. "And Did Those Feet"

1955      "At the Spring"
          Text: (English) Jasper Fisher
          for voice and piano

1955      "The Bell Doth Toll"
          Text: (English) Thomas Heywood
          for voice and piano

1955      "The Holly and the Ivy, A Carol of Nativity and Lent"
          Text: (English) Anonymous
          for voice and piano

1955      "John Peel"
          Text: (English) John Woodcock Graves
          for baritone and piano

1955      "Look, How the Floor of Heav'n"
          Text: (English) William Shakespeare
          for voice and piano

1955      "Remember Adam's Fall"
          Text: (English) Anonymous
          for voice and piano

1955-58   "If Thou a Reason Dost Desire to Know"
          Text: (English) Sir Francis Kynaston
          for voice and piano

1956-57   Shakespeare Songs
          Text: (English) William Shakespeare
          for voice and piano
          1. "Was this Fair Face the Cause?"
          2. "Take, O Take Those Lips Away"
          3. "Tell Me Where is Fancy Bred"
          4. "Pardon, Goddess of the Night"
          5. "Sigh No More, Ladies"

1957      Tres estampas de nihez
          Text: (Spanish) Reyna Rivas
          for voice and piano
          1. "Todas las horas"
          2. "Son amigos de todos"
          3. "Nadie lo oye como ellos"

1959      Mostly About Love
          Text: (English) Kenneth Koch
          for voice and piano
          1. "Love Song"
          2. "Down at the Docks"
          3. "Let's Take a Walk"
          4. "A Prayer to St. Catherine"

1960      Mass
          Text: (Latin) Bible
          for solo voice and piano

1963      Praises and Prayers
          for voice and piano
          1. "From the Canticle of the Sun"
             Text: (English) St. Francis of Assisi, translated by
             Matthew Arnold
          2. "My Master Hath a Garden"
             Text: (English) Anonymous
          3. "Sung by the Shepherds"
             Text: (English) from "A Hymn to the Nativity,"
             by Richard Crashaw
          4. "Before Sleeping"
             Text: (English) Anonymous
          5. "Jerusalem, My Happy Home"
             Text: (English) from the "Meditations" of St.
             Augustine, chapter xxv

1963      Two by Marianne Moore
          Text: (English) Marianne Moore
          for voice and piano
          1. "English Usage"
          2. "My Crow Pluto"

1964      "The Feast of Love"
          Text: (English) from "Pervigilium veneris,"
          freely translated from the Latin by the composer
          for baritone and piano

1972      "From 'Sneden's Landing Variations'"
          Text: (English) Frank O'Hara
          for voice and piano

1979      "What is It?"
          Text: (English) Thomas Campion
          for voice and piano


(1.) Ruth Friedberg, American Art Song and American Poetry (Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1981).

(2.) Victoria Villamil, A Singer's Guide to the American Art Song: 1870-1980 (Metuchen: Scarecrow Press, 1993).

(3.) Virgil Thomson, Music With Words: A Composers View (New Haven: Yale University Press, 1989), 1.

(4.) Ibid., 72.

(5.) Ibid., 55.

(6.) Virgil Thomson, A Virgil Thomson Reader (Boston: Houghton Mifflin Company, 1981), 355-56.

(7.) Virgil Thomson, The Art of Judging Music (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1948), 47-49.

(8.) Virgil Thomson, Virgil Thomson (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1966), 51.

(9.) Thomson, A Virgil Thomson Reader, 527.

(10.) Ibid., 528.

(11.) Alexandra Gill Sundman, "The Making of an American Expatriate Composer in Paris: A Contextual Study of the Music and Critical Writings of Virgil Thomson, 1921-1940" (PhD dissertation, Yale University, 1999), 11.

(12.) Thomson, Music With Words, 1-75.

(13.) Virgil Thomson, The Musical Scene (New York: Alfred A. Knopf, 1947), 179.

(14.) Ibid.

(15.) Ibid., 207-08.

(16.) Ibid., 71.

(17.) Kathleen Hoover and John Cage, Virgil Thomson: His Life and Music (New York: Sagamore Press, Inc., 1959), 139.

(18.) Max Jacob, from (accessed October, 2009).

(19.) Paul Wittke, Virgil Thomson: Vignettes of his Life and Times (New York: Virgil Thomson Foundation, 1996), 77-85.

Canadian mezzo Jessica Riley served as Assistant Professor of Music and Theater Arts at the University of Wisconsin-Eau Claire from 2007-2010. While there, she taught Applied Voice, Techniques of the Singing/Speaking Voice, and worked with the Opera Workshop Ensemble. Prior to this, Dr. Riley taught at Western Washington University, Indiana State University, and as Associate Instructor of Voice at Indiana University, where she completed her doctoral studies.

Dr. Riley has sung as an apprentice with Lyric Opera Cleveland and the Sarasota Opera Association. She has also sung with the Whatcom Symphony Orchestra, the Seattle Peace Chorus, the Brevard Music Center, the Bloomington Early Music Festival, the Eau Claire Chamber Orchestra, the Rochester Aria Group, and IU Opera Theater.

Past roles include Mother Marie (Dialogues of the Carmelites), Hansel (Hansel and Gretel), Ruggiero (Alcina), Third Lady (The Magic Flute), Berta (The Barber of Seville), Edith (The Pirates of Penzance), Nettie Fowler (Carousel), Ilona (She Loves Me).

Solo concert work includes Vivaldi's Gloria, Brahms's Liebeslieder Waltzes, Mozart's Requiem, Handel's Messiah, and Mendelssohn's Elijah, among others.

She defended her doctoral thesis, "A Performance and Pedagogical Guide to the Songs of Virgil Thomson," in January, 2008.

Jessica lives in Toronto with her husband and two young children.
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Author:Riley, Jessica
Publication:Journal of Singing
Article Type:Critical essay
Geographic Code:1USA
Date:Mar 1, 2012
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