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Virgil Thomson collection

 Collection — Folder: 1
Call Number: RH MS P947


This collection consists of two typed letters from Virgil Thomson to Wilfred Z. Thompson; two typed, signed quotations from Thomson about composers John Cage and Ned Rorem; a photographic postcard of Thomson; and a signed bookplate.


  • Creation: 1952 - 1954


Conditions Governing Access

No access restrictions.

Conditions Governing Use

Spencer Library staff may determine use restrictions dependent on the physical condition of manuscript materials.

Biography of Virgil Thomson

Virgil Thomson was born November 25, 1896 in Kansas City, Missouri. After attending Central High School and a local junior college, Thomson joined the Army and was trained in radio telephony at Columbia University in New York City and in aviation in Texas. World War I ended before he could ship overseas, however.

After the war, Thomson enrolled in Harvard University, studying musical composition under Edward Burlingame Hill and working as an assistant to Archibald Davison. They helped him secure a fellowship to study organ and counterpoint in Paris in 1921. He graduated from Harvard in 1923.

Over the next few years Thomson served as organist for King's Chapel in Boston and contributed pieces of musical journalism to such magazines and publications as Vanity Fair and American Mercury. In 1925 Thomson moved to Paris, France, and remained there until 1940. At that time he moved back to New York City, settling into the Chelsea Hotel and taking on the role of chief music critic at the New York Herald Tribune until 1951.

Thomson wrote two operas with Gertrude Stein, Four Saints in Three Acts (1934) and The Mother of Us All (1947), as well as the opera Lord Byron (1972) by himself. Throughout the 1930s and later he composed ballet scores, incidental music for the theater, and musical portraits, amongst other pieces. In 1948 he composed the score for the film Louisiana Story, which won a Pulitzer Prize that year.

After resigning from the Tribune, Thomson wrote an autobiography, as well as essays that appeared together in American Music Since 1910, amongst other publications.

Thomson won numerous awards and other recognition, including 16 honorary doctorates, membership in the French Legion of Honor and in the National Institute of Arts and Letters, and the Kennedy Center Award for Lifetime Achievement.

Virgil Thomson died on September 30, 1989 at his home in New York City.


1 folder

Language of Materials


Scope and Contents

The two letters, dated October 7, 1952 and November 23, 1954, discuss Alice Toklas, Gertrude Stein's partner, and Thomson's and Stein's operas Four Saints in Three Acts and The Mother of US All. The photographic postcard was taken by Naomi Savage in 1949 and is copyrighted 1984. The bookplate has not been used.

Physical Location

RH MS P947

Immediate Source of Acquisition

Purchase, Charles Apfelbaum, 2008.



Guide to the Virgil Thomson Collection
Virgil Thomson collection
Finding aid prepared by mwh. Finding aid encoded by mwh.
Description rules
Describing Archives: A Content Standard
Language of description
Finding aid written in English.
Finding aid permalink
Preferred citation
Virgil Thomson collection, RH MS P947, Kenneth Spencer Research Library, University of Kansas

Repository Details

Part of the University of Kansas. Kenneth Spencer Research Library Repository

1450 Poplar Lane
Lawrence KS 66045-7616 United States