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Gay History, Gay Celebrities, Gay Icons

Gay History celebrates the lives of famous gay men, gay celebrities and gay icons from the worlds of Film/TV, Art, Design, Music, Literature, Business and Politics. 200+ Intimate Profiles - Tchaikovsky to George Michael, Oscar Wilde to Truman Capote, Salvador Dali to David Hockney, Yves St Laurent to Gianni Versace, Rock Hudson to Stephen Fry to name but a few - they form a vast and exciting part of gay history.
Virgil Garnett Thomson

Life Span: Born 25th November 1896, Missouri; Died 30th September 1989, New York

Star Sign: Sagittarius
Famous As: US composer and music critic
Childhood: His father was a farmer and then became a postal worker. Virgil Thomson began to study music at the age of 5, and by the age of 12 he was playing the organ at his family's church, Calvary Baptist Church, and at other churches in Kansas City.

Education: He attended Central High School from 1908 to 1913, and a local junior college from 1915 to 1917. In 1919 he went to Harvard. University.

Work: In January 1917 Thomson e enlisted in a mounted artillary outfit with a National Guard regiment, and in August he joined its Medical Detachment. His regiment acquired the name 129th. Field Artillary but it remained in the USA because it was short of men, officers, and equipment. Thomson then moved to aviation and in January 1918 he joined the Pilots' Ground School at the University of Texas. He then went to Columbia University to learn radio telephony. He was commissioned as a lieutenant in the US Air Force but the War ended just before he was due to go abroad.
Thomson had three main influences. He studied orchestration and modern French music with the French-trained composer Edward Bulingame Hill. For three years Thomson was assistant and accompanist for Archibald T. Davision who was also French-trained and was the conductor of the Harvard Glee Club. S. Foster Damon was a Blake scholar, a poet, and a composer, and he introduced Thomson to the works of Erik Satie and also to Tender Buttons, the collection of early writing by Gertrude Stein. Thomson began to compose at Harvard in 1920.
He returned to Harvard and was appointed as organist-choirmaster at King's Chapel, Boston. He gave the first US performance of Erik Satie's Socrate for the Harvard Musical Club. He graduated in 1923. He was awarded a grant from the Juilliard School, New York, and studied conducting with Chalmers Clifton and counterpoint with Rosario Scalero.
He returned to Paris in 1925 and lived there until 1940, apart from visits to the USA. During this time he composed Preciosilla and Capital Capitals which were settings of Gertrude Stein's texts. Gertrude Stein completed the libretto for Four Saints in Three Acts in June 1927. Virgil Thomson completed the piano score in 1928 and orchestrated it in 1933. A second text by Gertrude Stein, inspired by the life of the lesbian suffragist Susan B. Anthony, gave rise to the opera The Mother of us all, (1947). In the late 1930s he began writing film scores.
In October 1940 he was appointed music critic of the New York Herald Tribune. He was in the post for 14 years and established himself as one of the major music critics of the time. Writing from this time was anthologised in The Musical Scene, (1945), The Art of Judging Music, (1948), and Music, Right and Left, (1951). In 1947 he was awarded the Legion d'honneur.
During the 1950s and 1960s he went on lecture tours and participated in conferences. He also wrote articles and conducted in the USA and Europe.
As composer and critic he influenced other US gay composers including Aaron Copland, Marc Blitzstein, Henry Cowell, Paul Bowles, Lou Harrison, John Cage, and Ned Rorem. He appeared as himself in the film Música de América y España, (1965). In 1983 he was awarded the Kennedy Center Honor for a lifetime achievement.

Friends & Relationships: Although he had numerous gay relationships he was very keen to keep this aspect of his life private. He had a long relationship with the painter Maurice Grosser, and also had relationships with Leland Poole, Briggs Buchanan, and the painter Roger Baker. In the Autumn of 1926 he met Gertrude Stein and they began to plan an opera together. Gertrude Stein's text lacked structure and plot so Virgil Thomson's friend Maurice Grosser added material. Apart from Virgil Thomson and Maurice Grosser other gay connections with this production were the choreographer Frederick Ashton, and sponsors including the impresario Lincoln Kirstein and the architect Philip Johnson. The work was first performed, with Gertrude Stein present, in 1934 with an all-black cast, in Hartford, New York, and Chicago. It became Virgil Thomson's most famous work. During 1921 in Paris he met Jean Cocteau and the avantgarde composers known as Les Six, and he was also introduced to Erik Satie. Virgil Thomson's first published critical writing appeared in the Boston Transcript as music notices.

Greatest achivement: A large body of music.

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