Personalities | Virgil Thomson | Modern Era | Opera
A composer of both originality and substance, Thomson produced what was arguably America’s first major opera, Four Saints in Three Acts (composed 1927–28). Hailing from a Southern Baptist background where church music, marching bands and popular American tunes were a large part of his cultural heritage, Thomson attended Harvard and studied under Nadia Boulanger in France, where he met Satie, Cocteau and the members of Les Six.
He collaborated with writer Gertrude Stein on Four Saints in Three Acts, a rhythmically repetitive opera with no plot, which divorced words from their contextual associations and used them for aural and sequential effect. Following its premiere in Connecticut, Four Saints transferred to Broadway and ran for 60 highly acclaimed performances. Gertrude Stein said: ‘I wanted to have four saints that did nothing and I wrote Four Saints in Three Acts and they did nothing and that was everything’.
More than a decade later, The Mother of Us All (1947), based on the life of feminist Susan B. Anthony, also achieved significant success. Stein died just months after completing the libretto, and for his third and final opera, Thomson collaborated with librettist Jack Larson. Commissioned in 1960 and intended for the Met, Lord Byron took seven years to complete and was finally premiered at the Juilliard Opera Center in 1972.
Introduction | Modern Era | Opera
Major Operas | Four Saints in Three Acts by Virgil Thomson | Modern Era
Personalities | Michael Tippett | Modern Era | Opera
Houses & Companies | The Birth of the Metropolitan Opera | Turn of the Century | Opera
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