Personalities | Virgil Thomson | Modern Era | Opera

1896–1989, American

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


An extensive music information resource, bringing together the talents and expertise of a wide range of editors and musicologists, including Stanley Sadie, Charles Wilson, Paul Du Noyer, Tony Byworth, Bob Allen, Howard Mandel, Cliff Douse, William Schafer, John Wilson...


Classical, Rock, Blues, Jazz, Country and more. Flame Tree has been making encyclopaedias and guides about music for over 20 years. Now Flame Tree Pro brings together a huge canon of carefully curated information on genres, styles, artists and instruments. It's a perfect tool for study, and entertaining too, a great companion to our music books.

Rock, A Life Story

Rock, A Life Story

The ultimate story of a life of rock music, from the 1950s to the present day.

David Bowie

David Bowie

Fantastic new, unofficial biography covers his life, music, art and movies, with a sweep of incredible photographs.