Date of Award

1990

Degree Type

Thesis

Degree Name

Master of Arts (MA)

Department

Music Criticism

Supervisor

Paul Rapoport

Language

English

Abstract

The critical writings of the American composer Virgil Thomson have long been regarded as some of the most perceptive, engaging and informative of this century. The reasons for this are many; not only was Thomson a competent reviewer of performances and a convincing commentator on historical and socio-economic aspects of the modern musical world, but his writing style was invariably compelling. While his words have been disseminated to a large audience through articles in many periodicals and magazines, his writings in the New York Herald Tribune (1940-1954) displayed his ideas most visibly. Of the hundreds of articles and reviews that Thomson wrote for this newspaper, those which discuss modern music and issues affecting its composition and performance may be considered of paramount importance, since it is here that he reaffirms his most passionate convictions.

The first chapter of this thesis presents a discussion of the state of music and music criticism between 1920 and 1940, and examines Thomson's principal critical writings prior to his work on the Herald Tribune (focusing on his book The State of Music and his writings in Modern Music). Chapter Two examines Thomson's large collection of Sunday articles on modern music. Many of the concerns that arise here illustrate his fundamental views about contemporary composition and performance institutions. The third chapter discusses articles which expose his convictions on the nature of music criticism, as well as ones which demonstrate the evaluative criteria that he employed in his performance reviews. In Chapter Four, Thomson's success as a critic in light of the aforementioned material is evaluated, and his alleged French/American bias is considered. Chapter Four is followed by a brief conclusion which reveals Thomson's primary goal as critic: to promote, interpret, and explain modern music.

McMaster University Library

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