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Virgil Thomson was born in Kansas City, Missouri in 1896. He graduated from Harvard University in Boston, where he taught music and played the organ. After winning the Naumburg Fellowship, he studied in Paris, where he lived for some years, and where he was a pupil of Nadia Boulanger. His friendship with Gertrude Stein in Paris led to his setting some of her literary works to tonal accompaniment; their opera, Four Saints in Three Acts had its premiere in Hartford, Connecticut in 1934, with choreography by Frederick Ashton.
His other operas include The Mother of Us All (libretto also by Gertrude Stein), and
Lord Byron. He composed two separate ballet scores: Filling Station, and The Harvest According (for Agnes de Mille). His film scores include: The Plow That Broke the Plains, The River,
The Spanish Earth, Tuesday in November, Louisiana Story, The Goddess, Power Among Men, and Journey to America. He has also written orchestral, choral, solo, vocal, and chamber works. He served as music critic for several publications, among them the New York Herald Tribune from 1940 to 1954.