May 24th, 2020
In this episode, Dave and Andrew explore the winner of the seventh Pulitzer Prize in Music, Virgil Thomson for his score to the film Louisiana Story.
Virgil Thomson is perhaps best known for his operas like Four Saints in Three Acts or his precise and incisive music criticism at the New York Herald Tribune. But he was also a pioneer in film scoring, particularly documentary film scoring during the Great Depression. In 1936, he wrote his first film score for Pare Lorentz's The Plow that Broke the Plains, and he followed it up with The River two years later for the same director. A decade later, the father of the narrative documentary film, Robert Flaherty, hired Thomson to score what would be his last film. As the only piece of movie music to ever win the Pulitzer, Louisiana Story is at least a curiosity in the prize's history, but does it stand up today?
If you'd like more information about Virgil Thomson we recommend:
- Anthony Tommasini's magisterial biography Virgil Thomson: Composer on the Aisle (New York City: W.W. Norton & Company, 1999).
- The Library of America's collection of Virgil Thomson's writings, edited by Tim Page
- The Virgil Thomson Papers at Yale University: https://archives.yale.edu/repositories/6/resources/10673
- Thomson's website page with more resources: http://www.virgilthomson.org/resources/further-research