Virgil Thomson’s “Cocktail of Culture”

Carol J. Oja

in Making Music Modern

Published in print December 2000 | ISBN: 9780195058499
Published online January 2010 | e-ISBN: 9780199865031 | DOI:
Virgil Thomson’s “Cocktail of Culture”

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Virgil Thomson was one of the most outspoken critics of neoclassicism, at one point disparaging it as a “lingua franca” that was essentially “an indigestible mixture cocktail of culture”. Thomson's contradictory behavior is intriguingly present in Capital, Capitals, a work from 1927 that mixed sex, religion, and music. It was performed twice on the Copland-Sessions Concerts, first in New York City in February 1929 and two years later in London, England. Capital, Capitals is a key transitional work, reflecting a time when Thomson switched from a branch of neoclassicism that exhibited the acerbic harmonic edge of Igor Stravinsky to one which embraced the ultra-diatonicism of Erik Satie. It is daring for its simplicity rather than its complexity. But the internal tensions in Capital, Capitals reached beyond neoclassicism to involve an impish fusion of sacred and secular, both in its particular blend of historic styles and in the way it encoded a homosexual message within an aura of high church. With Capital, Capitals, Thomson found the voice that so distinguished him from other neoclassically inclined American composers.

Keywords: Virgil Thomson; critics of neoclassicism; modernist music; composers; New York City; sex; religion; homosexuality

Chapter.  3228 words.  Illustrated.

Subjects: American Music

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