US composer whose lyrical style shows the influence of both his American roots and his contact with the French composers of Les Six.
Born and brought up in Kansas City, Thomson went to Harvard University in 1919, after army training, before studying for a year (1921) in Paris with Nadia Boulanger. In 1925 he returned to Paris to compose and was inspired by Erik Satie and Les Six to write in a simple, elegant, precise, and humorous style. His friendship with Gertrude Stein resulted in her writing the libretti for his first opera, the successful Four Saints in Three Acts (1928), and The Mother of Us All (1947).
Thomson gradually evolved a style that combined the lyricism of the hymn tunes and folk music of his childhood with the influence of contemporary French artistic movements. He wrote several notable film scores, in particular for Pare Lorenz's The Plow that Broke the Plains (1936) and Robert Flaherty's Louisiana Story (1948). In 1940 Thomson returned to the USA and was appointed music critic of the New York Herald Tribune, establishing himself as one of the major critical writers of his time. Fourteen years later he resigned and devoted himself to composition. Thomson's other works include the opera Lord Byron (1961–68), several ballets, three symphonies (1928; 1931, revised 1941; 1972), and orchestral, chamber, and choral works.