Back Virgil Thomson

Virgil Thomson

Virgil Thomson in his bed at the Chelsea Hotel in New York City, 1947. (W. Eugene Smith/The LIFE Picture Collection/Getty Images)

Major works:
The State of MusicThe Musical SceneVirgil Thomson • “The Music Reviewer and His Assignment”

Read an excerpt from

Reviewing Modern Music (1942)

Virgil Thomson

I put small faith in the “moving” effect of music as an indication of its quality, because our visceral responses are seldom significant and always capricious. The only rule I observe about my own is to respect their intensity. The force of any spontaneous reaction to music is more interesting than its nature or direction. That force is a product of traditional culture and of sensitivity to its violation. Violent manifestations of disapproval, as observed within oneself or in one’s neighbors, are therefore another clinical sign that there is probably good stuff in the work that provoked them. An ovation may be only an expression of factitious excitement. A scandal is almost invariably evidence of quality. In any case, one has to be wary about what one merely likes and very wary indeed about disapproving of what one merely thinks one dislikes. Just as the emotions, being all alike, are only interesting by their intensity, music is, on the contrary, only interesting by its particular nature, its individuality, the differences between one piece of it and another.

Read a passage from Reviewing Modern Music (1942) by Virgil Thomson
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