In his first symphony, composer Virgil Thomson build a bridge to carry his listeners into the past, but to bring them back to the present as well
Most of the time when someone mentions modernism in music, our minds jump to some pretty strange things. We tend to imagine something with no tonality, plenty of dissonance, weird unpredictable rhythms, and the lack of anything approaching a melody.
But if you listen to the work of, say, Igor Stravinsky--without question a modernist master—you’ll hear melodic touches that have their roots in anything but the modern world. Much of what he did was pull folk melodies from the past and work them through his musical vision—into something new, often revolutionary.
Other composers in the 20th century, and some American ones, experimented with the same thing. One evening a couple of weeks ago I sat down and listened to Virgil Thomson’s Symphony on a Hymn Tune which he composed while he was in Paris from 1926-1928. It’s his first symphony, a four-movement piece