On the Left Bank of Paris, in June, 1927…

…ex-patriate American composer Virgil Thomson, 30, is excited to begin his next project. He has commissioned fellow American Gertrude Stein, 53, to write a libretto for an opera. And now he has received her text.

Gertrude has been working on this since March and, as he expected, having already set some of her shorter works to music, it’s not exactly traditional.

Virgil and Gert working together

Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein working together

Stein and Thomson had decided that the subject would be saints. Maybe four.

Gertrude has written a story about 20 of them, although focusing on two, St. Ignatius of Loyola and St. Teresa of Avila. Virgil is thinking that he may have to write parts for two St. Teresas. And maybe a master and a mistress of ceremonies could actually sing Stein’s stage directions.

Overall, he likes it. Virgil can see in Gertrude’s characters the creative people they all know on the Left Bank, who come to Stein’s salon on rue de Fleurus.

From Four Saints in Three Acts by Gertrude Stein

Pigeons on the grass alas.
Pigeons on the grass alas.
Short longer grass short longer longer shorter yellow grass. Pigeons
large pigeons on the shorter longer yellow grass alas pigeons on the
grass.
If they were not pigeons what were they.
If they were not pigeons on the grass alas what were they. He had
heard of a third and he asked about it it was a magpie in the sky.
If a magpie in the sky on the sky can not cry if the pigeon on the
grass alas can alas and to pass the pigeon on the grass alas and the
magpie in the sky on the sky and to try and to try alas on the
grass alas the pigeon on the grass the pigeon on the grass and alas.
They might be very well they might be very well very well they might
be.
Let Lucy Lily Lily Lucy Lucy let Lucy Lucy Lily Lily Lily Lily
Lily let Lily Lucy Lucy let Lily. Let Lucy Lily.

Beagles on the grass

In the late 1970s I was privileged to meet Virgil Thomson and shake his hand. Thank you, David Stock. RIP.

This year, we’ll be telling stories about these groups of ‘such friends,’ before, during and after their times together.

Manager as Muse explores Scribner’s editor Maxwell Perkins’ work with F. Scott Fitzgerald, Ernest Hemingway and Thomas Wolfe and is available on Amazon in both print and Kindle versions.

To walk with me and the ‘Such Friends’ through Bloomsbury, download the Virginia Woolf and the Bloomsbury Group audio walking tour from VoiceMap. Look for our upcoming walking tour about the Paris ‘such friends.’

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