Virgil Thomson and Gertrude Stein

Thérèse Bonney (1897–1978)
Modern print from scan of original negative, c. 1929
Courtesy of The Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley (1982.111.16 Stein, Gertrude--POR 14)

Stein’s most notable collaborations were in opera and ballet theater. She provided the libretto and others wrote the music. She worked again and again with the resilient Virgil Thomson, who composed scores for Four Saints in Three Acts (1934), based on the life of Saint Teresa of Avila, and The Mother of Us All, reflecting on Susan B. Anthony and her campaign for women’s suffrage. (The latter premiered in 1947, after the author’s death.) Stein also joined forces with the English composer Gerald Berners, who wrote the score for the ballet A Wedding Bouquet (1937), based on a Stein play. Stein’s collaborations gave her new visibility, and in some cases the notoriety she craved. Yet professional advantages alone do not explain Stein’s persistent enthusiasm for collective effort. Artistic intimacy, however unstable—with Picasso, with her young partners in Dix Portraits, and with Thomson—was clearly something she relished.