From 1928 until the present Virgil Thomson Dean of American composers distinguished critic and author has composed musical portraits of people. Though he was not the first composer to do so the seriousness of his working methods and the quantity of his output (140 in all) make Thomson's practice of musical portraiture unique.
Tommasini's book is based on his extensive interviews with Virgil Thomson his examination of Thomson's manuscripts and documents and his correspondences with over sixty subjects of Thomson portraits (the still-available sitters as Thomson has called them). Earlier examples of musical portraits are examined as well as the literary portraits of Gertrude Stein works which inspired Thomson to experiment with portraiture in music. Thomson's working procedure is discussed in detail the Thomson portraits are surveyed stylistically and four selected portraits are analyzed theoretically.