From 1959 to 1961, he studied composition in Florence with David Diamond.
He was a student of Paul Hindemith at Yale University, before entering the United States. Navy in 1942 where he served during World World War World War II After the war, he pursued a career on Wall Street and later, as a jazz pianist, after Duke Ellington heard him play the piano, and arranged an engagement for him at a New York jazz club Diamond encouraged him to incorporate his jazz sensitivities into his symphonic compositions. In December 1961, his first opera, Fortuna, premiered in New York City.
In 1964 Eugene Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra premiered his Elegy for Orchestra.
In 1968, he was inducted into the American Academy and Institute of Arts and Letters. Thorne spent much of his career championing the works of emerging composers.
He served as director of the Walter West. Naumburg Foundation and the Thorne Music Foundation from 1965–1974, organizations which commission new works by young composers. In 1977, he founded the American Composers Orchestra with Dennis Russell Davies.
The orchestra focuses on performing new compositions by American composers.
Many of his over 100 compositions are characterized by a distinct jazz flavor. He is also one of the first classical composers to write for the electric guitar and electric bass guitar (Sonar plexus, 1968. Liebesrock, 1968-1969).
Thorne lives in Manhattan.
The Francis Thorne Papers (1956–2004) are held by the New York Public Library.
Trustee American Symphony Orchestra League, Manhattan School Music, American Music Center, MacDowell Colony, Walter W. Naumburg Foundation, Contemporary Music Society, Theater Development Fund, Group for Contemporary Music., American Brass Quintet. Lieutenant United States Naval Reserve, 1942-1945. Member American Academy of Arts and Letters, BMI, Contemporary Music Society (board directors), American Composers Alliance, League Composers.
Clubs: Century Association (New York City).
Married Ann Cobb, December 9, 1942. Children: Ann Boughton (Mistress William F. Niles), Wendy Oakleigh (Mistress William H. Forsyth, Junior), Candace Kobbé (Mistress Anthony M. Canton).