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John Vincent

Biography

Born: 1902   Died: 1977   Country: United States of America  
A century after his birth, the reputation of John Vincent rests on two orchestral works: the Symphony in D, written for and recorded by the Louisville Orchestra (1952, revised 1956), and Symphonic Poem after Descartes, premiered and recorded in 1958 by Ormandy and the Philadelphia Orchestra (who also made another recording of Symphony in D). A Second Symphony for piano and strings was arranged by Vincent a year before his death from a 1960 work Read more called Consort for the same components "in a neo-Elizabethan style." Born the same year as Richard Rodgers and Stefan Wolpe, Vincent was a student at New England Conservatory, where his teachers from 1922 - 1927 included Frederick Converse and George Chadwick. Awarded a diploma, he earned his B.A. and M.A. at George Peabody College in Nashville in 1933, and for the next two years studied with Walter Piston at Harvard. The John Knowles Paine Traveling Scholarship enabled him to attend l'École Normale de Musique in Paris for two more years (1935 - 1937), where he also received private tuition from the school's doyenne, Nadia Boulanger. In 1942 he earned his Ph.D. from Cornell University.

Vincent began a career of teaching after the NE Conservatory: first in public schools at El Paso, TX (1927 - 1930), then at George Peabody while studying there (1930 - 1933). In 1937 he became head of the music department at Western Kentucky State University, and in 1946 was appointed to the composition department at UCLA, where he succeeded Arnold Schoenberg as professor of composition, until his retirement in 1969. He also conducted in North and South America, and from 1952 to 1965 was a director of the Huntington Hartford Foundation.

In 1942, Vincent wrote a ballet, Three Jacks, that he revised for piano and strings in 1954 as Jack Spratt, in turn revised as Orchestral Suite from the Three Jacks, and reworked as The House that Jack Built in 1957 for speaker and orchestra. In 1948 he wrote the film score for Red Cross, and in 1954 incidental music for The Hallow'd Time. On a text by H.C. Reese (who provided words for The House that Jack Built), Vincent composed an "opera buffa" in 1969 called Primeval Void. His vocal music otherwise was mostly choral.

In addition to the symphonies cited and the Symphonic Poem after Descartes, he wrote a very early Folk Song Symphony (1931) and symphonic poem called Songs of the Chattahoochee. In 1959 he wrote La Jolla Concerto for chamber orchestra, revising it twice (in 1966 and 1973). A Rondo Rhapsody was premiered in May 1965, and in 1966 he added Nude Descending Staircase for strings (arranged in 1974 for xylophone with piano or string accompaniment), also The Phoenix, Fabulous Bird, for the city of Phoenix, AZ. From 1925 until the end of his life Vincent produced a variety of chamber music. In 1951, he published The Diatonic Modes in Modern Music, cited by Nicolas Slonimsky as "valuable."

Stylistically, his music was rooted in Classical forms, notable for rhythmic asymmetry and lyrical melodies (which is not to say memorable). He employed a vocabulary called "paratonality," based freely but not surprisingly on diatonicism -- widespread among composers of his generation, and the later one influenced by Hindemith's residency in the U.S. after 1940. He used some atonal elements, but preferred polytonality in the more complex works. Read less
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