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John Vincent (composer)

This article is about the composer. For other uses of the name, see John Vincent.

John Nathaniel Vincent, Jr (May 17, 1902 – January 21, 1977) was an American composer, conductor, and music educator.

He was born in Birmingham, Alabama, and studied at the New England Conservatory of Music under Frederick Converse and George Chadwick graduating with a diploma in 1927. He continued his studies at George Peabody College where he earned a bachelors and a masters degree followed by doctoral studies at Harvard University from 1933–1935. While at Harvard studying under Walter Piston he won the John Knowles Paine Traveling Fellowship for two years of study with Nadia Boulanger. After transferring to Cornell University he earned his PhD in 1942. Vincent was head of the music department at Western Kentucky University from 1937–1945 and Schoenberg’s successor as professor of composition at UCLA, a position he held from 1946–1969. He died in Santa Monica, California in 1977.

As a composer, Vincent's music is known for its rhythmic vitality and lyricism. Although his music is essentially classical in form it is distinctly individual. The free tonality of his work makes use of what he calls ‘paratonality’: the predominance of a diatonic element in a polytonal or atonal passage. Vincent wrote numerous orchestral works, chamber music pieces, art songs, and choral works. He also wrote one ballet, 3 Jacks (1942), a film score, Red Cross (1948), and an opera, Primeval Void (1969).

In 1951 his book The Diatonic Modes in Modern Music was published. He also conducted orchestras throughout the USA and South America, and he was a director of the Huntington Hartford Foundation from 1952–1965.


  • Marrocco, W. Thomas. 1998. The New Grove Dictionary of Opera, edited by Stanley Sadie. 4 vols. London: Macmillan Press. ISBN 0-333-73432-7 and ISBN 1-56159-228-5
  • Marrocco, W. Thomas. 2001. "Vincent, John". The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell. London: Macmillan Publishers.

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