Paul Nelson (composer)

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Paul Nelson (January 26, 1929 – April 11, 2008) was an American musician and composer. His compositions—in all genres except opera—have been performed on four continents.


Paul Nelson was born in Phoenix, Arizona on January 26, 1929. He attended public elementary school there, and graduated from Phoenix Union High School in 1947. Preserved portions of the PUHS campus were named Phoenix's first official historic landmark in 2002, as noted in an article in a local newspaper serving the city's historic residential districts, The Midtown Messenger. The campus is now the site of a University of Arizona medical school.

He held a B.S. from Teachers College, Columbia University and an M.A. from Harvard, having studied at the latter with composers Walter Piston and Randall Thompson. He was awarded the coveted Rome Prize at the American Academy in Rome from 1960-63.

A professional trumpet player, he also had sung in well over 20 choruses from Los Angeles to New York and Boston, as well as in Vienna and Paris, where he was a professional chorister in 1959-60.

He went to Providence, Rhode Island in 1964 upon invitation to teach at Brown University, where he was associate professor of music theory and composition until 1983. He remained in Providence until his death, collaborating with various people and groups including singing as a bass in the Rhode Island Civic Chorale and Orchestra (who have performed several of his works). He also taught privately in the area.

Nelson died from congestive heart failure on April 11, 2008 at Rhode Island Hospital. He was survived by his wife of many years, Else.


His half-hour-long "Vox Aeterna Amoris" for mezzo-soprano solo and orchestra was given its premiere at Carnegie Hall in 1991 by the National Orchestral Association and was praised by the Daily News music critic as "easily the best work" on the program, while music critic Channing Gray described his 1990 "Cantata Psalmorum" in the Providence Journal-Bulletin the previous year as a "moving, eloquent score."

The Midtown Messenger in May 2004 again noted Nelson's life and work and his connection to his hometown, following his visit there to attend a performance of his composition "An Arizona Overture" in April 2004. The composition is a retitled movement from Nelson's "Two Contrasts for Orchestra," which was written as the 50th anniversary of Arizona's statehood approached, and was played, at PUHS, by the Phoenix Symphony, in a 1962 program also featuring violinist Zino Francescatti as soloist for the Mendelssohn Violin Concerto. The initial article may be found at, Past Issues, and both are also archived at the Arizona State Capitol Library.