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Celebrating the pipe organ, the King of Instruments

[Stephen Paulus]

In Memoriam

Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus (August 24, 1949 - October 19, 2014)

by Michael Barone
October 20, 2014

 

The connection of Stephen Paulus to PIPEDREAMS dates back to the American Guild of Organists's national convention in Atlanta in 1992, though Stephen's involvement with organ music dates back to his youth.  Not an organist himself, Stephen's insight into the instrument came through his father (read more here).  

With that background, perhaps what followed was inevitable.  Jump forward to Atlanta in 1992.  Stephen, as composer-in-residence with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra (also working with the ASO Chorus and Robert Shaw), was commissioned by patrons at the church were Shaw conducted (and Norman Mackenzie, Shaw's assistant and subsequent ASO Chorus director, was and is organist) for the first major work that Stephen created for pipe organ…his (First) Concerto for Organ, Strings and Percussion (1992).  The piece was played for the AGO's 1992 convention audience (before approximately 2000 organists and church musicians), and was an immediate hit.  

Premiered at the same time as his first Organ Concert was a choral cycle with important organ accompaniment, "Visions of Hildegard, Part 1 (1992)". 

Though, prior to 1992, Stephen had included some modest organ backing to several choral scores, these two new pieces, particularly the First Concerto, made it clear that he fully understood how to write for the instrument in a fresh, imaginative way, and performances in front of the 1992 AGO crowd caused everyone to perk up.  A flood of subsequent commissions for organ solos, duets, and concertos followed, generating more than a dozen titles (including three additional concertos; two more concertos were in the 'to-be-completed' stack at the time of Stephen's stroke).

We included the First Organ Concerto in the second "Pipedreams Premieres" album (Volume 2), issued in 1993, and that performance appeared in several PIPEDREAMS programs.  The First Organ Concerto received its Minneapolis premiere in 2003, a performance also featured on PIPEDREAMS

As noted, that first concerto's successful premiere led to commission from another Atlanta Church for a Concerto for Organ, Chorus and Orchestra (2002) [No. 2], which included an optional final movement involving SATB chorus.  This aired on PIPEDREAMS #0541 shortly after its premiere, as well as subsequently>.  

After the two Atlanta concertos, Stephen was commissioned to write a third organ concerto, for the Dallas International Organ Competition, and the premiere of that Grand Concerto for Organ and Orchestra (2003) [No. 3] took place the year after the competition as part of the winner Bradley Hunter Welch's prize.   The Minnesota premiere of that work took place during the 2008 AGO Convention, a performance that appeared on PIPEDREAMS #1402.

Also as part of the 2008 AGO Convention, Stephen was commissioned to write a piece in appreciation of PIPEDREAMS and its host, Michael Barone (me), its title "Blithely Breezing Along" borrowed from a file of quips Stephen had heare me utter on-air during his many years of listening to me on Minnesota Public Radio.  "Blithely Breezing Along" was premiered by Marilyn Keiser during the Annual Meeting of the AGO in 2008.  

"Blithely Breezing Along" was intended as one movement in a projected 'Baronian Suite', with the thought that other movements would be added as future commemorative commissions.  These were were slow in arriving…until 2013. The resulting new piece, "A Refined Reflection" (2013), Stephen's last composition, receives its broadcast premiere in the 2014 PIPEDREAMS "Organist's Yearbook" .

Through the years, many other organ works by Stephen Paulus have found their way into PIPEDREAMS programming:

"Meditations on the Spirit" (1995) 
"Three Temperaments" (1996) 
"Paean" for Organ Duet (1996) 
"Triptych" (2000) 
"As if the whole creation cried", fr Triptych (2000) 
"King David's Dance" (2002)
"Romp" (2006): 

Additional Paulus scores appear in PIPEDREAMS programs coincident with his unfortunate demise:

"The Triumph of the Saint" (1994), a work commissioned in Atlanta by a husband-and-wife team who recently recorded it (though our PD performance has a Minnesota connection). 

The First Organ Concerto (1992) as performed in 2013 by the Chamber Orchestra of Philadelphia. 

A 2012 AGO Convention performance of the Grand Concerto [No. 3], which also was released on CD by Naxos along with two other Paulus works

Stephen's was an indisputable talent and an amiable character.  His music is his legacy.  His memory will remain vivid with those who knew him.

R.I.P. Stephen Paulus.

 

JMB