The National Endowment for the Arts’ American Masterpieces: Choral Music initiative is designed to celebrate our national musical heritage by highlighting significant American choral composers and their works of the past 250 years. Stanton’s Sheet Music is proud to present this series highlighting the composers and their works featured in this groundbreaking project.
Stephen Paulus (born 1949) is nationally and internationally recognized as one of today’s leading composers. Born in Summit, New Jersey, he studied at the University of Minnesota under both Paul Fetler and Dominick Argento. In 1973, with Libby Larsen, he founded the American Composers Forum. He has been Composer-in-Residence with both the Minnesota Orchestra and the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra.
His style is usually diatonic and accessible, always noted for solid construction and expert scoring. But perhaps what makes his work stand out the most is what the New York Times called “melodic patterns that are fresh and familiar at the same time.” As a result, his choral works are regularly performed by choruses ranging from high school to fully professional groups. His more than 50 recordings place him among the most-recorded of contemporary American composers.
He is also a respected composer of opera. His nine stage works include The Postman Always Rings Twice, based on the novel by James M. Cain and first presented by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis. The following year it became the first American opera production mounted by the Edinburgh International Festival. In addition, Paulus is the only American composer to have a work commissioned for the Festival of Nine Lessons and Carols at King’s College, Cambridge, in England.
Perhaps his best-known choral work is “Pilgrims’ Hymn,” originally composed for the church opera The Three Hermits. Most notably performed at President Reagan’s funeral, its transparent beauty has made it a perennial favorite. Other highly regarded compositions include the Christmas suite, So Hallow’d Is the Time; Letters for the Times, based on 17th-century American newspapers and diaries; and Meditations of Li Po, based on contemplative 8th-century Chinese texts.