Stephen Paulus, one of Minnesota’s best-known composers, was remembered Monday as a champion of new work and also as a generous mentor who helped advance the careers of other artists.
Paulus died Sunday at 65. He had suffered a severe stroke on July 4, 2013, at his lake home and never recovered the full use of his faculties. He died of medical complications.
“His legacy is not just his art and music but what he did for hundreds of composers,” said John Nuechterlein, president and CEO of American Composers Forum, which Paulus co-founded with composer Libby Larsen in 1973.
Paulus’ voluminous output ranged from the operatic, oratorio and symphonic to choral hymns. His opera “The Postman Always Rings Twice,” written in 1982 for Opera Theatre of St. Louis, was popular with regional companies and universities.
His Holocaust oratorio “To Be Certain of the Dawn,” with libretto by Minneapolis poet Michael Dennis Browne, was commissioned by the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis. It was recorded by the Minnesota Orchestra, Minnesota Chorale and Minnesota Boychoir in 2008.
Paulus’ work was known around the world and he served as composer-in-residence at Minnesota Orchestra as well as symphonies in Atlanta, Tucson and Annapolis, Md. He ran a music-publishing business from his home on St. Paul’s Summit Avenue.
Remembered personally as gracious and generous, with a youthful appearance, Paulus wrote nearly 60 works for symphony or opera and close to 200 choral pieces. His understanding of the human voice was considered extraordinary by several choral leaders. “Pilgrim’s Hymn,” his best-known choral work, was sung at the funerals of former presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford.
“He had that special spark for the human voice and a real passion for choral music,” said conductor Dale Warland, himself a composer. “He had that combination of great craftsmanship and spirituality.”
Philip Brunelle, director of VocalEssence, said that on his group’s recent tour to South Korea, musicians and audiences commented, “Oh Minnesota, that’s where Stephen Paulus lives.”
Brunelle said choirs such as those at King’s College in Cambridge, England, were very familiar with Paulus’ work. VocalEssence will close its concert this Sunday with “North Shore,” a 32-minute piece Paulus wrote in 1977.
Paulus and his son Greg wrote a jazz-infused piece, “Timepiece,” to open the 2011 Minnesota Orchestra season. Music Director Osmo Vänskä commented at the time that, “I have seen scores by some composers where everything is impractical. Stephen knows how to get the best results for his ideas.”
Born in New Jersey, Paulus grew up in Minnesota and attended the University of Minnesota. In 1983, he became composer-in-residence at Minnesota Orchestra. Five years later, he was appointed to the same post in Atlanta, where conductor Robert Shaw commissioned many works from Paulus. He wrote several operas for Opera Theatre of St. Louis, where he enjoyed a fruitful relationship.
The American Composers Forum, based in St. Paul, is the largest service organization for composers in the United States. Paulus also served on the ASCAP board of directors from 1990 until his death.
Paulus is survived by his wife, Patty, and sons Greg and Andrew. A memorial service will be held at 3 p.m. Nov. 8, at House of Hope Presbyterian Church, 797 Summit Av., St. Paul.