In memory of a Schubert Club friend, Stephen Paulus

By Barry Kempton

I’ve read many moving tributes and reflections on composer Stephen Paulus over the past week.  Stephen passed away last weekend having spent over a year struggling to overcome a stroke he suffered in July 2013.  He was an important composer in this country and certainly one of the leading and most successful musical voices in our community.  Just reading comments from singers around the world is evidence enough that Stephen had a very special gift for writing music with melody and harmony that choirs and vocalists love to perform.  With thanks to my Schubert Club colleague Max Carlson for assembling the following, here are some snippets and observations about Stephen and his many encounters with The Schubert Club.  Rest in peace, Stephen, and thanks for the music you’ve given us.

♦ As a student, Stephen Paulus competed in the piano category for The Schubert Club Scholarship Competition.

♦ While a graduate student at the University of Minnesota he received support from The Schubert Club and its then director Bruce Carlson for the construction of a glass harmonica (pictured above), a musical instrument that uses a series of glass bowls to produce tones.  He later donated it to The Schubert Club.

♦ Stephen was the pianist for The Schubert Club Boychoir, a group originally formed for Saint Paul Cathedral but later adopted by The Schubert Club.

♦ In the late 1970s, the recently formed Minnesota Composers Forum (Stephen Paulus, Libby Larsen and Randall Davidson were founding members) moved into a small corner of our office space at Landmark Center. The Schubert Club and Bruce Carlson assisted the Forum with programming, marketing, and the procurement of commissions for new works by Forum members. Minnesota Composers Forum was later renamed the American Composers Forum and has grown into the nation’s premier composer service organization.

♦ In 1976 Stephen received his first Schubert Club commissions, Fountain of My Friends written for The Schubert Club Boychoir, and Mad Book, Shadow Book: Michael Morley’s Songs for tenor and piano (performed by Vern Sutton and Julie Himmelstrup).  Both works were premiered at a Walker Art Center concert in 1977.

♦ In celebration of our 1982 centenary year, Paulus was commissioned to write Artsongs, a song cycle for tenor and piano.  The piece was premiered by tenor Paul Sperry and pianist Irma Vallecillo at a banquet in the newly remodeled Saint Paul Hotel.

♦ In 1987, Stephen’s Carols for Christmas, performed by the Dale Warland Singers was the first recording released on The Schubert Club’s Ten Thousand Lakes record label.  Many of the carols on that recording still feature in our annual Courtroom Concert celebrating seasonal music by Minnesota Composers.

♦ The first Paulus piece performed and premiered on the International Artist Series was Bittersuite, Four Poems of Ogden Nash performed by Håkan Hagegård, baritone and Warren Jones, piano. The work was commissioned by Nicholas Nash and dedicated to Håkan Hagegård.  Pioneer Press acknowledged the work as “proof that the right composer can still breathe life into an old form [art song].”

♦ In 1989, soprano Evelyn Lear, along with the Mendelssohn String Quartet, pianist Thelma Hunter and percussionist Gordon Gottlieb performed Stephen’s Letters from Colette on the International Artist Series.

♦ In 2006, his Heartland Portrait was premiered by baritone Thomas Hampson on the International Artist Series.  The piece, commissioned by Jack and Linda Hoeschler with texts by Poet Laureate Ted Kooser, was presented in conjunction with the Library of Congress.  Paulus later arranged the piece for mezzo-soprano at the request of Clara Osowski, a 2012 Schubert Club competition winner.

♦ Stephen Paulus was the featured speaker at The Schubert Club’s Annual Meeting in May 2007.  While “Composition” was the theme for the afternoon, Paulus instead reminisced and paid tribute to his long-time friend with the late executive director Bruce Carlson, who had passed away the previous year.