Remembering Composer Stephen Paulus

composer Stephen Paulus (1949-2014)
Stephen Paulus (1949-2014)

American composer Stephen Paulus passed away yesterday due to complications from a significant stroke he suffered last year. He was 65 years old.

Paulus leaves behind a wide range of works, including three violin concertos. William Preucil recorded the first concerto with conductor Yoel Levi and the Atlanta Symphony in the early 1990s. That recording also features the thrilling, eleven minute adventure for orchestra, Concertante, written in 1989 (find on iTunes).

In addition to composing, Paulus was a longstanding member of the board of directors of ASCAP (American Society of Composers, Authors and Publishers).

Choral music will be an important part of Stephen Paulus’ legacy. One of his most celebrated works is the short Pilgrims’ Hymn from his Leo Tolstoy-based opera, The Three Hermits. Take a moment and listen:

Also listen to Hymn to the Eternal Flame and this setting of the the old American hymn, The Road Home.

A Strad in the Attic

The Rodolphe Kreutzer Stradivarius
The Rodolphe Kreutzer Stradivarius

It’s a familiar and often dubious story which almost always ends in disappointment…A homeowner discovers a long-forgotten violin tucked away in a dusty attic. On a slip of paper inside the instrument’s f holes, the words “Antonio Stradivari” can be faintly made out. Most of the time, on closer inspection, these instruments are determined to be cheap copies. But the recent discovery of a 1731 Stradivarius, which belonged to Rodolphe Kreutzer, proves that rare, miraculous discoveries can happen.

The violin was found in a closet in the New York apartment of late millionaire Huguette Clark. It went up for auction this week at Christie’s and was expected to sell for upwards of $10 million. You can get a sense of the sound of the “Kreutzer” Stradivarius here and learn about its esteemed history here.

The violin disappeared into Clark’s private possession in 1921. Had it spent the last ninety years in the hands of the world’s greatest violinists, it probably would not have remained in such “fresh” condition. At the same time, it’s unfortunate that such a great instrument was apparently withheld from the public, languishing as an art investment and curiosity piece for a wealthy recluse. Hopefully, we’ll hear it on the concert stage in coming years.

Beethoven’s “Kreutzer” Sonata

Rodolphe Kreutzer (1766-1831) was influential as a violinist and teacher. He served on the faculty of the Paris Conservatory for thirty years, succeeded by his student, Lambert Massart (teacher of Wieniawski and Kreisler), who inherited his Stradivarius. Kreutzer’s Forty-two Etudes or Caprices (1796) remain a fundamental part of violin pedagogy. Kreutzer was well regarded as a composer (listen to his Violin Concerto No. 17) and conductor.

It’s ironic that Kreutzer is now associated with Beethoven’s Violin Sonata No. 9, Op. 47. Beethoven originally dedicated the sonata to his friend violinist George Bridgetowerproviding the teasing inscription, Sonata per un mulattico lunatico. Bridgetower performed the sonata with Beethoven on May 24,1803. He was forced to sight read over Beethoven’s shoulder because of a lack of rehearsal time. Following the concert, Beethoven and Bridgetower went out for drinks. Accounts suggest that Bridgetower insulted a woman whom Beethoven admired. The furious composer immediately withdrew the dedication and rededicated it to Rodolphe Kreutzer, writing:

This Kreutzer is a dear kind fellow who during his stay in Vienna gave me a great deal of pleasure. I prefer his modesty and natural behavior to all the exterior without any interior which is characteristic of most virtuosi. As the sonata was written for a competent violinist, the dedication to Kreutzer is all the more appropriate.

Kreutzer ignored Beethoven’s dedication and never played the sonata, calling it “outrageously unintelligible.”

The story of Beethoven and Bridgetower inspired Rita Dove’s poetry, Sonata MulatticaLeo Tolstoy also wrote a novella called The Kreutzer Sonata. 

Here is a live 1964 recording of Beethoven’s “outrageously unintelligible” sonata, performed by violinist Leonid Kogan and pianist Emil Gilels:

  1. Adagio sostenuto-Presto-Adagio 0:00
  2. Andante con variazioni 11:15
  3. Presto 26:18

The Road to Happiness in Music

Musician's SoulViolinist Holly Mulcahy has written an interesting and insightful post about finding happiness and keeping perspective while pursing a competitive career in music. Holly is the concertmaster of the Chattanooga Symphony and the author of the popular blog, Neo ClassicalIf you’re a young musician enduring the rigors of the audition circuit in the hopes of winning the “big job,” Holly’s post is a must read. Even if you’re not a musician, you’ll find her thoughts relevant.

Reading Holly’s post, I was reminded of this quote by Joseph Campbell, author of The Hero With a Thousand Faces and The Power of Myth:

[quote]If you do follow your bliss you put yourself on a kind of track that has been there all the while, waiting for you, and the life that you ought to be living is the one you are living. Follow your bliss and don’t be afraid, and doors will open where you didn’t know they were going to be.[/quote]

James Jordan’s book The Musician’s Soul offers additional wisdom. The book stresses the importance of openness and vulnerability in the creative process as well as finding your center and appreciating the importance of solitude as well as community. There are many great quotes throughout the book. Here are a few:

[quote]If people are not humane, what is the use of rites? If people are not humane, what is the use of music?[/quote]


[quote]It takes courage to grow up and turn out to be who you really are.[/quote]

-e.e. cummings 

[quote]No pessimist ever discovered the secrets of the stars, or sailed to an uncharted land, or opened a new heaven to the human spirit.[/quote]

-Helen Keller

[quote]Our problems are inside our lives, yes; but our lives are lived inside fields of power, under the influence of others, in accordance with authority, subject to tyrannies. Moreover, our lives are lived inside fields of power that are our cities with their offices and cars, systems of work and mountains of trash. These too are powers impinging in our souls. When the wider world breaks down and is sick at heart, the individual suffers accordingly.[/quote]

-James Hillman 

[quote]Everyone thinks of changing the world, but no one thinks of changing himself.[/quote]

-Leo Tolstoy