August 24, 1949 -
born in Summit, NJ, composed during the Contemporary period
Stephen Paulus is best known for his 1982 opera The Postman Always Rings Twice and his hit choral piece The Road Home (2002). With ten operas in his output and more than 150 choral works, a fair portion of which are devoted to sacred music, Paulus has probably made his greatest impact in these vocal genres, though he has also written over 50 works for orchestra, including several critically acclaimed concertos, program pieces, suites, and various other orchestral compositions, many involving a vocal soloist. Paulus' oeuvre also takes in piano, organ, guitar, band, and chamber works. His operas have been staged by some of the leading American companies, including the Minnesota Opera, Boston Lyric Opera, and Washington Opera, and his orchestral works have been performed by the major orchestras of Cleveland, Dallas, Atlanta, and Minneapolis-St. Paul. Though his career has largely been centered in the United States, Paulus has made headway in Europe and the U.K., especially in the choral and operatic realms. Paulus' compositional style is very accessible and predominantly tonal, with distinctive melodies and harmonies, and spirited rhythms. Much of his output of more than 350 works has been recorded by such major labels as BIS, Delos, and Chandos.
Stephen Paulus was born in Summit, NJ, on August 24, 1949. Raised in Minnesota from age two, he studied piano in his youth and later on earned a doctorate degree in composition at the University of Minnesota, where his teachers included Dominick Argento. While a student there in 1973, Paulus, ever a supporter of the music and careers of his colleagues, co-founded the American Composers Forum, still the largest composer-advocacy organization in the U.S.
Among Paulus' first important works was his 1979 opera The Village Singer. But it was his next opera, The Postman Always Rings Twice, written on commission from the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, that was his greatest early success. After its June 1982 premiere, the work was staged at the Edinburgh Music Festival the following year, becoming the first American opera ever presented there.
1983 was also the year Paulus was named composer-in-residence with the Minnesota Orchestra. He served in the same capacity with the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra from 1988. In 1990 he was appointed concert music representative with the ASCAP Board of Directors. Paulus produced a range of compositions throughout the 1990s, and among the more successful was his opera Summer, written on commission from the Berkshire Opera Company and premiered there in 1999.
Paulus wrote his popular short choral piece The Road Home in 2002 for the Dale Warland Singers. He followed that success with Erotic Spirits, for soprano and piano (2004), a work premiered by Deborah Voigt and the Augusta Symphony in 2006. Among the more important recordings of Paulus' music is the 2009 BIS CD of To Be Certain of the Dawn (2005). Later works include TimePiece, for jazz ensemble and orchestra, co-written by Paulus and his son Greg and premiered in September 2011 by conductor Osmo Vänska and the Minnesota Orchestra. ~ Robert Cummings, Rovi