Stephen Paulus (1949–2014)
Afternoon on a Hill (2006)
“In its world premiere ..., Postman rang the bell often enough to reinforce faith in Mr. Paulus as a young man on the road to big things. ... With his already mature technique and his strong theatrical instincts, the New Jersey-born and Minnesota-reared composer scores many points in his first essay at full-length opera.”
— Donal Henahan, The New York Times
On the première of The Postman Always Rings Twice
Minnesota composer Stephen Paulus was among the minority of composers who are able to support themselves solely through their creative output. His more than 600 compositions — including 12 operas, many works for orchestra, piano, chamber ensembles, and organ, and more than 400 compositions for chorus — spanned a creative career of more than 40 years.
Paulus earned his bachelor’s, master’s, and doctoral degrees in music at the University of Minnesota, receiving his Ph.D. in composition in 1978. Five years later, he was named composer-in-residence at the Minnesota Orchestra and took a similar position in 1988 at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, where conductor Robert Shaw commissioned numerous works. His style has been described as “neo-romantic,” with lush melodies, prominent dramatic sense, and impeccable craftsmanship. His operas, 55 orchestral works, and compositions for chorus continue to be performed internationally.
Paulus was also deeply involved as an advocate for the business of composing, publishing his own works and serving on the board of ASCAP from 1990 to 2014. He was a co-founder of the Minnesota Composers Forum (now the American Composers Forum), the largest composer service organization in the United States.
His short choral works cover a wide variety of texts, from familiar sacred pericopes to modern American poets to poems of the Japanese and Chinese. Afternoon on a Hill sets a well-known poem by Edna St. Vincent Millay, the first woman to earn a Pulitzer Prize. Millay’s poem conceives of nature (sun, wind, flowers, grass, cliffs, clouds) as a gladdening, revitalizing force available to quiet eyes and hands that touch but do not pick flowers. It was published in the August 1919 edition of Poetry.