Stephen Mager: Composer -- Conductor

Category Archives: Musings

On writing about music

A friend recently sent me a New Yorker article about Bach, written by the prominent critic, Alex Ross. The article was interesting, but I have to say that I am of two minds about Mr. Ross. In my doctoral studies, I took a class that used as a textbook his “The Rest is Noise.” It [...]

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A few candid remarks from an operatic philistine

[Originally written in August, 2013] While reviewing online videos, I ran across a new opera called “Written on Skin.” Why is contemporary opera so persistently and gratuitously bizarre? And perhaps more damning, why does it all sound the same? This stuff is novel, but it’s not really new. It’s like taking the effect music from [...]

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On Tonality and Atonality

Experience suggests that atonal music, including that of Schoenberg, Webern, and especially Berg, derives its effect precisely from its relationship to tonality, whether we hear anything tonal in the immediate context, or not. Tonality is one of the great, elemental human inventions, like mathematics or written language. It is not simply an accident of history, [...]

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Observations on George Rochberg and deliberate anachronism

On hearing George Rochberg’s String Quartet # 3: The tonal portions of his quartets are very beautiful although, I suspect, not-quite-good-enough for Mahler. On second hearing, the music comes across more effectively, but even more Mahlerian, including some near-quotes from Mahler 9. In addition, the string quartet medium evokes aspects of early Schönberg—Verklärte Nacht, for instance. I am encouraged by Rochberg’s [...]

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On musical rhetoric – an historical analogy

Here is an historical assessment of literature and rhetoric in the late Roman Empire. It provides an interesting analogue with the state of  serious” music and art in our own time. For the word “conventional,” substitute “academic.” For “gentleman,” substitute “contemporary composer.” For the names of Latin authors, substitute “Elliott Carter,” “Milton Babbitt,” or whomever [...]

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Illuminations given at 2013 National Flute Convention

August 10, 2013 – There will be a performance of excerpts from the song cycle, Illuminations at the 2013 National Flute Association convention in New Orleans. The performance will be given by piccolo soloist Jan Gippo, together with guest harp and soprano soloists. Mr. Gippo, retired piccolo soloist with the Saint Louis Symphony, commissioned the work and gave the [...]

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Sept. 2012 – MacMillan Conference at Notre Dame

Stephen Mager participated in a Festival Conference on sacred music at the University of Notre Dame, to join a panel of American composers, along with featured guest composer, James MacMillan. The conference, James MacMillan and the Musical Modes of Mary and the Cross, was held September 13-15, 2012, concluding with the premiere performance of MacMillan’s motet, [...]

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Premiere of New Choral Work

A new major work by Stephen Mager, the Te Deum for soprano solo, SATB chorus and organ, was premiered on April 29, 2012 by the Bach Society of Saint Louis, with organist David Erwin, under the direction of Dr. A. Dennis Sparger. The performance featured soprano soloists Erica Rosebrock and Darcie Johnson. The concert, part of a [...]

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In defense of fine arts – I

5 May, 2012. The following remarks were prompted by a discussion I had recently about Republican presidential candidate Mitt Romney and his critical stance on the National Endowment for the Arts. As someone whose work (and yes, musicians really do work!) is a contribution to American cultural life, I would like to further address a [...]

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In defense of fine arts – II

6 May, 2012. The following is a continuation of my discussion of the National Endowment for the Arts and the issue of public support for the performing arts. Some will point to our accelerating national deficit as an area of grave concern. Yes, of course, this is a valid concern. But compared to excessive defense [...]

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