Stephen Mager: Composer -- Conductor

Category Archives: Musings

The End of Music?

The following was first addressed to  musicians of the American Guild of Organists, during my term as dean of the Saint Louis Chapter, a little more than a decade ago. Its message is as pertinent as ever. In recent years, those of us in the arts and church music have been coming to terms with [...]

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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 [...]

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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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a dynamic 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 is a contribution to American cultural life, I would like to further address a topic we touched upon, the National [...]

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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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In defense of fine arts – III

9 May, 2012. The third and final installment in a discussion of the value and significance of public funding for the arts. In advocating the elimination of national support of the arts, some people are arguing economics. I suggest we look beyond that, and  consider our fundamental values, because the money we spend is an [...]

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On Harmony, Polyphony, and Humanity

The following is a reflection on a recent column in The American Organist magazine (June 2011 issue) by Thomas Troeger, the national chaplain for the American Guild of Organists. Dr. Troeger discusses musical terminology as metaphors for the non-musical, focusing in this particular column on the significance of harmony, both musical and spiritual. I often [...]

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