Stephen Mager: Composer -- Conductor

Stephen Mager, Composer

View a list of compositions by Stephen Mager.

Stephen Mager has been composer-in-residence for the Bach Society of Saint Louis since 2004. He has written extensively for chorus and orchestra, and his works have been performed by such distinguished ensembles as the Cleveland Orchestra and Chorus; VocalEssence, Minneapolis; and the Dallas Symphony Chorus.

His choral symphony, Sinfonia Pastorale, received its Saint Louis premiere in 1997 with the Bach Society, to critical praise: “…the music does indeed have a painterly quality to it. The orchestration is complex and colorful, and the music is inclined to linger over beautiful images… [Mager] writes gratefully for the voice…” (Saint Louis Post-Dispatch).  The Bach Society has commissioned several of his major choral works: an Easter choral cycle, The Lamb’s High Feast (2005); I saw eternity (2006); and in 2008, Missa lucis (“Mass of Light”), aptly described as “lushly lyrical” (Saint Louis Post-Dispatch). His most recent work for the Bach Society is an extended, highly energetic setting of the Te Deum, premiered in April, 2012. (See below for details, and to listen to the premiere performance.)

His carol settings have also received critical attention and are featured on the compact disc, Joy for Every Age (1998). “These excellent carol settings . . . exhibit a slightly different kind of charm and sophistication that owes much to their more expansive . . . fully integrated orchestrations” (David Vernier, Classicstoday.com). His carols are featured on a dozen or more commercial recordings by choral ensembles in the United States.

His opera, Dream of the Pacific, was commissioned by Opera Theatre of Saint Louis for the bicentennial of the Lewis and Clark expedition (2004), and subsequently produced by Opera Omaha (2005), Kansas City Lyric Opera (2005), and Washington National Opera (2006), the latter by the young artists program sponsored by Plácido Domingo.  “Mager excels at conveying a wide variety of feelings…all in a musical language that is both lyrical and comprehensible” (Washington Post).

Stephen Mager was honored as the Composer of the Year for 2001, by the American Guild of Organists, Saint Louis Chapter. The award acknowledges his service to the cause of sacred music. His publishers include Oxford University Press and MorningStar Music.

Recent Compositions and Reviews
Recordings of Original Compositions and Arrangements

Current Commissions

  • Summer, 2012 – An extended interdisciplinary work, for the Equinox woodwind quintet, Saint Louis, and possible visual/dance components is now being negotiated for the summer of 2013.
  • July, 2012 – Bethel Lutheran Church has requested an extended work for worship, to highlight the congregation’s centennial observance, which begins in October, 2012. The work, currently under discussion, will feature congregation, mixed choir, organ, and obbligato instruments. It will be premiered this fall.
  • July, 2012 – A substantial work for soprano solo and percussion is currently under consideration. To be premiered in 2013.

Recent Commissions and Premieres

  • April 29, 2012 – The Te Deum for soprano solo, SATB chorus and organ, was premiered 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 memorial concert in honor of the late Sanford McDonnell, took place at the Ladue Chapel in Saint Louis, Missouri. The Te Deum, a extended work in four movements, is a setting of the fourth century Latin text attributed to Nicetas. The work is about 25 minutes in duration.

About the Te Deum:

Stephen Mager’s Te Deum was commissioned by the Bach Society of Saint Louis for its seventy-first concert season, and completed in January, 2012.The work takes inspiration from the monumental Te Deumsettings by Handel, Haydn, Berlioz, Bruckner, and Britten. A study in the ancient and the new, the work is a treatment of the original Latin text, once thought to be the work of Saints Augustine and Ambrose, but now attributed to the fourth century bishop and hymnist, St. Nicetas of Remesiana—the patron saint of Romania. An affirmation of the doctrine of the Trinity, the lengthy original text of the Te Deum is both a hymn of praise and a litany of invocation, in effect combining features of the GloriaSanctus and Agnus Dei of the traditional Roman Catholic Mass. The present setting is comprised of several distinct segments, in the “Neapolitan style,” in the form of a four-movement cantata.

The work is a challenging concert piece, whose musical language is at once sophisticated yet accessible. Musical subject matter includes the melody of the ancient Gregorian chant Te Deum, along with original thematic material, interwoven within a contemporary tonal, polyphonic texture. Though scored for a medium-sized chorus (about 50 voices), the work employs a variety of vocal combinations, from the solo voice, to full unison and four-part to eight-part chorus. The choral parts capitalize not only on the lyric features of the voice, but on the visceral impact of massed choral sound.

The organ accompaniment is intended to fill the role of an orchestra, and requires some virtuosity. It takes into account the character and disposition of the pipe organ (3 manual, 59 rank Bosch/Zimmer) and the acoustical characteristics of the premiere venue (Ladue Chapel, Saint Louis). In particular, the accompaniment exploits the pungent reed stops of the instrument, as well as the lighter flute and celeste stops. This Te Deum seeks to integrate the textures of choral and organ timbre into music of subtle and powerful resonance.

The first movement, “Te Deum laudamus,” is a bold contemplation of the majesty of God. The movement opens with a bravura fanfare, whose crisp dotted rhythms recall the Baroque French ouverture style, idealized in the suites of Bach and the operatic overtures of Handel. As the chorus enters in the same majestic spirit, the accompaniment introduces fragments of the ancient Gregorian chant melody. This flowing chant tune becomes the principal subject of the driving central section that  follows, where it undergoes much rhythmic and contrapuntal development. The Latin text in some instances informs musical meaning; elsewhere, the words are simply vehicles for musical elaboration. Other disparate elements are introduced, including a Lutheran chorale, a Gregorian Sanctus, and a veiled nod to Igor Stravinsky, all leading to a triumphant return of the opening fanfare, and a brilliant concluding flourish.

Listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=7-VXzLLQ2To

The pastorale (“Tu rex gloriae Christe”) which follows is a meditation upon the mystery of the Incarnation, whereby “the Word was made flesh, and dwelt among us.” It is a musical crèche scene: the Baroque pastorale form is a deliberate evocation of Christ’s birth at Bethlehem, amid adoring shepherds. The soaring, ethereal soprano cantilena suggests a kind of angelic proclamation of Christ’s dominion and divinity. The choral harmonies briefly become dark and dissonant in contemplation of Christ’s impending suffering and death, but grow radiant at the prospect of eternal light and joy which the Savior has won for humankind. In the end, it is the lilting, humble spirit of the worshiping shepherds that seems to linger.

Listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DtNB9Sts2WI&feature=relmfu

If the first two movements are God-centered, the third movement (“Salvum fac populum tuum”) is concerned with humanity. It begins like the first, with a reedy fanfare, but here the tone is more subdued, a remote echo of the opening grandeur of the work. Thereafter, the movement proper proceeds in the form of a solemn cortège and litany, a plaintive cry for mercy and protection (“salvum,” that is, “save [us]”). The clarity and simplicity of the repetitious litany yields a powerful crescendo of feeling, and so, for the first time in this work, a tone of genuine pathos and introspection is introduced.

Listen: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2feSpcjoyoc&feature=relmfu

The finale (“Fiat misericordia tua”) maintains the mood of the preceding movement—for the moment. After an initial outburst in the prevailing tonality (“Lord, let thy mercy be upon us, as we place our trust in thee”), there ensues music more ominous in character. Inspired by a motet by Giovanni Gabrieli, Timor et tremor, the chromaticism of this music is tonally uncentered and unsettling, aptly conveying the terror of the text: “non confundar in aeternum” – “let me not be confounded in eternity!” The movement continues in an ongoing counterpoint between these conflicting ideas of hope and despair, before the entire work, once more echoing the opening fanfare, concludes in affirmation: “Lord, in thee have I trusted.”

Listen: http://youtu.be/zpYobyswZzY

Commentary, © 2012 Stephen Mager, Saint Louis.

  • April 22, 2012 – A concert of French music by the Masterworks Children’s Choruses included the premiere performance of the complete Chansons Joyeuses, a folksong suite for trebles and harp, with harpist Ayako Watanabe. The suite includes settings of five children’s songs, Au clair de la lune; Giroflé, girofla; Les cloches; Le pont d’Avignon; and Meunier, tu dors.
  • December 20, 2011 – The Carol of the Holy Child was performed by the Bach Society of Saint Louis in its annual Christmas Candlelight Concert at Powell Symphony Hall in Saint Louis. The work was presented in a special arrangement for soloists and unaccompanied SSATB chorus, composed expressly for the Bach Society, so it was a premiere in its own right. The work was conducted by Dr. A. Dennis Sparger, with soloists from the chorus. Also featured in the program was the St. Louis premiere of another carol setting, O Come, Divine Messiah, for chorus and orchestra. The work is a setting of an old French Noël, Venez, divin Messiah.
  • December 11, 2011 – Premieres by the Masterworks Chorale and Children’s Choruses in their annual holiday concert: Processional, Of the Father’s Love Begotten; and Noël Nouvelet, both scored for chorus and orchestra. The concert also included Mager’s settings of the Austrian carol, It Soon Will Be Evening; and French carols, Bring a Torch, Jeannette, Isabelle and Noël de la Vièrge.

  • November 6, 2011 – Premiere performance of Carol of the Holy Child, for SATB unaccompanied choir. The carol takes as its text an adaptation of a poem, O Child of Mary’s tender care, by Robert Haven Shauffler [1907]. The work was performed by the Kingsbury Singers under the direction of Mr. Kevin Koontz at the Crowne Plaza Hotel, in observance of the centennial of the Saint Louis Christmas Carols Association, a charity organization for needy children. The carol was subsequently performed for the public at the annual Christmas tree lighting in Kiener Plaza in downtown Saint Louis. The Carol was also distributed to various Saint Louis area caroling groups, to be included in their holiday repertoire as they raised money for the SLCCA’s annual fund drive. Pictured below is Stephen Mager with conductor, Kevin Koontz, and his wife, SLCCA executive director, Joan Koontz.

  • October 30, 2011 – Premiere performance of Fantasia on Duke Street, by the choirs of Bartlett United Methodist Church, Memphis, Tennessee. The performance was directed in worship by Minister of Music Todd Wilson. The work is a hymn concertato on the well-known hymn tune by John Hatton, to words by Isaac Watts, Jesus Shall Reign Where’er the Sun. (An alternative text is also provided: I Know That My Redeemer Lives.) The work features congregation, SATB choir and organ, and optional children’s choir, trumpet and handbells. The work was commissioned in honor of fifteen years of service by Bartlett UMC organist, Karen Strawhecker.
  • August 29, 2010 – Premiere performance of My Heart was Glad, sacred anthem for chorus and organ, composed in thanksgiving for the pastoral ministry of the Reverend Ronald Neustadt, Saint Mark’s Lutheran Church, Belleville, Illinois. The text of the anthem is taken from Psalm 122. The work was performed by the choirs of Saint Mark’s, and Saint George’s Episcopal Church, under the direction of Dr. Nancy Ypma. The organist was Elaine Lorenz.
  • December 12, 2009 – Premiere performance of Resonet in Laudibus, an extended setting for unaccompanied SSATB chorus, commissioned by the Canton High School Madrigal Singers, of Canton, Illinois. The work was premiered at the CHS Madrigal Dinners, under the direction of Mr. Anthony Militello.
  • May 4, 2008 – Premiere performance of Missa Lucis – Mass of Light, a major work for SATB chorus, soprano solo ad libitum, organ and chamber orchestra at the Cathedral Basilica of Saint Louis. The performance was conducted by Dr. A. Dennis Sparger, with the composer at the organ. The work was performed again on November 18, 2008, at First Presbyterian Church, Bloomington, Indiana, by the Contemporary Vocal Ensemble of Indiana University, under the direction of the composer, with soprano soloist Elizabeth Pearse and organist Dongho Lee.

Explore Dr. Mager's Compositions

Joy for Every Age

Joy for Every Age album cover
Delightful arrangements of 16 Christmas Carols for chorus and orchestra, including two original compositions. A beautiful CD of the collection is available from Dr. Mager.


Tapestry of the Holy Birth

Christmas woodcut
Six Christmas settings for wind and SA (or SATB).



Other Christmas Compositions

Christmas woodcut
Nine other Christmas pieces, including carols, spirituals, and original compositions.