Composer Profile: Stephen Montague (1943 – )

Stephen MontagueStephen Montague (b. 1943, Syracuse, New York), an Anglo/American composer, pianist and conductor studied at Florida State University and Ohio State University before moving to Europe, first as a Fulbright Scholar in Warsaw (1972-74) and since 1974 in London where he works as a freelance composer. His works have been performed worldwide by leading orchestras, ensembles and soloists which include the London Symphony Orchestra, Royal Philharmonic, BBC Symphony Orchestra, The Royal Ballet, Pacifica and Smith string quartets, pianists Stephen Kovacevich, and Marc-André Hamelin, percussionist Evelyn Glennie, and harpsichordist Elisabeth Chojnacka.

Although a long term UK resident, Montague’s compositional influences remain transatlantic. He comments: “I have lived in Britain since 1974 but my musical heroes remain American: I admire Charles Ives’s unapologetic juxtaposition of vernacular music and the avant-garde, Henry Cowell’s irreverent use of fist and arm clusters, the propulsive energy of minimalism and John Cage’s radical dictum that ‘all sound is music’”.

Recent Composer Portrait concerts of his music have taken place in London, Cambridge, Aberdeen, Vienna, Houston, New York, Chicago, Mexico City, Budapest and Bahrain.

CDs of his work are on numerous European and American labels. “Southern Lament”  (NMC label, UK) won 2006 The International Piano Award for “Best New Piano Works Recording”. Website: www.stephenmontague.com

In addition to music he is an active cyclist and tennis player (a former Florida JC Tennis Champion).

Requiem

“The Trumpets Sounded Calling Them to the Other Side”

by Stephen Montague

Commission: The Portsmouth Grammar School, Portsmouth, UK, for Remembrance Day, 11 November, 2009.

First performance: Remembrance Sunday, 8th November, 2009 Portsmouth Cathedral. The Portsmouth Grammar School Chamber Choir (Andrew Cleary, Director), Annabel Roberts, soprano, and The London Mozart Players conducted by Nicholas Kraemer.

US premiere: 4 June, 2011 Mortenson Hall, Hartford, Connecticut. Hartford Symphony Orchestra, Jessica Winn, soloist, The Hartford Chorale, Concora, Connecticut Children’s Chorus, Richard Coffey, chorus master, Edward Cumming, conductor.

Programme note:
Requiem is the Latin word for “rest” or “repose” and is commonly associated with a religious mass for the dead. This requiem, however, like a number of requiems written in the last two centuries was not designed to be a part of a funeral service, but rather a memorial concert work. In this instance, the timeless lament on the tragedy of war.

To reflect this sentiment my work draws on two contrasting sources. The first is an 18th century folk ballad called Johnny’s Gone for a Soldier in which the simple, personal, but universal sense of loss is poignantly expressed by a young woman grieving for her lover. The second is from the famous medieval Sequence, Dies irae (Day of Wrath) attributed to an Italian Franciscan monk, author and poet, Thomas of Celano, written around 1250. Thomas’s powerful text is a chilling view of the Final Judgment in which The Great Book is laid open and “everything revealed with nothing left unpunished.”

The subtitle, “The trumpets sounded calling them to the other side, is a poignant image of battlefield loss poetically inscribed on the village war memorial in St. Mary’s Parish Church, Slangham, West Sussex.

In 1944 Portsmouth played a central role in the D-Day landings on the 6th June in what was to be, with some 5000 ships, boats, landing craft and 160,000 allied soldiers, the largest amphibious invasion in history. To commemorate the 65th anniversary of the Normandy invasion and 10,000 casualties, The Portsmouth Grammar School commissioned this Requiem for Remembrance Day 2009 in memory of the 110 former pupils killed in the Second World War.

Duration: c. 38 minutes

© Copyright 2009 Stephen Montague