Stephen Paulus (August 24, 1949 – October 19, 2014) was an American composer, best known for his operas and choral music. His best-known piece is his 1982 opera The Postman Always Rings Twice, one of several operas he composed for the Opera Theatre of St. Louis, which prompted The New York Times to call him "a young man on the road to big things". His style is essentially tonal, and melodic and romantic by nature. He received grants from the National Endowment for the Arts and Guggenheim Foundation and won the prestigious Kennedy Center Friedheim Prize. He was commissioned by such notable organizations as the Minnesota Opera, the Chamber Music Society of Lincoln Center, Opera Theatre of Saint Louis, the Saint Louis Chamber Chorus, the American Composers Orchestra, the Dale Warland Singers, the Harvard Glee Club and the New York Choral Society. Paulus was a passionate advocate for the works and careers of his colleagues. He co-founded the American Composers Forum in 1973, the largest composer service organization in the U.S., and served as the Symphony and Concert Representative on the ASCAP Board of Directors from 1990 until his death (from complications following a stroke in July of 2013) in 2014.
Paulus was born in Summit, New Jersey, but the family moved to Minnesota when he was two. After graduating from Alexander Ramsey High School in Roseville, MN, he attended the University of Minnesota, where he studied with Paul Fetler and eventually earned the Ph.D. in composition in 1978. By 1983, he was named the Composer-in-Residence at the Minnesota Orchestra, and in 1988 he was also named to the same post at the Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, whose then-conductor Robert Shaw commissioned numerous choral works from Paulus for Shaw's eponymous vocal ensemble. After the premiere of his second opera, The Postman Always Rings Twice, he began a fruitful collaboration with the Opera Theatre of St. Louis that would result in four more operas.
In a career which encompassed more than forty years of composition his output came to include over 450 works for chorus, orchestra, chamber ensemble, opera, solo voice, piano, guitar, organ, and band. Paulus lived in the Twin Cities area.
Paulus's output was eclectic and varied, incorporating works for chorus, orchestra, solo singer, and various combinations thereof. His choral music represented his most diverse body of work, ranging from elaborate multi-part works like Visions from Hildegard to brief anthems and a cappella motets.
With nearly 60 orchestral works to his credit, Paulus was distinguished by his tenures as a Composer in Residence with the orchestras of Atlanta, Minnesota, Tucson and Annapolis. Conductors who have premiered his works include Osmo Vanska, C.William Harwood, Christoph van Dohnanyi, Kurt Masur, Sir Neville Marriner, Rollo Dilworth, and Leonard Slatkin. He has been commissioned by the Cleveland Orchestra, New York Philharmonic, Atlanta Symphony Orchestra, Minnesota Orchestra, Tucson Symphony Orchestra, Saint Paul Chamber Orchestra, and many others. In 2011 he also co-wrote a Concerto "Timepiece" with his son, Greg Paulus, for the Minnesota Orchestra.
Paulus has written over 150 works for chorus ranging from his Holocaust oratorio, To Be Certain of the Dawn, recorded by the Minnesota Orchestra on the BIS label, to the poignant anthem, "Pilgrims' Hymn," sung at the funerals of U.S. Presidents Ronald Reagan and Gerald Ford and a brilliant setting of the Stabat Mater for the Saint Louis Chamber Chorus. His works have received thousands of performances and recordings from such groups as the New York Choral Society, L.A. Master Chorale, the Apollo Chorus of Chicago, Robert Shaw Festival Singers, VocalEssence, the Chicago Master Singers and Dale Warland Singers. Notable works for vocalist and orchestra include commissions for Thomas Hampson, Deborah Voigt, Samuel Ramey, Elizabeth Futral, Håkan Hagegård and Evelyn Lear. Instrumental soloists range from Doc Severinsen and Leo Kottke to Robert McDuffie, William Preucil, Lynn Harrell and Cynthia Phelps.
Paulus was well known for his operas, which are often described as "dramatic and lyrical" and are notable for "lush" orchestra writing. Other than Postman, Paulus's operas include:
- Harmoonia, an opera for children
- Heloise and Abelard, with a libretto by Frank Corsaro
- Hester Prynne at Death, after Nathaniel Hawthorne
- Summer, after a novella by Edith Wharton
- The Three Hermits, a "church opera"
- The Woman at Otowi Crossing, which deals with spiritual awareness and Native Americans
- The Woodlanders, a "romantic tragedy" after Thomas Hardy
- The Village Singer
- The Star Gatherer
- The Shoemaker
-  Henahan, Donal, "The Postman Always Rings Twice in St. Louis." New York Times, June 20th 1982. (Accessed 15 December 2006).
-  Kirk, Elise, "Stephen Paulus", Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy. (Accessed 15 December 2006)
-  Composer biography, from his web site (Accessed 15 December 2006)
- McLellan, Joseph. "On Center Stage: The Neoromantics", The Washington Post, October 29, 2008. Accessed February 19, 2011. "Coincidentally or not, all four of this year's finalists were born on the East Coast, though Stephen Paulus (represented by his Violin Concerto) has spent his career in Minneapolis. Paulus was one of the three Friedheim finalists born in the New York area-Summit, N.J. [George Rochberg] was born in Paterson, N.J., in 1918 and Joan Tower, composer of 'Silver Ladders,' was born in New Rochelle in 1938."
-  Combs, Marianne, "Composer Stephen Paulus suffered stroke, in critical condition." Minnesota Public Radio, July 9, 2013. (Accessed 11 July 2013).