Music by ‘Lost Composer’ who fled Nazis debuts at St. Mike’s

St. Michael’s College Archive Photo
Richard Stoehr sits outside Prevel Hall after a concert on the Saint Michael’s College campus in July 1949.

Three Vermont choral ensembles join forces Sunday at Saint Michael’s College to perform the works of Richard Stoehr, a Viennese-trained composer who taught at the school after fleeing Nazi Europe ahead of World War II.

The three choirs are: Bella Voce Women’s Chorus and Solaris Vocal Ensemble directed by Dr. Dawn O. Willis, and Counterpoint Vocal Ensemble, directed by Nathaniel G. Lew.

“Across the world, there is growing interest in ‘lost’ composers of the 20th century,” said Lew, who has brought many of Stoehr’s compositions to light, and is also chair of the fine arts department at St. Michael’s College. “Just last year there was a festival and exhibition dedicated to Stoehr in his native Vienna. We are so fortunate here in his adopted home of Vermont to be able to participate in his rediscovery and debut these wonderful works.”

Willis, artistic director of both Bella Voce and Solaris, called Stoehr’s works and life story remarkable.

The scion of a prominent Jewish family, Stoehr (1874-1976) was an eminent figure in Viennese musical life. He taught at the Vienna Conservatory for 35 years, penning widely adopted textbooks and presiding over a salon attended by renowned names in music. His songs, choruses, and chamber and orchestral works were frequently performed in German-speaking lands.

The 1938 Nazi annexation of Austria forced Stoehr to emigrate to the United States; he landed at the Curtis Institute in Philadelphia, where he taught Leonard Bernstein as a student. In 1941, he settled at St. Michael’s College and taught there until 1950.

In Vermont, he returned to composition, writing for local ensembles and émigré friends. Upon his death in 1967, Stoehr left his personal papers to St. Michael’s, including seven symphonies, two operas, choral music, 150 lieder, fifteen violin sonatas, at least a dozen other major chamber works, and much solo piano music.

Saturday’s concert features works spanning his career including three early motets from 1903, a set of women’s choruses composed in 1919 during his Viennese heyday, several “American” works from the early 1940s, and his final choral work, an “Ave Maria” composed in 1954 for the St. Michael’s College Glee Club. Most of the pieces are receiving their first performance since their composition.

The performance is at 3 p.m. in the McCarthy Arts Center Recital Hall at St. Michael’s College. Admission is free; a collection will be taken to defray the costs of recording the works for release on a CD. Information: smcvt.edu/on-campus/events.aspx.

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