Biographical

Dr. Steven Monrotus is a native of the Saint Louis Metro area, a member of the Saint Louis Chapter of the American Guild of Organists, a member of the American Composers Forum, an Organist at Saint Louis Scottish Rite Cathedral, and has been playing the organ for 6 decades.  He had the good fortune beginning at the age of 13 to have studied the instrument privately with some very inspiring and encouraging teachers outside his school district.  Instructors in the Saint Louis area who shaped his development as an organist were Robert Thompson (1963-65), Henri DeKeersgieter (1965-66), and Dr. Mario Salvador AAGO (1969) who was then Director of Music for the historic Saint Louis Cathedral Basilica.  By a very curious coincidence Dr. Monrotus happened to be born in Saint Louis on the very day that Dr. Salvador played the dedication recital on the newly built and installed Kilgen liturgical organ at St. Louis Cathedral Basilica on which he took his lessons with Dr. Salvador some 20 years later.

During his high school years at the age of 15, after only 18 months of private study with his first teacher, he performed on stage before a live audience of 500 people in a theatrical show with 22 acts and was awarded a first place for his organ playing.  Under this early influence he progressed rapidly and at the age of 23 he became organist for his own Roman Catholic parish churches, first at SS. Peter and Paul in Waterloo, Illinois and afterwards at historic Saint Frances de Sales, also known to locals as the "Cathedral of South Saint Louis."  During these busy years he performed weekly for the organ Mass and on feast days, never missing a day of obligation.  After relocating to Farmington, Missouri, and much later in life, after the foundations of his organ playing had been set in place by his previous teachers, he resumed private organ study in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with John "Quasi" Weissrock, a grandson of Marcel Dupre, tutorially, at the Roman Catholic Church of the Gesu on the campus of Marquette University.

In the same way that Dr. Salvador was a legend in the Saint Louis area, John Weissrock was a legend in the Milwaukee area and the first and youngest ever to win the prestigious National Organ Playing Competition held in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  Dr. Monrotus was able to benefit greatly from this teacher's genius, and his work with him put him on the direct teacher-pupil succession 9 generations on back to J. S. Bach through Weissrock, Dr. Wayne Fisher, Dupre, Guilmant, Lemmens, Hesse, Rinck, and finally Kittel who was one of the last students of J.S. Bach.  At this time Dr. Monrotus could already trace his lineage back 7 generations to J. S. Bach through Dr. Salvador, Middelschulte, Haupt, A.W. Bach, Fischer, and Kittel.  He could also trace a lineage 5 generations on back to Cesar Franck through Weissrock, Dr. Fisher, Dupre, and finally Vierne who was one of Franck's last students.  His lineage as a great, great grandson of Louis Vierne, tutorially, was of particular interest to him [See Bio subpage, A Case Study].

Dr. Monrotus could have become bivocational, but instead he chose a career in the health professions until his retirement.  For a period of 41 years he worked as a trusted and respected doctor of dentistry but still continued his study of the organ and organ playing his whole life, partly because he loved it and partly to comply with a promise he made when he was 16 years old to a very dear teacher, at his teacher's insistence, to never give up playing the instrument (See home page, personal message).  He's performed at the organ for many weddings and innumerable worship services and fraternal ceremonies, devoting countless hours of service to this specialized music ministry.  He has arranged for keyboard and recorded on three CDs a large collection of Christian hymns, anthems, and songs for the benefit of Autism Speaks, the Hearing Health Foundation, and to help fund research into the causes and treatment of central auditory processing disorder in children.

Being of the opinion that a careful study of it would be indispensible to his own musical education, and while engaged on that study in 1982, he successfully unearthed an arithmetic code which explains the ordering of pieces which J.S. Bach presumably had in mind when he composed his didactic collection of fugues and canons all built upon a single theme which has come down to us under the title Die Kunst der Fuga (The Art of Fugue).  The paper which essays this hidden mathematical symbolism is posted pro bono on this blog [See menu bar, Blog/Archive, subpage The Art of Fugue].

Today Dr. Monrotus is an active fraternal organist, blogger, and composer of organ music.  He has 4 collections of organ compositions:  1) Ten Pieces for the Organ Op. 1-9, for manuals only, 2) Eight Pieces for the Organ Op. 10-17, 3) Six Pieces for the Organ Op. 18-23, and 4) Five Preludes & Fugues for the Organ Op. 24-28.  All of these scores, with the exception of those undergoing full editorial board review for possible publication, are posted on this web site as PDF files for an unusual free download [See menu bar, Bio, Catalogue of Works, Free Stuff].  The entire 1st collection may be performed on a one manual pipe organ without pedals, a harmonium (reed organ), an electronic stage piano with pipe organ samples, or even an acoustic piano.  The other 3 collections were written with an obligatory pedal part.  All of these collected works were inspired by the sound of the historic 1924 Kimball Symphonic organ of 144 stops at the Cathedral of the Scottish Rite in Saint Louis, Missouri (photo below), a fully expressive, electropneumatic action instrument kept in fully playable condition and voiced to speak with the power of a pipe organ over twice its size [See menu bar, Photos 3].

The contents of these 4 collections are a smorgasbord of different types and styles with a rather heavy emphasis on canonic imitation and fugue.  Some of the pieces are longer, some shorter, they all stay within the bounds of traditional tonality, are highly idiomatic to the organ, and pay close attention to form.  Much of this music is in 3 and 4 voice texture.  Since the fugue is the organ piece par excellence, fugue writing plays a predominant role in his compositional output; over half (16 of 29) of these collected pieces are either stand alone fugues or a fugue paired with a prelude of some sort.  This music is of dense texture which will require slow practice to master (which is so, for ALL repertoire); most of it is not easy, but neither is it fiendishly difficult.  The first 2 collections are both pitched at the beginner, intermediate, and advanced levels with the 2nd collection being a supplement to the 1st.  The pieces in the last 2 collections are all pitched at the advanced level with the 4th collection being a supplement to the 3rd.

The guiding principle which leads his composing is the immutable fact that the listener's mind, as naturally created, seeks order and stability (meaning a tonal center, a clear beat, a discernable formal structure, and satisfying juxtaposition of sounds).  As a composer for the organ he's not in denial of this fundamental fact and therefore believes:  1) that a composer's music should have one overriding goal in mind, viz., to connect with and convey a language of warmth a meaning to the listener, 2) that tonality, even when it's shaky, is the gravity that holds music together and keeps it from flying apart, 3) that counterpoint is the arterial life's blood of music, and 4) that the problem his own music should solve is to provide the organist with something new to play that will have these characteristics -- that will hold together tonally, sing as if it's alive, and captivate if not move the listener.

As a practitioner of the creative art of composing he recognizes and appreciates 20th century trends in composition, to be sure, and acknowledges the logic involved in the synthesis of works from this time period.  He also recognizes and freely admits that by trying to think far outside the box when creating a work of art there's nothing there but a vacuum.  There's no rules there, no reality there, no means of production there, nothing to work against there.  So instead, as a composer of organ music, he prefers to think along the edges of the box because that's where he feels the means of production are, that's where the audience is, that's where he feels his own creativity can make an impact, and that's where things, for him, get done.  Keeping all this in mind and simply translated, his music contains no 20th century methods, home-made tonal systems, serialism, blurring of tonality, or harmonic disorder which can initially disorient the listener.  By the same token, while he keeps his music inside traditional tonal fences and embraces conventional triadic harmony, he takes liberties with it which are at times very daring.

This composer likes to think horizontally, his counterpoint is busy, and he introduces imitations and canons into many of his pieces.  For example, in his C Major Op. 4 Variations on a cantus firmus (c.f.) 3 of the 13 variations are 2 voice canons at the octave, one of which is a tricky procedure with the c.f. and its inverse being follower and leader, respectively.  The penultimate (12th) variation is a fugato and introduces a companion subject, uses the inverted c.f. for a 1st countersubject, and works one of the free voices appearing in the exposition as a 2nd countersubject in the entries which follow, all in triple counterpoint.

Canonic imitations also play an important role in other works.  In the Ab Major Op. 12 Pastorale for example, the 1st theme is worked in inverse movement as a 2 voice canon at the octave at the same time that it's presented right side up in a 3rd voice.  This theme is then presented in retrograde as a 3 voice canon.  A 2nd theme appears later and is worked as a 2 voice augmentation canon at the octave.  The 1st theme then makes its return as a 3 voice canon at the octave after which the 2nd theme is worked as a 2 voice canon at the octave at the same time that the 1st theme is combined with it in a 3rd line.  All of this canonic writing is written into the same piece.

In the Bb Major Op. 16 Canon the theme is presented 4 successive times in 3 voice canon where, in one entry, all 3 moving lines are inverted.  In the D Major Op. 18 Prelude the 1st theme returns in the relative minor key as a 3 voice canon at the octave after which the 2nd theme makes another return as a 3 voice canon at the octave.  In the a minor Op. 25 Prelude an imitation at the interval of a 5th is introduced.  And in the Eb Major Op. 21 Fantasia imitations at the interval of a 4th and at the interval of a 5th are introduced in the same passage.

His writing shows other signature moves:  it's colorful harmonically, even spicy at times, through the use of altered chords and chromatic harmonies, and his vocabulary is sometimes based on the methods that Louis Vierne had used [See menu bar, Homage/Photos 2].  His 4 voice writing follows the rules [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XX], but he also acknowledges the fact that life improves dramatically when someone decides to break the rules and finds beauty when they were told, or led to believe, that there was none.  The stretch for each hand is always kept an octave or less.  Save for his D Major Recessional Op. 2 (which is written in "keyboard style") and his Eb Major Trio Op. 14 (a technical study which teaches the entire instrument) voices never cross and voice ranges are never exceeded.  The only time he permits adjacent voices to meet at a unison (prime) is when there is no other good alternative.  In every piece he composes there's at least one place where the moving lines approach each other momentarily at a "near miss" minor 2nd interval, its inversion (major 7th), or its compound (minor 9th), which adds color and spice to the writing [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XXI].

The scores in these collections are of sturdy build, expected to make a lasting contribution to the organ repertoire, and not likely to disappear after a few years and be replaced with something that's more up to date.  This can be stated because this music, if not heaven-storming, is the work of a composer who fought his way through to the highest and most complete mastery of his material and is thus contributing thereby to the preservation and transmission of the art of organ composition.

His fugues, all of which are in 4 voices, are a product of his own system of fugue writing [see blog, Ten Steps], and there are 16 of them in his compositional output.  The majority (12) of them are paired with a prelude of some sort.  Half of them (8) begin in the tenor voice; the rest begin in the alto (5) or soprano (3).  These are lively pieces with a relentless driving rhythm and nothing like the "insipid classroom fugue" one might imagine as being the boring, low point of the art.  At the same time, his fugues are never found disintegrating tonally midway through to where the next recognizable chord is the final one.

All of his fugues are supplied with tonal rather than real answers.  All save for one (Op. 28) are supplied with 2 countersubjects and, with one exception (Op. 10, which has one long central episode), brief episodes of regular and identical length.  Episodes are constructed upon fragments of the subject, countersubjects, and their inversions, thus providing for a rapid and weighty development.  The variety of effect this creates from the several combinations of each subject and its 2 countersubjects sounding in triple counterpoint (where any of the 3 moving lines could be made a bass under the others) with such economy of means also made this a favorite method of J.S. Bach whose enormous compositional output contains many examples of fugues of sturdy build, the structural supports of which are well-spaced entries of these same 3 moving lines made in different positions and keys.

In the Fugue paired with the Op. 28 Prelude appropriately dedicated to the memory of J.S. Bach 3 countersubjects are maintained throughout in quadruple counterpoint.  This Fugue's 1st countersubject is derived by inverting the subject of the Fugue from the previous work (Op. 27).  The Op. 28 Prelude uses the 3rd countersubject from its paired Fugue for a theme and is treated in the same 6-part form employed in several other works.  The first 5 notes of the 3rd countersubject in this Fugue are identical with the first 5 notes of Bach's dashing D Major Fugue in the same key.  Further homage is paid to the dedicatee with the 2nd exposition of the Prelude's theme which is presented as a 3 voice canon at the octave.  These types of canons figure in many other pieces.

His c minor Op. 11 Fugue paired with a Prelude is an unusually bold double Fugue having a combinatory section also worked in quadruple counterpoint.   In the Op. 18 D Major Fugue there is a redundant entry in the opening exposition which inverts the subject and both countersubjects.  The A Major Op. 13 "Jig" Fugue has a redundant entry in the exposition and a 2nd entry which inverts the subject and both countersubjects.  In the Op. 6 D Major "Jig" Fugue every episode is worked in 3 voices, the d minor Op. 10 Fugue has one long central episode, and the Op. 22 stand alone fugue entitled "Postlude" works the D Dorian mode.  The G Major Op. 7 Voluntary is worked fugally with a passage in quadruple counterpoint where the upper and lower voices on each staff are immediately exchanged.

In the latest collection of pieces the e minor Op. 24 Prelude is constructed in 3 thirds using both countersubjects from the Fugue as thematic material.  Here each countersubject is given an exposition of its own and then combined in the third section.  Both Prelude themes then reappear, as if by magic, as countersubjects in the Fugue, thus providing a very strong sense of unity.  The a minor Op. 25 Prelude develops a single theme in 6-part form which is taken from a free voice appearing only once in the Fugue which follows.  This Prelude's theme is thus hidden as a free voice in the Fugue.  The b minor Op. 26 Prelude also develops a single theme in 6-part form which is taken from the 1st countersubject of the Fugue which follows.  Here the b minor Fugue's subject is the inversion of the a minor Op. 25 Fugue's subject.  The F Major Op. 27 Prelude develops a single theme in 6-part form also, which is taken from the 2nd countersubject of the Fugue which follows.

It may be that this 4th collection, by plowing in a furrow all its own, has broken new ground.  The pairing process used to create the Op. 25-28 Preludes & Fugues, i.e., of taking a 4 voice Fugue with multiple countersubjects (a method favored by J.S. Bach) and pairing it with a Prelude constructed upon a single related free theme treated in 6-part improvisational form (a method favored by Louis Vierne) seems to represent, so far as this author can determine, a new synthesis, something unique to organ composition.  When multiple countersubjects participate in Fugues like this, the counterpoint becomes thrillingly dense, and even more miraculous when all voices are clear, clean, independent, and mutually complimentary.  Historically, coordinating this complexity in a piece of music so that the final unity is aesthetically successful, for composer or performer, has been an achievement of high art.

It's therefore evident that there's a lot going on this music, and the moves it makes at times explores the boundaries of tonal fugue writing.  Voice lines remain singable however with no awkward leaps.  Basses are animated and, at times, romp all over the entire pedalboard [See menu bar, Free Stuff].  The Eb Major Op. 14 Trio is a particularly demanding etude in this respect and addresses what is arguably the most difficult aspect of organ playing, which is getting the left hand and feet to move independently anywhere on the keys and exactly in time with the right hand [See blog, The Hardest Thing].  All of this helps to set his writing apart and gives it an identity, a personal stamp, a "style" that's discernable to the listener.  It is no stretch to say that in times far ahead when this music is rediscovered and performed it can be expected to be afforded a place in the 21st century repertoire for the King of Instruments.

As an educator he's the author of Organ Bench, a conceptual learning blog for organists, organ scholars, and anyone else interested in the pipe organ and its music.  Since its creation in August 2015 this web site has received over 74K visits and over 120K individual page views of its blog/archive.  Organ Bench takes the reader, step by step, through the creative process, explaining in detailed blog/archive postings where the ideas for the author's compositions came from and how to overcome the fear of failure.  Dr. Monrotus also has a member profile page with the American Compsers Forum which may be accessed on its web site by going to its home page, clicking "Our Members" in the top menu bar, entering his user name (OrganBenchMan) in the search window, then clicking his name next to his photo.

Dr. Monrotus is one of the most experienced fraternal organists in the United States, having performed at over 40 venues in North America.  He currently serves as a Grand Organist/Musician at the state, national, and international levels and is the first to officially hold the title of Grand Musician for the Grand Lodge of Missouri, A.F. & A.M.  He is also the only person in Missouri history to have served in the 7 offices of Grand Organist/Musician for the Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M., Grand Chapter R.A.M., Grand Council C.M., Grand Commandery K.T., General Grand Chapter R.A.M.I., General Grand Council C.M.I., and York Rite Sovereign College of North America, simultaneously.  His record of service to these and other fraternal organizations spans some 110 accumulated years.  He also holds memberships in several invitational Trinitarian Christian organizations and is the recipient of a number of awards and honors for his charitable work and musical service.  Cool