Biographical

Dr. Steven Monrotus, a native of the Saint Louis Metro area, is the Principal Organist and Musical Director at the Scottish Rite Cathedral in Saint Louis, Missouri, a member of the Saint Louis Chapter of the American Guild of Organists and of the American Composers Forum, a state, national, and international fraternal organist, an active blogger, and has been playing the organ for nearly 60 years.  He had the good fortune beginning at the age of 13 to have studied the organ 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 the late Robert Thompson (1962-65), the late Henri DeKeersgieter (1965-66), and the late 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 this age taught himself to play a major Bach work, the d minor Toccata & Fugue BWV 565.  Four years later he was privileged to play the Kimball organ at Saint Louis Scottish Rite Cathedral for the first time and performed this famous benchmark piece on it then.  Much later in life he learned that 3 consecutive evenings of dedication organ recitals were held back in 1924.  The opening work on the 2nd recital program was the same Bach work.  He was born exactly one generation (25 years) after that recital, same city, same day, same hour.  He happened to become a 32nd degree Scottish Rite Mason at Saint Louis on his birthday exactly one generation (25 years) after his first contact with this instrument.  In music, timing means everything, and these multiple coincidences have left him feeling a special bond with it.  He knows this instrument, what it can do, and knows it well.

At the age of 23 he became organist for his own Roman Catholic parish churches, first at SS. Peter and Paul in Waterloo, Illinois (1975-1977) and afterwards at historic Saint Frances de Sales in Saint Louis (1977-1979), also known to locals as the "Cathedral of South Saint Louis."  During these busy 4 years he performed weekly for the Sunday 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 were well in place from his work with his previous teachers, he resumed private organ study again, this time in Milwaukee, Wisconsin with the late John Quasi Weissrock (1999-2002), 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 Quasi was a legend in the Milwaukee area and, in 1960 at the age of 21, was the first and youngest candidate ever to win the prestigious National Organ Playing Competition held in Fort Wayne, Indiana.  John Quasi played in a wonderful French style and was, among many other things, a remarkably gifted musician completely without artifice, a great artist, a master of rhythm, a powerhouse of technique, a consummate technician who possessed extraordinary abilities for communicating a language of warmth and meaning to an audience, and, perhaps even more importantly, an uncommonly good teacher.  And while the foundations of his student's playing were already well in place, it was determined that there was still much that he could do to hone it around, to do some different things, and to add in new concepts.

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.  His output of 32 pieces for organ has been grouped into 5 major collections as follows:  1) Ten Pieces for Organ Op. 1-9, 2) Eight Pieces for Organ Op. 10-17, 3) Six Pieces for Organ Op. 18-23, 4) Five Preludes & Fugues for Organ Op. 24-28, and 5) Three Postludes for Organ Op. 29-31.  The scores of the pieces for two hands only in the first collection have also been adapted for performance at the piano and grouped separately as a sixth collection of Ten Pieces for Piano Op. 1-9.

The individual collected scores may be previewed, heard with digital playback, and digital downloads obtained online from either of these links:

 

https://www.noteflight.com/marketplace/search#/keyword:monrotus

OR

https://www.sheetmusicplus.com/publishers/steven-monrotus/10593

 

These scores make a gift that keeps on giving.  Any royalties due the composer are donated to charity.

Cover pages, tables of contents, and suggestion for performance for each of these major collections are also available for free download from this web site.

The entire 1st collection may be performed on a one manual pipe organ without pedals, a digital keyboard with pipe organ samples, or a reed organ (harmonium).  These have also been arranged for piano solo and published separately in that format.  The other 4 collections have an obligatory pedal part and were written for an organ with 2 manuals and pedals minimum.

The contents of these 5 collections are a smorgasbord of different types and styles with a rather heavy emphasis on canonic imitation and fugue.  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 (18) 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 practice to master; 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 3 collections are all pitched at the advanced level with the 4th and 5th collections 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 functional tonality 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.

In composing his organ music 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 as any other practitioner of the creative arts would.  But 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 own 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 works inside functional harmony, still finding the superposition of thirds a satisfactory system for the determination and construction of chords, he takes liberties with it which are at times very daring.  It's evident then, that this composer likes to think horizontally, and his counterpoint is busy.  In his C Major Op. 4 Variations on a cantus firmus (c.f.), for example, 3 of the 13 variations are 2 voice canons at the octave, one of which is a tricky business 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.  Passages having 2 and 3 part canons can be found elsewhere in his work.  These canons are at the octave, 4th, and 5th, and some are in augmentation, inverse movement, and retrograde.

His writing shows other signature moves:  it's colorful harmonically, even spicy at times through the use of altered chords, chromatic harmonies, final major triads with added 6ths and 2nds, and the use of a harmonic vocabulary similar to the methods that Louis Vierne used [See menu bar, Homage/Photos 2].  The 4 voice writing follows the rules [See blog, Getting Started With Writing, Part XX], but this composer also acknowledges the fact that life may improve 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 hands in this music is always kept an octave or less, and, save for the D Major Recessional Op. 2 (which is written in "keyboard style") and the Eb Major Trio Op. 14 (a technical study which teaches the entire instrument) voices never cross; voice ranges are never exceeded, and the only time adjacent voices meet at a unison (prime) is when there is no other good alternative.

In every piece there is 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].  At times modal flavor can also be found:  in the pedal line of the coda of the Op. 19 Toccata we find a passage in F Lydian, and in the coda of the the Op. 22 Postlude there is manual figuration written in D Dorian.

As for his 19 fugues, they're all in 4 voices and are a product of his own 10-step method of fugue writing which is explained on his blog [See blog, Ten Steps}.  Ten (10) of them begin in the tenor voice; the rest begin in the alto (6) or soprano (3).  The majority (12) of them are paired with a prelude of some sort.   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 they're never found disintegrating tonally midway through to where the next recognizable chord is the final one.  All save for one (Op. 22) have real answers, and most (12) begin on the 1st scale degree.  Four of them (Op. 19, 27, 29, 30) begin boldly on the 3rd scale degree; these all have subjects with a "tail" which points strongly to the dominant (as they must) and were provided with real answers.  Two more (Op. 22, 26) begin on the 5th scale degree; the first of these (Op. 22), as mentioned, has a tonal answer, and the other (Op. 26) has a real answer in the subdominant.  One more (Op. 13) has a subject which commences boldly on the 7th scale degree (leading tone) and is supplied with a real answer.  All are supplied with at least one codetta (interlude, or link) in the exposition, and all are provided with multiple countersubjects.  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 multiple countersubjects sounding in triple or quadruple counterpoint with such economy of means also made this a favorite method of J.S. Bach whose enormous compositional output contains hundreds of fugues of sturdy build, the structural supports of many being well-spaced entries of these same 3 moving lines made in different positions and keys.  The fugato (12th) variation from his C Major Op. 4 Variations on a cantus firmus (c.f.) also begins boldly on the 3rd scale degree and also has a real answer in the dominant, but it has no codetta in the exposition between the 2nd and 3rd entries of the subject.  The 1st countersubject from the fugato variation from Op. 4 is the inverted c.f., and the 1st countersubject from the D Major Op. 28 Fugue is derived by inverting the subject of the Fugue from the previous work (Op. 27).

The Op. 28 Prelude, for its part, uses the 3rd countersubject from the Fugue for a free theme and is treated in the same 6-part improvisational form employed in several other works.  The first 5 notes of the 3rd countersubject in this Fugue happen to be identical with the first 5 notes of Bach's dashing D Major organ Fugue in the same key.  Further homage is paid to J.S. Bach with the 2nd exposition of this Prelude's theme which is presented as a 3 voice canon at the octave.  These types of canons figure in many of his pieces.

His organ music is stylish.  The c minor Op. 11 double Fugue paired with a Prelude, for example, has an unusually bold exposition in its middle section employing only the home key and its relative.   In the D Major Op. 18 Fugue there is a redundant entry in the exposition which inverts the subject and both countersubjects.  The entry which follows the exposition of the A Major Op. 13 "Jig" Fugue inverts the subject and both countersubjects, simultaneously.  In the D Major Op. 6 "Jig" Fugue every episode is worked in 3 voices, whereas episodes in all the rest of his fugues are in 2 voices only.  The Op. 22 "Postlude" is the only fugue of his having a tonal answer; all the rest have real answers.  The Op. 10, 21, 28, 29, 30, and 31 Fugues are all written in quadruple counterpoint with 3 countersubjects maintained throughout; the remainder are worked in triple counterpoint.  The G Major Op. 7 Voluntary is also worked fugally where at one point the upper and lower voices on each staff are exchanged in successive entries.

Many of these fugues are paired with a prelude of some sort that's related thematically.  The e minor Op. 24 Prelude, for example, is constructed in 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 compositional furrow all its own, has broken some 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 a 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.

There's a lot going on these pieces of his, and the moves they make at times explore the boundaries of tonal fugue writing.  To be perfectly honest, much contemporary organ music being written today, some of which has been award-winning, loses the listener and comes across as strange, if not grotesquely ugly, in its stark logic.  His does not.  It was composed entirely from the mind away from the instrument, but, despite this feature, voice lines remain singable with no awkward leaps, stay within their usual ranges, and never cross.  Basses are animated and, at times, romp all over the entire pedalboard.  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."

This is essentially concert music that can be used for recitals, in the worship service, for fraternal ceremonies and work, or for instruction.  As such it's written for a smaller, elite audience of work-a-day organists, teachers, and church musicians within an already small classical music listening public.  Looking at it through the lens of the organ, anyone focused on composing organ music these days is writing for a medium whose core repertoire spans hundreds of years and is automatically entering into a dialogue with the past and having enduring works for models.  It was therefore natural that this composer give some throught to what it might take fo his writing to become something that speaks to a braod variety of musicians and music lovers over a span of cultures, places, and even epochs -- something that might have a life beyond its original premier and even possibly labored over, loved, interrogated, or admired by future generations.

The overwhelming majority of music being created today is made with an entirely different goal in mind, i.e. to create a hit, catching fire with the broadest possible listening public at the moment, with no concern or regard for any kind of historical endurance.  The desire to write a piece that would enter the organ repertoire is particulary apposite, and contemporary works simply do not figure prominently in the organ repertoire.  We see this, notwithstanding noteworthy contributions by such eminent composers of the last 50 years as diverse as Philip Glass, David Lang, Milton Babbitt, and Gyorgi Ligeti, among others, and the tireless efforts of people like Carson Cooman who proselytize for contemporary organ music.

Nevertheless the music under discussion has stylishness, substantive ideas, integrity with a seriousness of purpose, craft in the sense of attention to detail, and an inner propulsion that carries the listener forward from start to finish including a little of the unexpected.  With it may be found elements of intricacy, subtlety, and sophistication that balance simplicity, contrasting ideas which generate interest, and a form molded with the intention of creating a satisfying sense of a musical journey.  All of these are necessary conditions for a comtemporary work to enter the standard organ repertoire. 

This composer is also the author of OrganBench, a conceptual learning blog for organists, organ scholars, and anyone else interested in the pipe organ and its music.  Organ playing is a lifetime study, a continual work in progress.  Not everything about it can be learned away from its keys, but much of it can, and some of it must.  That's where this learning blog comes in handy, to help fill that need, and its use bears this out;  since its creation it has enjoyed over 107K visits and its blog/archive has received over 155K individual page viewsThe archive takes the reader step by step through the creative process, explaining in detailed postings some of the author's steps along this same trail, what it takes and how to get started writing organ music with a particular focus on fugues, what it takes and what someone needs to know to hone themselves into a solid honest-to-goodness organist and composer, how to overcome the fear of failure, and a boat load of other information critically important to performers and organ scholars.

Dr. Monrotus is one of the most experienced fraternal organists in the United States.  He has performed at over 40 Masonic venues in North America, and his record of service-related years to Masonic organizations as a musician is well over 100 years in aggregate.  As timing would have it he is the only 8 Star Organist in Missouri Masonic history -- meaning that he has served in the offices of 1) Primus Grand Musician of the Grand Lodge A.F. & A.M. of the State of Missouri, 2) Grand Organist, Grand Chapter Royal Arch Masons of Missouri, 3) Grand Organist, Grand Council Cryptic Masons of Missouri, 4) Grand Organist, Grand Commandery Knights Templar of Missouri, 5) General Grand Organist, General Grand Chapter Royal Arch Masons International, 6) General Grand Musician, General Grand Council Cryptic Masons International, 7) Grand Organist, York Rite Sovereign College of North America, and one other organization at the national level -- in this case 8) Primus Provincial Grand Organist for the United States of America, Masonic Order of Athelstan in England, Wales, & its Provinces Overseas.  He has logged over 50 service-related years in aggregate to these offices and currently holds all 8 of these appointments simultaneously, the only Freemason in history to ever do so.  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.