Christopher Rouse and Steven Stucky
Remembering Steven Stucky (1949-2016)

Remembering Steven Stucky (1949-2016)

Steven Stucky

Steven Stucky

A note from Ed Harsh, President and CEO of New Music USA:

A special sadness spread quickly over the new music community earlier this week as word of Steve Stucky’s death spread. There has already been much written and there will be much more to come. Steve’s rare combination of qualities, beginning with his musical genius but extending far beyond, touched so many people. Wisdom, humor, erudition, humility. He brought these and so many more to all that he did.

Following our custom on NewMusicBox, we asked a close colleague of Steve’s to write a memorial essay. Christopher Rouse succinctly sums up what an extraordinary friend and role model Steve has been to so many of us. We encourage you all to add your own thoughts and remembrances in the comments section below.

For New Music USA as an institution, it would be hard to overstate Steve’s impact. He served brilliantly as our Vice Chair, bringing clarity and perspective accompanied always by support and inspiration. Perhaps most fundamentally, he was one of the truly indispensable colleagues who turned two organizations, the American Music Center and Meet The Composer, into one. New Music USA wouldn’t be New Music USA without him. He’ll always hold a very special place in our hearts.


In 1973, when I first enrolled in the master’s program at Cornell University, my fellow composers spoke often about Steven Stucky, who had begun his graduate work there the year before but who was then serving two years in Iceland as a member of the US Air Force. There was universal admiration for him both as a composer and a person. Hearing a piece of his – the Quartet for clarinet, violin, cello, and piano – told me that he was indeed a composer of special gifts. Already evident were the fastidiousness and elegance that would come to characterize his mature work. When he returned to Cornell, Steve and I became fast friends, jawing about virtually every conceivable subject and sometimes playing extended frisbee or softball games on the Quad.

That close friendship continued until February 14 of this year, when he suddenly passed away after a three-month battle with brain cancer. Those of us close to him knew of his struggle but expected – hoped? – Steve would be with us longer. I had last spoken to him about a week earlier, when his spirits seemed high and his fighting spirit strong. The one consolation was that he died peacefully in his sleep.

His achievements as composer and writer have been extensively chronicled elsewhere, as have the achievements of the many Stucky students who have gone on to remarkable careers in their own right. The greatest testament to him is the extraordinary outpouring of grief on the Internet upon his death. So many had deep feelings for him. He had an astounding intellect, but perhaps more important were his warmth, graciousness, and generosity of spirit. He gave unstintingly of his time to many organizations; perhaps even more important, he did the same for his friends and his students. Every young composer who had the opportunity to work with Steve carried away memories that would last a lifetime, not only in terms of the valuable instruction they received but also through the example he set as a humble and caring human being.

He was the most centered friend I have ever had. Even in the most difficult times of his life he maintained his usual friendly and calm demeanor. I don’t recall ever seeing him show anger or stress. Though his heart might be breaking, there was never self-pity nor any demonstration of emotional excess in his behavior. His family meant the world to him, and his marriage to Kristen Frey Stucky brought him enormous joy and peace over the last several years of his life, as did his ongoing close relationship with his two children, Maura and Matthew.

I don’t think I’m alone in seeing Steve as the sort of person we all wish we were. Even had he lacked the musical genius he did in fact possess, his way of living his life and treating all with kindness and respect would have been a model worth emulating for anyone. Loved by so many, we have lost not only a great composer, but the dearest of friends. I wonder how we will be able to go on without him.

John Harbison, Christopher Rouse, and Steven Stucky

John Harbison, Christopher Rouse, and Steven Stucky at the 2012 American Academy of Arts and Letter Ceremonial

NewMusicBox provides a space for those engaged with new music to communicate their experiences and ideas in their own words. Articles and commentary posted here reflect the viewpoints of their individual authors; their appearance on NewMusicBox does not imply endorsement by New Music USA.

7 thoughts on “Remembering Steven Stucky (1949-2016)

  1. Kurt Doles

    Thank you, Chris, this is a fitting tribute to a good friend and an even better human being. After the word of his passing leaked on Facebook, I was overwhelmed to see the depth and breadth of composers, performers, scholars….both young and established….all sharing their poignant and positive interactions with Steve. I’m hard-pressed to name another composer of his renown and ability that was as universally loved by everyone he came into contact with. On a personal note, he was “Uncle Steve” to my daughter, and a trusted confidant, and I will miss him always. We should all strive to be like Steve.

  2. John Van Buskirk

    It was my good fortune to be a member of a chamber orchestra in Manhattan that played music by many up and coming, later to become ‘famous’, composers. We performed and often recorded some exciting, beautiful and outstanding music – something that I feel is the function of any engaged musician. Many if not all, of these composers, expressed gratitude, although this could occasionally ring hollow for one reason or another. If memory serves, from those many years ago, no one seemed more genuinely grateful and thankful for one’s efforts than Steve. He was always happy to be consulted during rehearsals and give feedback that did not stir any defensiveness on the part of the players, but, rather the invariable desire to fulfil his ideas of what the piece should sound like. The outpouring of tributes from esteemed colleagues and touching tributes from his children make me very sad. RIP Steven

  3. Charles Bodman Rae

    Thank you for this perceptive tribute. In view of the fact that most of the recent acrs of homage towards Steve have, understandably, been from friends and colleages based in the US, I would like to add a perspective from outside and beyond. I first met Steve in England in the mid 1980s, at the Huddersfield Contemporary Music Festival, where he interviewed our dear, now departed friend, Witold Lutoslawski, in a public forum. Our many meetings over the years were as far afield as Poland and Australia. He was greatly admired by the new music community in the UK, initially for his superbly insightful writings on Lutoslawski’s music, but increasingly for his own music, as audiences were gradually exposed to his exquisitely refined harmonic language and sensitive treatment of the orchestra.
    The responsibility that now falls to those of us who were privileged to be counted among his friends is to ensure that his own music lives on, through live performances. He did that for Lutoslawski. We should now do the same for him. Charles Bodman Rae

  4. Mark Taggart

    Beautiful words, Chris. Steve was always warm, gracious, and kind. I have kept up with his him and his music through all these years, via letters, eMail, and through fb. It seemed that his recent works were even more masterful: the Symphony, Silent Spring and the lovely “Schubert Dreams.” What a towering intellect, as I remember conversations with him about music, literature and scotch. The hole in my heart is deeper with my remembrances of Steven, the man. I’m grateful that he was a part of my life.

  5. Nancy Mooslin

    Chris, we have met several times when you and Steve were together most recently when my husband Mike and I were visiting Steve in Aspen a few years back. I am very grateful to have been in Aspen again this last summer for the performance of his opera “The Classical Style”. I like so many am heartbroken by Steve’s passing and grateful beyond measure for his friendship and collaboration. Thank you for this beautiful tribute. Your closeness , understanding and love for Steve make you the perfect person to write about him.
    Nancy Mooslin

  6. Anthony Iannaccone

    How gratifying it is to read Christopher Rouse’s warm, glowing tribute to Steven Stucky! I met Steve while guest conducting at Cornell approximately 35 years ago, before he achieved his well-deserved celebrity status. He and Karel Husa were among the most gracious hosts I have ever encountered. In correspondences over the years, Steve’s insightful and generous observations on new music and composers were, like his music, the expressions of an extraordinarily gifted and intelligent composer and a real mensch. At only 66 years old, his passing is such a sad and great loss; but I am grateful that he has left us with so much outstanding music.


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