Remembering Steven Stucky (1949-2016)
Steven Stucky 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.
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.