Richard Wienhorst

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Born: April 21, 1920; Seymour, IN  
Born and raised in a small town south of Indianapolis, Richard William Wienhorst became skilled not only on piano and saxophone, but at carpentry as well. This unique ability to successfully combine both artistic and practical approaches would characterize his craft as composer. In 1942, he took his A.B. in public school music from Valparaiso University, a Lutheran institution in northwest Indiana, and served in World War II, leading the 45th Read more Armored Regiment Band.

Upon returning to Indiana following the war, Wienhorst joined the music faculty at Valparaiso University in 1946, initially as band director. At the same time he began to more seriously pursue his compositional interests, attending the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago to study with noted composer Leo Sowerby. In 1949, a year after receiving his M.M. in composition from American, he married former student Sue Stonebraker, now a professor of theology and philosophy.

The 1950s saw spectacular artistic developments for Wienhorst, named professor of composition and theory at Valparaiso in 1952. He received a grant to study at the École d'Art Americaine in Fontainebleau with Nadia Boulanger, to whom he dedicated the haunting, neoclassical Missa Brevis. A similar successful a cappella work in 1954 was the cantata The Seven Words of Christ from the Cross, in which the voice of Christ is strikingly represented by SATB chorus. Further European study was done at the University of Freiburg in Germany.

Back home, he spearheaded the creation of the University Composer's Exchange, a society of composers on the faculties of Midwestern universities devoted to the promulgation of new music. Other notable members of this group included Alexander Tcherepnin (DePaul), Leslie Bassett (Michigan), and, briefly, John Cage (Illinois). At this time Wienhorst also began work towards his doctorate at the Eastman School of Music, studying with Bernard Rogers and Howard Hanson. His composition for soprano, alto, chorus, and orchestra, Magnificat (a favorite text), earned him the Ph.D. in 1962.

In 1959, Valparaiso University constructed the Chapel of the Resurrection, which became in many respects ideal performance space for a Wienhorst composition. The chapel, a large acoustical space virtually demanding sound, was amply supplied with liturgical music by Wienhorst. Its modern architecture made demands on the eyes which his music matched with demands on the ears and mind. Valparaiso's internationally-known summer Church Music Seminar also provided the composer with more opportunities for this type of music. Throughout the 1960s Wienhorst was able to successfully implement serial techniques into church music; the tone row configurations of "Domine in Caelo," a 1966 work for chorus and orchestra, though difficult, are eminently singable, even memorable.

The 1970s found Wienhorst leading the introduction of electronic and taped music into the Lutheran liturgy. From scratch and almost single-handedly, he constructed an electronic studio for the university. In 1984, he retired and was named Professor Emeritus; the university to whom he had given so much named him Distinguished Alumnus in 1995 and awarded him an honorary Doctor of Sacred Music degree in 1996.

Richard Wienhorst's importance to university composers and Lutherans continues to be felt in the musical community. Missa Brevis and Magnificat have been hailed as "core choral works" of the twentieth century (Herford and Decker). In his retirement, Wienhorst's compositional activity has centered around children's ensembles, including the 1989 opera The Runaway Cowboy. Prominent former students include Tom Janssen, Robert Schuneman, and Frank Ferko. A collection of his 380 compositions, including some 220 published works, now resides in the archives at Valparaiso University. Read less

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