Composers Datebook®

"To be Certain of the Dawn" by Stephen Paulus

Composer's Datebook - Nov. 17, 2022


On today’s date in 2005, the chancel of the Basilica of St. Mary in Minneapolis was transformed into a performance stage for vocal soloists, choirs, and the Minnesota Orchestra led by Osmo Vänksä.

The occasion was the world premiere performance of a new oratorio entitled To Be Certain of the Dawn, featuring music by the American composer Stephen Paulus and a text by the British-born poet Michael Dennis Browne. The Basilica had commissioned the oratorio as a gift to Temple Israel in Minneapolis in commemoration of the 60th anniversary of the liberation of the Nazi death camps in 1945.

As Paulus explained, the idea for the oratorio began with a former rector of the Catholic basilica, who felt that Christians should acknowledge and teach about the Holocaust as much as—or more so—than Jews. “It was he,” wrote Paulus, “who decided that an oratorio would be a powerful vehicle for communicating… [and] that children are key to the prevention of genocide, both today and in the future.”

With telling effect, actual informal photographs of Jewish children taken in European ghettos during the 1930s and 40s were projected onto screens during the performance. As poet Michael Dennis Browne wrote, “The faces of children are the sun, moon, and stars of this work.”

Music Played in Today's Program

Stephen Paulus (1949 - 2014) To Be Certain of the Dawn Minnesota Chorale; Minnesota Boychoir;Basilica Cathedral Choir and Choristers;Minnesota Orchestra; Osmo Vänskä, cond. Bis CD-1726

On This Day


  • 1919 - American composer and arranger Hershy Kay, in Philadelphia;

  • 1930 - American composer, French horn player and conductor David Amram, in Philadelphia;


  • 1959 - Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, age 72, in Rio de Janeiro;

  • 1982 - Estonian composer Eduard Tubin, age 77, in Stockholm;


  • 1726 - Bach: Sacred Cantata No. 55 ("Ich armer Mensch, ich Sündenknecht") performed on the 22nd Sunday after Trinity as part of Bach's third annual Sacred Cantata cycle in Leipzig (1725/27);

  • 1839 - Verdi: opera "Oberto" in Milan at the Teatro all Scala; This was Verdi's first opera;

  • 1866 - Ambroise Thomas: opera, "Mignon,"in Paris at the Opéra-Comique;

  • 1876 - Tchaikovsky: “Marche slav” in Moscow (see Julian date: Nov. 5);

  • 1877 - Gilbert & Sullivan: operetta, "The Sorcerer," at the Opera Comique Theatre in London;

  • 1888 - Tchaikovsky: Symphony No. 5, in St. Petersburg, with the composer conducting (se Julian date: Nov. 5);

  • 1924 - Ernst von Dohnányi: "Ruralia Hungarica" in Budapest, with composer conducting;

  • 1937 - Daniel Gregory Mason: "A Lincoln Symphony," John Barbirolli conducting the New York Philharmonic;

  • 1955 - Bernstein: incidental music for "The Lark" (play by Jean Anoilh adapted by Lillian Hellman) in New York City at the Longacre Theater, performed by New York Pro Musica conducted by Noah Greenberg; A trial run of this show had opened in Boston at the Plymouth Theater on October 28, 1955;

  • 1977 - Vincent Persichetti: "Concerto for English Horn & Strings," soloist Thomas Stacy, Erich Leinsdorf conducting New York Philharmonic;

  • 1991 - Katherine Hoover: "Canyon Echoes," by flutist Susan Morris De Jong and guitarist Jeffrey Van, at the Walker Art Center in Minneapolis;

  • 1996 - Michael Torke: “Chrome” for flute and piano, at Colden Center in Queens, N.Y., by Marina Piccinini (flute) and Andreas Haefliger (piano).

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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