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Dudley Buck

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Dudley Buck


Dudley Buck (March 10, 1839, Hartford, Conn. – October 6, 1909) was an American composer, organist, and writer on music.

Buck was the son of a merchant who gave him every opportunity to cultivate his musical talents. After attending Trinity College, for four years (1858–1862) he studied in Leipzig at the Leipzig Conservatory where he was a pupil of Louis Plaidy. He then pursued further studies in Dresden and Paris. On returning to America he held positions of organist in Hartford, Chicago (1869), and Boston (1871).

Buck also began touring as a concert organist, dedicated to elevating the taste of the American public through concerts featuring symphonic transcriptions and premieres of works by Mendelssohn and Bach. His sacred compositions include large-scale works, four cantatas, 55 anthems and twenty sacred songs. He played a central role in the development of organ and choral music in the United States. His first Motette Collection (1869) supplied American choirs with much-needed literature. After a two-year tenure at Chicago, where many of his manuscripts were lost in the fire of 1871, he returned to Boston where he accepted the post of organist for the Music Hall Association and joined the faculty of the New England Conservatory of Music.

In 1875 he went to New York to assist Theodore Thomas as conductor of the Central Park Garden orchestral concerts, another educational venture, and from 1877 to 1902 was music director at Holy Trinity Church in Brooklyn. In the same year, he began his tenure as founding director of the Brooklyn Apollo Club’s male chorus. By this time he had become well known as a composer.

His compositions included church music, a number of cantatas, such as Columbus (1876), Golden Legend (1880), and Light of Asia (1885), a grand opera Serapis, a comic opera Deseret (1880), a symphonic overture Marmion, a symphony in E flat, and other orchestral and vocal works. He wrote the first American organ sonata. Buck’s large-scale works exhibit an attention to practicality. His secular cantata The Legend of Don Munio (1874) sets a Washington Irving text for small chorus and orchestra and was popular in cities with limited resources. Two of his cantatas for male chorus, The Nun of Nidaros, op. 83 (1879) and King Olaf’s Christmas (1881) set H. W. Longfellow texts for chorus, soloists, piano obligato, reed organ, and string quartet ad libitum. His twelve secular cantatas received more reported performances than any other American choral works during the 1880s. Buck was able to strike a successful balance between popular taste and his high musical ideals.

In addition, Buck wrote several educational textbooks, most notably the Illustrations in Choir Accompaniment with Hints on Registration of 1877 and the Dictionary of Musical Terms and Influence of the Organ in History, which was published in New York in 1882. He is best known today for his organ composition, Concert Variations on the Star-Spangled Banner, Op. 23, which was later arranged into an orchestral overture. Buck also taught private music lessons throughout his career. Among his notable pupils were Paul Ambrose, William Howland, Daniel Protheroe, Harry Rowe Shelley, James Francis Cooke, and Charles Sanford Skilton. In 1898, Buck was honored by election to the National Institute of Arts and Letters. Eleven years later, on October 6, 1909, the composer died at the age of 70.

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