Dudley Buck

Biography

Born: March 10, 1839; Hartford, CT   Died: October 6, 1909; West Orange, NJ  
The ultimate Victorian musician in America, New England-born and German-trained Dudley Buck was in the 1880s the nation's most-performed choral composer. He was also a pedagogue and a popular touring organist; today he is remembered almost exclusively for his organ variations on The Star-Spangled Banner.

Buck didn't begin to study the piano until the comparatively late age of sixteen, as he entered Hartford, Connecticut's Trinity College.
Read more Music quickly became his passion, and two years later he left to study at the Leipzig Conservatory, as did many of his American contemporaries. In Germany, Buck studied with, among others, Ignatz Moscheles. In 1860 he went with his organ teacher to Dresden, then on his own moved on to Paris. Buck found his way back to Hartford in 1862 and took a job as organist at the city's North Congregational Church. Not content to remain a provincial church musician, Buck began touring as a concert organist, playing transcriptions of symphonic works, giving the first American performances of pieces by Bach and Mendelssohn, and offering his own music. He is credited with composing the first organ sonata in America.

Buck needed a larger venue for his talent. He moved to Chicago in 1869, but the Great Fire of 1871 drove him to Boston, where he began teaching at the New England Conservatory. There, in proximity to the Handel and Haydn Society, Buck began writing large-scale choral works. Among these were sacred compositions, including a setting of the forty-sixth psalm, as well as secular cantatas, such as 1874's The Legend of Don Munio.

In 1875 he permanently relocated to the New York area, taking a job as assistant conductor with the Theodore Thomas Orchestra, directing the Apollo Club, and assuming the duties of organist and choirmaster at Holy Trinity Church, and this period brought him increasing recognition as a composer of church music. Reportedly, his optimistic, Manifest Destiny style of choral works, including his dozen secular cantatas, received more performances in America in the 1880s than any other composer's music. Along the way, he issued several instructional manuals on organ playing and choral accompaniment.

Despite his occasional use of American topics, Buck wrote music in the conventional German style of the day, lyrical, well crafted, but a bit stodgy by later standards. His choral works, not surprisingly, also found favor in England, which hosted the 1885 premiere of his The Light of Asia. Read less