Buck, Dudley


Dudley Buck, the widely-known American composer, organist, and teacher, was one of the first musicians of this country to win general recognition. He has written in all forms, but his fame as a composer rests largely upon his church music and cantatas. He is a native of New England, was born at Hartford, Conn., in 1839, the son of a prosperous shipping merchant. It was intended that he enter business life, and up to his sixteenth year he received no formal instruction in music. But he early showed a passion for music and set to work to teach himself. Rupert Hughes in his Contemporary American Composers, gives a suggestive picture of Dudley's youthful en- deavors to learn something of the art of music  "Buck, though intended for a commercial life, borrowed a work on thorough-bass and a flute and proceeded to try the wings of his muse. A melodeon supplanted the flute, and when he was sixteen he attained the glory of a piano, a rare possession in those times. He took a few lessons and played a church organ for a salary a small thing but his own. After reaching the Junior year in Trinity College, Hartford, he prevailed upon his parents to surrender him to music, an almost scandalous career in the New England mind of that day, still unbleached of its blue laws."

His father now concluded to send him abroad for study, and in 1858 he went to Germany, remaining there three years. In Leipsic he studied theory and composition with Richter and Hauptmann, the piano with Plaidy and Moscheles, and orchestration under Rietz, and when the latter removed to Dresden continued his work with him there. In Dresden he also studied organ under Friedrich Schneider. Then followed a year of work in Paris, which included study of organ construction. On his return to America he assumed, in 1862, the duties of organist at the Park Church, Hartford, and also engaged in teaching. It was in this period he published his first Motette Collection, which Mathews, A Hundred Years of Music in America, says marks an epoch in American church music, the book "notable because it was the first collection published in America in which modern styles of German musical composition were freely used, with unlimited freedom of modulation and addition of an independent organ accompaniment. In the latter respect the book had a vast influence, for to many organists it was the first authentic information they had received concerning the proper manner of using the organ effectively for accompanying and heightening the effect of the choir singing."

As a concert organist, Dudley Buck now made numerous and extensive tours, and with these concerts and various series of sacred compositions did notable pioneer work toward elevating the popular taste of the time. In 1869 he went to Chicago to fill the post of organist at St. James* Church, and here added very considerably to his reputation both as organist and composer. Many of the compositions written for his choir were included in the second Motette Collection. He built a home in Chicago, and close to his house erected a small music hall, where organ recitals were given, that proved of much inspiration to students and music-lovers generally. When the great fire swept the city, in 1871, all his early compositions were burned, and his house and library destroyed. On leaving Chicago he went to Boston; in this city he remained two years, holding the post of organist at St. Paul's and later being given charge of the organ at Music Hall. While in Boston he taught at the New England Conservatory. In 1875 he was invited to be organist of the Cincinnati Music Festival. For a while Buck filled the post of assistant conductor of the Thomas Orchestra in New York, and then became organist of Holy Trinity Church, Brooklyn, and director of the Apollo Club. He served as organist at Trinity for twenty-five years, until his retirement from church work, in 1903. The service of Dudley Buck as organist and choirmaster has been long and memorable. As a teacher he ranks with the famous instructors, among his noted pupils being George Chadwick, Frederick Grant Gleason, W. H. Niedlinger, Harry Rowe Shelley, C. B. Hawley and John Hyatt Brewer.

In 1874 appeared his cantata, Don Munio, from Irving's Alhambra, the music written for mixed chorus and orchestra. This became very popular. The same year the Boston Handel and Haydn Society gave the first production of his setting of the Forty-sixth Psalm, God is Our Refuge. For the Philadelphia Centennial Celebration, in 1876, he wrote the music to the Centennial Meditation of Columbus with words by Sidney Lanier, which work was performed by a chorus of one thousand voices and an orchestra of two hundred under the direction of Theodore Thomas. His largest cantatas, or oratorios, are the Golden ' Legend, from Longfellow, and the Light of Asia, founded upon the poem by Sir Edwin Arnold. From the American poets, Lanier, Longfellow and Stedman, hs has taken many of his texts. In Irving's Life of Columbus, he found the libretto for his cantata, The Voyage of Columbus. He has written a great deal for male choruses. Of works in this class are the Chorus of Spirits and Hours from Shelley's Prometheus Unbound, King Olaf's Christmas, the Nun of Nidaros, Voyage of Columbus, and Paul Revere's Ride. He has several pieces for the piano; composed the opera Deseret, in which use is made of a Mormon theme; and is the author of the symphonic overture Marmion.

In religious compositions he very frequently makes use of dramatic effect, but it is so employed as to in no way lessen the grace and dignity of these works. A series of sacred cantatas, the fruit of his later years, are designed for the various church festivals and called the Christian Year. His large mass of sacred compositions include anthems, hymns, offertories, and Te Deums. He is the author of a wide variety of organ music; has made various transcriptions for the organ; published Studies for Pedal Phrasing, the Influence of the Organ in History, and an excellent handbook for organists and students called Illustrations in Choir Accompaniment. His compositions for the organ belong in the list of his most important works. Musicians generally are familiar with his two organ sonatas and the Triumphal March, which Elson prophesies are sure to remain in the standard repertory.