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Biography Dudley Buck (1839-1909)

Image: Dudley Buck
Dudley Buck, [n.d.] Music Division, Library of Congress. LC call number: ML134.B93. From Dudley Buck: A Complete Bibliography. New York: G. Schirmer, n.d., cover.

Dudley Buck was born in Hartford, Connecticut, on March 19, 1839. His father discouraged Buck's early interest in music, preferring that his son enter the family's successful shipping business. At age sixteen, Buck took his first piano lessons, and his rapid progress convinced his father to allow the boy to pursue a musical career. In 1858, Dudley moved to Leipzig to study with leading German musicians, including Hauptmann, Schneider, and Moscheles. In 1860, he pursued further organ study with Schneider in Dresden, and, after a year in Paris, Buck returned to his native Hartford to become organist at the North Congregational Church. He 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.

After a two-year tenure at St. James's Episcopal Church in Chicago, where many of his manuscripts were lost in the fire of 1871, Buck returned to Boston. There 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 moved to New York to serve as assistant conductor of the Theodore Thomas Orchestra's Central Park Garden Concerts, another educational venture. Two years later, Buck assumed the position of organist/choirmaster at Brooklyn's Church of the Holy Trinity. In the same year, he began his tenure as founding director of the Brooklyn Apollo Club's male chorus.

Buck's sacred compositions include large-scale works, 4 cantatas, 55 anthems and 20 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 church choirs with much-needed literature. He wrote the first American organ sonata and educational texts such as Illustrations in Choir Accompaniment with Hints on Registration (1877) and The Influence of the Organ in History (1882).

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 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.