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MUSA 14—Dudley Buck: American Victorian Choral Music

Edited by N. Lee Orr
By the turn of the twentieth century, the choral music of Dudley Buck (1839-1909) had become virtually synonymous with Victorianism in this country. His choral music, which was widely disseminated and performed, assumed enormous cultural authority as a signifier of bourgeois taste and status; by the 1890s he had become the most popular composer of church music in the United States. This volume is one of the first to rigorously study Victorian choral music in its aesthetic, nationalistic, and religious context. Each of the major genres popular in Victorian America is represented here: the anthem, the sacred and secular cantata, and the partsong.

The full orchestral score for The Centennial Meditation of Columbia appears here as one of the archetypal secular American cantatas. The two partsongs frame the stylistic poles of Victorian secular music. "In Absence" (op. 55, no 2) shows Buck's fluent handling of the early-Romantic style with its hymn-like texture and Schubertian chromaticism. By contrast, "The Signal Resounds from Afar!" (op. 92, no. 5) is a remarkable example of the late-Victorian male partsong and one of Buck's most complex works in the genre. The three anthems in this volume illustrate the changing styles of this essential Victorian genre. Buck's setting of the beloved Anglo-American text for Augustus Toplady's "Rock of Ages" (op. 65, no. 3, 1873) reveals his polished compositional technique through a subtle, unforced restraint that highlights the genteel emotional mood of the work. "Grant to Us Thy Grace," on the other hand, is an expansive late work showing the distant influence of French romantic opera. With its fluid structure, rhythmic serenity, operatic solo section, and delicately shaped chromaticism, the piece is an excellent example of proper, refined High Victorian church music. The "Festival Te Deum" (op. 63, no. 1) was Buck's best known liturgical anthem. The sacred cantata The Forty-Sixth Psalm attests to the firm hold the oratorio format maintained on Anglo-American choral music throughout the nineteenth century. Buck's immersion in the German Romantic musical tradition shows in this work's clear emulation of Mendelssohn's psalm settings, especially those of "Psalm 42," which it closely resembles, and "Psalm 95."


Bomberger, E. Douglas. Review of American Victorian Choral Music, by Dudley Buck. Edited by N. Lee Orr. Journal of the Society for American Music 5, no. 2 (2011): 275-279.

Magee, Gayle Sherwood. Review of American Victorian Choral Music, by Dudley Buck. Edited by N. Lee Orr. Notes 64, no. 1 (2007): 138-140.

Owen, Barbara. Review of American Victorian Choral Music, by Dudley Buck. Edited by N. Lee Orr. The American Organist 40, no. 12 (2006): 86-88.