John Woods Duke

John Woods Duke was one of America's foremost composers of art songs, and an accomplished pianist. His compositions enjoyed great popularity in the middle of the 20th century, and at the end of the century they attracted renewed attention. His catalog contains 265 art songs.

Photo: John Duke, Courtesy of the Library of Congress

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    About

    Duke was born in Cumberland, Maryland, on July 30, 1899, the eldest of six children of literarily and musically inclined parents. Duke learned to read music from his mother, Matilda Hoffman, who was a singer of some accomplishment. He began piano lessons at age 11; and at 16 he entered the Peabody Conservatory in Baltimore, where he studied piano with Harold Randolph and composition with Gustav Strube. During World War I Duke served as a volunteer with the Student Army Training Corps at Columbia University in New York City, and he chose to continue his musical studies in that city when the war ended. His New York mentors included Howard Brockway and Bernard Wagenaar, both of whom were then publishing significant art songs.

    In 1920 Duke debuted as a concert pianist. In 1922 he entered into a long and satisfying marriage with Dorothy Macon of Virginia, who sometimes wrote libretti for him, and in 1923 he accepted a professorship at Smith College in Northhampton, Massachusetts, where he taught piano until his retirement 44 years later. 1923 also marked G. Schirmer’s publication of Duke’s first songs, “I’ve Dreamed of Sunsets” and “Lullaby,” as well as a piano work, The Fairy Glen. Duke settled into college life, availing himself of his first sabbatical in 1929-30 to study abroad with Boulanger and Schnabel, whose influences could be felt in the works he composed in the 1930’s. Throughout his quiet academic career at Smith and at the Seagle Music Colony summer vocal camp, Duke continued to concertize and to compose over 265 songs, as well as a few chamber operas, choral pieces, and orchestral works. As a pianist, he made American composers a special programming interest, premiering works by Sessions, Piston, and Wagenaar, including Sessions’s first Piano Sonata at one of the historic Sessions-Copland concerts of contemporary music. As a composer, Duke was fascinated by the “strange and marvelous chemistry of words and music,” and in his master classes and writings he devoted a great deal of thought to the art of song and singing.

    He believed that in a good song the words became assimilated with the music, and he wrote lovingly and knowledgeably for the voice, as well as for the piano accompaniment. In his choice of texts, he frequently gravitated to American poets, among them Frost, Teasdale, cummings, Van Doren, Millay, and E. A. Robinson, and his range of mood runs the gamut from sprightly wit (“Hist…Wist”) to biting irony (“Richard Cory”) to unabashed Romanticism (“Luke Havergal”) or meditative reflection (“Be Still as You Are Beautiful”).

    Asked why, as a pianist, his compositions included so few piano works and so many songs, Duke replied: “I think it is because of my belief that vocal utterance is the basis of music’s mystery.”

    –Thomas Hampson and Carla Maria Verdino-Süllwold, PBS I Hear America Singing

    Related Information

    Songs

    Acquainted With The Night

    John Woods Duke

    Robert Frost

    An Awful Tempest Mashed the Air

    John Woods Duke

    Emily Dickinson

    Song Collection: Six Poems by Emily Dickinson

    Bee! I'm Expecting You!

    John Woods Duke

    Emily Dickinson

    Song Collection: Six Poems by Emily Dickinson

    Calvary

    John Woods Duke

    Edwin Arlington Robinson

    Song Collection: Four Poems by Edwin Arlington Robinson

    Counting the Beats

    John Woods Duke

    Robert Graves

    Four Poems by Edwin Arlington Robinson

    Song Collection

    John Woods Duke

    Edwin Arlington Robinson

    Four Poems by Emily Dickinson

    Song Collection

    John Woods Duke

    Emily Dickinson

    Give Me Your Hand

    John Woods Duke

    John Hall Wheelock

    Good Morning: Six Songs for High Voice

    Song Collection

    John Woods Duke

    Mark Van Doren

    Good Morning, Midnight

    John Woods Duke

    Emily Dickinson

    Song Collection: Six Poems by Emily Dickinson

    Heart, We Will Forget Him

    John Woods Duke

    Emily Dickinson

    Song Collection: Six Poems by Emily Dickinson

    i carry your heart

    John Woods Duke

    E. E. Cummings

    Just-Spring

    John Woods Duke

    E. E. Cummings

    Eight Songs of Translations of Latin & Greek

    Song Collection

    John Woods Duke

    Edwin Arlington Robinson

    Howard Mumford Jones

    From the Sea: Five Songs for Soprano

    Song Collection

    John Woods Duke

    Sara Teasdale

    I Taste a Liquor Never Brewed

    John Woods Duke

    Emily Dickinson

    Song Collection: Four Poems by Emily Dickinson

    I Watched the Lady Caroline

    John Woods Duke

    Walter De la Mare

    In a Burying Ground

    John Woods Duke

    Sara Teasdale

    Song Collection: Songs Out of Sorrow: Six Songs for Mezzo

    Lessons

    John Woods Duke

    Sara Teasdale

    Song Collection: Songs Out of Sorrow: Six Songs for Mezzo

    Let Down the Bars, O Death

    John Woods Duke

    Emily Dickinson

    Song Collection: Six Poems by Emily Dickinson

    Little Elegy

    John Woods Duke

    Elinor Wylie

    Luke Havergal

    John Woods Duke

    Edwin Arlington Robinson

    Song Collection: Four Poems by Edwin Arlington Robinson

    Mastery

    John Woods Duke

    Sara Teasdale

    Song Collection: Songs Out of Sorrow: Six Songs for Mezzo

    Merry-go-round

    John Woods Duke

    Mark Van Doren

    Song Collection: Good Morning: Six Songs for High Voice

    Midcentury Love Letter

    John Woods Duke

    Phyllis McGinley

    Night Coming Out of a Garden

    John Woods Duke

    Lord Alfred Bruce Douglas

    Nobody Knows This Little Rose

    John Woods Duke

    Emily Dickinson

    Song Collection: Six Poems by Emily Dickinson

    O, It Was Out By Donnycarney

    John Woods Duke

    James Joyce

    Refuge

    John Woods Duke

    Sara Teasdale

    Song Collection: Songs Out of Sorrow: Six Songs for Mezzo

    Renouncement

    John Woods Duke

    Alice Meynell

    Reveille

    John Woods Duke

    A. E. Housman

    Richard Cory

    John Woods Duke

    Edwin Arlington Robinson

    Song Collection: Four Poems by Edwin Arlington Robinson

    Six Poems by Emily Dickinson

    Song Collection

    John Woods Duke

    Emily Dickinson

    Songs Out of Sorrow: Six Songs for Mezzo

    Song Collection

    John Woods Duke

    Sara Teasdale

    Spirit's House

    John Woods Duke

    Sara Teasdale

    Song Collection: Songs Out of Sorrow: Six Songs for Mezzo

    Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening

    John Woods Duke

    Robert Frost

    Survivor

    John Woods Duke

    Archibald MacLeish

    The Better Part

    John Woods Duke

    George Santayana

    The Black Panther

    John Woods Duke

    John Hall Wheelock

    The Dark Hills

    John Woods Duke

    Edwin Arlington Robinson

    Velvet Shoes

    John Woods Duke

    Elinor Wylie

    Walking in the Rain

    John Woods Duke

    Mark Van Doren

    Song Collection: Good Morning: Six Songs for High Voice

    Water That Falls and Runs Away

    John Woods Duke

    Mark Van Doren

    Song Collection: Good Morning: Six Songs for High Voice

    When the Rose is Brightest

    John Woods Duke

    Nathaniel Parker Willis

    Wild Swans

    John Woods Duke

    Edna St. Vincent Millay

    Wood Song

    John Woods Duke

    Sara Teasdale

    Song Collection: Songs Out of Sorrow: Six Songs for Mezzo

    Videos

    Recordings

    American Art Songs and Their Poetry

    (John Woods Duke, Richard Hundley, Carrie Jacobs-Bond, Hall Johnson, Dorothy Rudd Moore and Oley Speaks)

    2017

    Out of the Shadows: Rediscovered American Art Song

    (Paul Bowles, John Woods Duke, Stephen Paulus and Randall Thompson)

    2016

    Stopping By

    (Mark Abel, Samuel Barber, Amy Marcy Beach, Leonard Bernstein, Charles Wakefield Cadman, Elliott Carter, Aaron Copland, Celius Dougherty, John Woods Duke, Stephen Foster, Charles Griffes and Ned Rorem)

    2013

    An American Kaleidoscope

    (William Bolcom, John Woods Duke and Ned Rorem)

    2012

    Between the Bliss and Me. . . Songs to Poems of Emily Dickinson

    (Ernst Bacon, Aaron Copland, John Woods Duke, Arthur Farwell, Lee Hoiby, Lori Laitman and Richard Pearson Thomas)

    2009

    Dwell in Possibility: Dickinson in Song

    (Ernst Bacon, Aaron Copland, Celius Dougherty, John Woods Duke, Lee Hoiby, Richard Hundley, Jake Heggie, Lori Laitman, Libby Larsen, Etta Parker, Simon Sargon, Leo Smit and Richard Pearson Thomas)

    2004

    The Poetess Sings

    (Ernst Bacon, Aaron Copland, John Woods Duke, Lee Hoiby, Otto Luening and William Roy)

    2002

    John Woods Duke: Lieder

    (John Woods Duke)

    2000

    Just-Spring: Art Songs of John Duke

    (John Woods Duke)

    1998

    American Songs (Jennifer Larmore)

    (Samuel Barber, Aaron Copland, John Woods Duke, Jake Heggie, Lee Hoiby, Charles Ives, Charles Naginski and John Jacob Niles)

    1997

    I Carry Your Heart

    (John Woods Duke)

    1996

    Paul Sperry Sings an American Sampler

    (Samuel Barber, Robert Beaser, William Bolcom, William Billings, Elliott Carter, Celius Dougherty, John Woods Duke, Stephen Foster, Charles Griffes, John Musto, Ned Rorem, May Swenson, Louise Talma, Hugo Weisgall and Kurt Weill)

    1995

    American Song Recital

    (Leonard Bernstein, William Bolcom, Paul Bowles, John Corigliano, John Woods Duke, Richard Hundley, Lori Laitman, John Musto and Richard Pearson Thomas)

    1992

    An Old Song Re-Sung: American Concert Songs

    (Walter Damrosch, John Woods Duke, Stephen Foster, Vittorio Giannini, Charles Griffes, John Jacob Niles, Traditional and Oley Speaks)

    1990

    More than Music: Songs by John Duke

    (John Woods Duke)

    1987

    But Yesterday is Not Today

    (Samuel Barber, Paul Bowles, Theodore Chanler, Aaron Copland, John Woods Duke, Robert Helps and Roger Sessions)

    1977

    Books

    The Selected Writings of John Duke, 1917-1984

    By John Woods Duke

    Sheet Music

    Richard Cory & Selected Songs

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Song(s): Richard Cory
    Calvary
    Luke Havergal
    Miniver Cheevy
    Bells in the Rain
    Velvet Shoes
    Viennese Waltz
    Evening
    Just-Spring
    When I Set Out for Lyonnesse
    Yellow Hair
    Morning in Paris
    In the Fields
    The Mountains Are Dancing
    Spring Thunder
    Be Still As You Are Beautiful
    One Red Rose
    O World
    The Song of Wandering Aengus
    Brown Penny

    Voice Type: Mixed

    Buy via Carl Fischer Music

    John Duke Song Collections

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Find at your local library

    The Songs of John Duke

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Song(s): The Babe
    The Bird
    Little Elegy
    Loveliest of Trees
    February Twilight
    A Piper
    I Watched The Lady Caroline
    Peggy Mitchell
    When I Was One-And-Twenty
    April Elegy
    Elaine
    Fragment
    The Grunchin' Witch
    Here In This Spot With You
    I Can't Be Talkin' Of Love
    I Carry Your Heart
    I Ride The Great Black Horses
    The Last Word Of A Bluebird
    Shelling Peas
    The White Dress

    Voice Type: High

    Buy via Hal Leonard

    The Songs of John Duke

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Song(s): The Babe
    The Bird
    Little Elegy
    Loveliest of Trees
    February Twilight
    A Piper
    I Watched The Lady Caroline
    Peggy Mitchell
    When I Was One-And-Twenty
    April Elegy
    Elaine
    Fragment
    The Grunchin' Witch
    Here In This Spot With You
    I Can't Be Talkin' Of Love
    I Carry Your Heart
    I Ride The Great Black Horses
    The Last Word Of A Bluebird
    Shelling Peas
    The White Dress

    Voice Type: Low

    Buy via Hal Leonard

    Songs By John Duke, Vol. 1

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Song(s): 1. When the Rose Is Brightest (Nathaniel Parker Willis)
    2. Stopping by Woods on а Snowy Evening (Robert Frost)
    3. The Puritan's Ballad (Elinor Wylie)
    4. Midcentury Love Letter (Phyllis McGinley)
    5. All Beauty Calls You to Me (Sara Teasdale)
    6. Listen, I Love You (Sara Teasdale)
    7. I am so weak а Thing (Sara Teasdale)
    8. All Things in the World Can Rest, But I (Sara Teasdale)
    9. Oh, My Love (Sara Teasdale)
    10. Renouncement (Alice Meynell)
    11. Noonday (Traditional Chinese)
    12. Through Your Window (Traditional Chinese)
    13. The Shoreless Sea (Traditional Chinese)
    14. New Feet within My Garden Go (Emily Dickinson)
    15. The Rose did Caper on Her Cheek (Emily Dickinson)
    16. Have You Got а Brook in Your Little Heart? (Emily Dickinson)
    17. I Taste а Liquor Never Brewed (Emily Dickinson)
    18. The Better Part (George Santayana)

    Voice Type: High

    Buy via Keiser / Southern Music

    Songs By John Duke, Vol. 2

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Song(s): 1. Reveille (А.Е. Housman)
    2. O, It Was out by Donneycarney (James Joyce)
    3. Bread and Music (Conrad Aiken)
    4. Stop All the Clocks (W.H. Auden)
    5. Counting the Beats (Robert Graves)
    6. Survivor (Archibald MacLeish)
    7. Give Me Your Hand (John Wheelock)
    8. The Black Panther (John Wheelock)
    9. Spirit's House (Sara Teasdale)
    10. Mastery (Sara Teasdale)
    11. Lessons (Sara Teasdale)
    12. In а Burying Ground (Sara Teasdale)
    13. Wood Song (Sara Teasdale)
    14. Refuge (Sara Teasdale)
    15. At the Aquarium (Max Eastman)
    16. Dirge (Adelaide Crapsey)
    17. Night Coming out of а Garden (Lord Alfred Douglas)
    18. The Dark Hills (Е.А. Robinson)

    Voice Type: Medium

    Buy via Keiser / Southern Music

    Songs by John Duke, Vol. 3

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Song(s): 1. Bredon Hill (А.Е. Housman)
    2. Reality (Dorothy Duke)
    3. Penguin Geometry (Donald Wheelock)
    4. Good Morning (Mark Van Doren)
    5. Walking in the Rain (Mark Van Doren)
    6. Those Great Clouds There (Mark Van Doren)
    7. Water that Falls and Runs Away (Mark Van Doren)
    8. Listen to Us, the Leaves Say (Mark Van Doren)
    9. Merry-go-round (Mark Van Doren)
    10. Stillness (Karen Duke)
    11. Lovely (Mary L. Fortson)
    12. The Sheaves (E.A. Robinson)
    13. А Winter Night (Sara Teasdale)
    14. The Return from Town (Edna St. Vincent Millay)
    15. When, in Disgrace with Fortune (William Shakespeare)
    16. Politics (W.B. Yeats)
    17. Old Ben Golliday (Mark Van Doren)
    18. Tiger! Tiger! (William Blake)
    19. She's Somewhere in the Sunlight Strong (Richard LeGallienne)
    20. I Lost My Heart (A.E. Housman)
    21. The Wind Has Changed (Mark Van Doren)

    Voice Type: Mixed Voice, High/Medium

    Buy via Keiser / Southern Music

    Songs By John Duke, Vol. 4

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Song(s): 1. My Soul is an Enchanted Boat (Percy В. Shelley)
    2. White in the Moon (A.E. Housman)
    3. XXth Century (Robert Hillyer)
    4. The End of the World (Archibald MacLeish)
    5. Rapunzel (Adelaide Crapsey)
    6. Wild Swans (Edna St. Vincent Millay)
    7. To Karen, Singing (John Duke)
    8. So Simple (Mark Van Doren)
    9. Dunce's Song (Mark Van Doren)
    10. Slowly, Slowly Wisdom Gathers (Mark Van Doren)
    11. Kennst du das Land? (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
    12. Heiss mich nicht reden (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)
    13. So lasst mich scheinen (Johann Wolfgang von Goethe)

    Voice Type: Mixed Voice

    Buy via Keiser / Southern Music

    The John Duke Collection

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Song(s): Voices
    On a March Day
    Capri
    Central Park at Dusk
    Spray
    Only for Me
    There Will Be Stars
    I Love the Lord
    The Door
    Love's Secret

    Voice Type: Medium

    Buy via Boosey & Hawkes

    "Acquainted With the Night"

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

    Eight Songs of Translations of Latin and Greek Poets

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Buy via Recital Publications

    Eight Songs of Translations of Latin and Greek Poets (WorldCat)

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Find at your local library

    Six Poems by Emily Dickinson

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Voice Type: Soprano

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

    "Wild Swans"

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Voice Type: Medium

    Buy via Keiser / Southern Music

    15 Art Songs by American Composers (High Voice)

    Composer(s): Dominick Argento, Leonard Bernstein, Theodore Chanler, Aaron Copland, John Duke, Richard Hundley, Ned Rorem

    Voice Type: High

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

    15 Art Songs by American Composers (Low Voice)

    Composer(s): Dominick Argento, Leonard Bernstein, Theodore Chanler, Aaron Copland, John Duke, Richard Hundley, Ned Rorem

    Voice Type: Low

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

    28 Songs by American and British Composers

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Song(s): Barber: Must the Winter Come so Soon?
    Bernstein: Two Love Songs (Extinguish My Eyes, When My Soul Touches Yours)
    Bowles: Heavenly Grass
    Carpenter: When I Bring to You Colour'd Toys
    Corigliano: Christmas at the Cloisters, The Unicorn
    Dougherty: Sound the Flute!
    Duke: Peggy Mitchell
    Hoiby: An Immorality
    Moore: The Dove Song (The Wings of the Dove)
    Sargent: Stopping by Woods on a Snowy Evening
    Thomson: English Usage, The Tiger
    Vaughan Williams: Hugh's Song of the Road
    Wells: Everyone Sang

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

    Songs by 22 Americans

    Composer(s): Samuel Barber
    Leonard Bernstein
    Paul Bowles
    John Alden Carpenter
    Celius Dougherty
    John Duke
    Charles Tomlinson Griffes
    Richard Hageman
    Charles Naginski
    William Roy
    Gladys Rich
    Virgil Thomson
    Elinor Remick Warren

    Voice Type: High

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

    Songs Through the Centuries: 41 Vocal Repertoire Pieces from the 17th Century Through the 20th Centuries

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

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