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

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

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

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

Counting the Beats

John Woods Duke

Robert Graves

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

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

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

Audio

Track:

    Books

    The Selected Writings of John Duke, 1917-1984

    By John Woods Duke

    Sheet 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

    "Acquainted With the Night"

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

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

    Composer(s): John Duke

    View via WorldCat

    Eight Songs of Translations of Latin and Greek Poets

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Buy via Recital Publications

    John Duke Song Collections

    Composer(s): John Duke

    View via WorldCat

    Richard Cory & Selected Songs

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Buy via Carl Fischer Music

    Six Poems by Emily Dickinson

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Voice Type: Soprano

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

    Songs, Vol. 1 (WorldCat)

    Composer(s): John Duke

    View via WorldCat

    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 by John Duke, Vol. 3

    Composer(s): John Duke

    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

    The John Duke Collection

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Buy via Boosey & Hawkes

    The Songs of John Duke (High Voice)

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Voice Type: High

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

    The Songs of John Duke (Low Voice)

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Voice Type: Low

    Buy via Sheet Music Plus

    "Wild Swans"

    Composer(s): John Duke

    Find at your Local Library

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