John Duke

Composer(s): John Duke
Album Title: Just- Spring: Art Songs of John Duke 
Cat. No.: 80576
Genre: Classical
Release Date: 01/2002
Description: Lauralyn Kolb, soprano; Tina Toglia, piano

John Duke (1899–1984) is one of the acknowledged masters of the American art song. This release of twenty-three of his finest songs will afford lovers of vocal music the opportunity to discover Duke's little-known corpus. Comparison with the musical language of other notable American art song composers (Griffes, Loeffler, or Ives, for instance) reveals an unusually consistent and personal style throughout most of Duke's career, the composer venturing only slightly afield of a conventional tonal practice derived mostly from European music of the nineteenth century. Musical influences on his language, in fact, are almost entirely European; most of his songs have an accompanimental texture unmistakably his, continuing, in a way, the tradition of the German Lied, using poems in English.

Duke often claimed, both in his writings and in conversation with colleagues, to have developed his art song style somewhat self-consciously after having studied in great detail the historical, poetical, and musical contexts of three previous genres exhibiting a marriage of music and poetry: the Elizabethan song, the nineteenth-century Lied and the French mélodie of the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. His choice of poetry avoids almost completely the abstract in favor of the tried and true themes of love and mortality, themes that most composers have found the most suitable for musical treatment.

Duke's music is taken very seriously by those who know his work intimately. After all, about how many American composers could it be said that all 265 songs have a natural feel for the voice, an elegantly matched pianistic accompaniment, a recognizable and personal style, and a musical language that never resorts to false syntax? It is easy to see why American singers love to sing his songs. 
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