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"Hindsights"

Looking back at:

Frank Van der Stucken
- Tenderly Poetic

By Michael Barr
Michael Barr

Frank Van der Stucken is Fredericksburg's least-known international celebrity. Many of us know his name but are unfamiliar with his work. As a composer and conductor of classical music, his compositions have a limited audience when compared to folk and popular music.

Frank Van der Stucken
Portait of Frank Van der Stucken
courtesy Gillespie County Historical Sociey

Van der Stucken's father, also named Frank, came to Texas from Antwerp, Belgium with the French colonizer Henri Castro. In 1852 he married Sophie Schoenewolf of Fredericksburg.

The elder Van der Stucken ran a store on Main Street in Fredericksburg. When the Civil War broke out he got a contract as a freighter. Later he was a captain in the Confederate Army and chief justice of Gillespie County.-

His son, Frank Valentin Van der Stucken, was born in Fredericksburg on October 15, 1858. The boy was baptized in the old Vereins Kirche.

 Fredericksburg  TX - site when Van der Stucken was born
The site where Van der Stucken was born
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, Feb. 2022

Frank Van der Stucken's parents recognized his talent for music.at an early age. The family moved back to Europe after the Civil War in part so young Frank (he was probably 8 or 9 years old) could pursue a musical career, there being little opportunity for classical training on the wild Texas frontier.

When the family left for Europe, Frank's father deeded his house, store and stable in Fredericksburg to his father-in-law Valentin Hopf. Back in Antwerp the elder Van der Stucken went into the milling business and made a fortune.

Meanwhile young Frank Van der Stucken studied music theory and composition with Belgian composer Pierre Benoit. He began performing his own compositions in public at age 16. He was one of the first American musicians properly trained for the career of Kapellmeister (professional orchestral conductor).

Van der Stucken admired the German composer Richard Wagner, and his compositions sometimes used texts from Goethe and other German writers.

Between 1878 and 1881 Van der Stucken traveled across Austria, Switzerland, Italy and France. He hung out with Italian composer Giuseppe Verdi in Paris. He married German singer Maria Vollmer in 1880. He met her in Paris where she was a student.

In 1881 the Hungarian pianist, composer and conductor Franz Liszt invited Van der Stucken to Weimar, and insisted the young man give concerts of his own works.


In 1884 Van der Stucken came back to America to direct the Arion Society - a famous New York men's choir. While in New York he conducted the American premier of Brahms 3rd symphony. He helped organize the Northeast German Saenger Bund, putting together spectacular concerts featuring massive choirs of 4,000 to 5,000 voices.

He fought all his life for recognition of American musicians at home and abroad. In New York City he conducted the first concert in this country devoted exclusively to American composers. In 1889 he conducted the first concert of American compositions in Europe at the Paris World Exposition.

In1895 First Lady Helen Taft founded the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and convinced Frank Van der Stucken to organize and direct it. He held the job for the next 8 years.

In his spare time he led the Boston Symphony Orchestra, the Chicago Symphony Orchestra and the New York Philharmonic as guest conductor.

He directed the Cincinnati May Music Fest from 1906 to 1912.The May Fest featured the full Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra and a grand chorus of several hundred voices. It grew out of the German Saengerfest.


By the turn of the 20th century Frank Van der Stucken had carved a name for himself as an internationally known composer and director. The Indianapolis Journal (April 25, 1897) called him "one of the few really great directors and conductors of the world," adding that he was "an all-around conductor of extraordinary merit."

The Washington Evening Star (May 20, 1923) described his music as ranging from "riots of color and emotion" to "tenderly poetic."

I listened to Frank Van der Stucken's music on YouTube and found it a complex, mysterious and wonderful language. I don't speak it very well, but I enjoy the way it makes me feel and admire the magic it takes to create it.

 Fredericksburg  TX - site when Van der Stucken was born
The site where Van der Stucken was born
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, Feb. 2022


 Fredericksburg  TX -  bust of Van der Stucken in the garden at Marketplatz
A bust of Van der Stucken in the garden at Marketplatz in Fredericksburg
Photo courtesy Michael Barr, Feb. 2022

Sources:
"For the May Festival," Indianapolis Journal, April 25, 1897.
"American Composers - Frank Van der Stucken," Washington Evening Star, May 20, 1929.
"Frank Van der Stucken, Gillespie Native Eminent in the Musical World," Fredericksburg Standard, April 28, 1971.

Michael Barr
"Hindsights" May 1, 2022 Column



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