Mr. Dukelsky and Mr. Duke

The Composer's Datebook from American Public Media
Wednesday, October 10, 2018

On today’s date in 1903, a baby boy was born in the Russian railroad station of Parfianovka. The proud parents of little Vladimir Dukelsky were both musical, and so lulled the little boy to sleep with Italian opera arias—presumably the slow ones!

Not surprisingly, little Vladimir eventually studied music at the Conservatory in Kiev. After Russian Revolution, the budding composer ended up playing the piano at movie theaters and cabarets in Constantinople. It was there that he first heard the music of George Gershwin.

In 1921, Dukelsky came to the United States and thereafter pursued a remarkable dual career: as Vladimir Dukelsky, he composed concert music for the likes of the Ballet Russe de Monte Carlo and the Boston Symphony; as “Vernon Duke,” following Gershwin’s example, he composed popular songs for Broadway and Hollywood.

Some of his songs, like “April in Paris” and “Autumn in New York,” have become classics in their own right.

“There isn’t a note of jazz in my serious music, and there are no symphonic overtones in my musical-comedy output,” said Duke. “My versatility, far from being a boon, has in reality been infuriating to most musical people. The critical boys seem to think there is something monstrous about a composer writing two different kinds of music under two different names.”

When Duke died in Santa Monica in 1969, he was far better known for his popular compositions, but decades after his death, there seems to be a revived interest in the concerts works of Dukelsky as well.