Frank Van der Stucken, composer and conductor, son of Frank and Sophie (Schönewolf) Van der Stucken, was born in Fredericksburg, Texas, on October 15, 1858. His father had immigrated to Texas from Antwerp, Belgium, with Henri Castro and married in Fredericksburg on December 23, 1852. The elder Van der Stucken, a freight contractor and merchant who served as a captain in the First Texas Cavalry during the Civil War and in 1864 was chief justice of Gillespie County, returned to Antwerp with his family in 1865.
Young Frank's musical education began when he was eight. He studied violin with Émile Wambach from 1866 to 1876 and composition and theory with Pierre Benoit. By age sixteen he had completed two major original works: a Te Deum for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra produced in St. Jacob's Church in Antwerp and an orchestral ballet presented at the Royal Theater in the same city. After a visit to Wagner's Bayreuth Festival in 1876, Van der Stucken settled in Leipzig, Germany, for two years of study with Carl Reinecke, Victor Langer, and Edvard Grieg. Grieg was the first of a number of important composers to befriend the young composer and conductor. From 1879 to 1881 Van der Stucken traveled throughout Europe and met and worked with Giuseppe Verdi, Emmanuel Chabrier, and Jules Massenet. He met his future wife, Maria Vollmer, during a year-long residence in Paris in 1880, where he also composed his opera Vlasda. He was appointed Kapellmeister of the Breslau Stadttheater in 1881 and, as part of his duties, composed incidental music for Shakespeare's The Tempest in 1882. The next year, Franz Liszt sponsored a complete program of his works at Weimar, including his symphonic prologue to Heinrich Heine's William Ratcliff.
Van der Stucken returned in 1884 to America, where he succeeded Leopold Damrosch as director of the New York Arion Society, a male chorus founded in 1854. During his tenure with the chorus, which lasted until 1895, the society became the first American musical organization to tour in Europe. Van der Stucken also worked with other German male choruses in the Sängerbund movement, establishing festivals and training large numbers of singers in this country. During his first years in New York, he also established his reputation as a champion of music by American composers. In April 1885 in New York City he conducted the first concert in this country devoted exclusively to works by American composers. He followed in 1887 with a series of four American composer concerts in Chickering Hall, and in 1889 he conducted the first European concert with an entirely American program at the World Exposition in Paris. This series of American concerts was undoubtedly Van der Stucken's most important contribution to the history and appreciation of American music. While in New York Van der Stucken also taught at the National Conservatory (1887–95) and was musical director for the premier Reform synagogue in the United States, Temple Emanu-el (1892–95). In 1895 he moved to Cincinnati to become the first conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra, a post he held until 1907. He was also director and dean of the Cincinnati College of Music from 1897 to 1903 and musical director of one of the oldest music festivals in the United States, the Cincinnati May Festival, from 1906 to 1912 and 1923 to 1927.
After 1907 he lived in Germany and worked throughout Europe, where he was in great demand as a conductor of festivals. Except for work at the May Festival, he returned to the United States only occasionally. He gave his farewell symphonic concert in the hall of the Royal Society of Zoology in Antwerp on March 23, 1927. In October 1928 he returned to the U.S. for gala celebrations of his seventieth birthday in New York, Cincinnati, and Fredericksburg. This was his last trip to his native country.
The composer suffered a stroke in February 1929 which resulted in a gradual deterioration of his health. Van der Stucken, a founding member of the National Institute of Arts and Letters in 1898, was elevated to the prestigious American Academy of Arts and Letters in April 1929. Shortly thereafter, he returned to Hamburg where he died following surgery on August 16, 1929. He and his wife are buried there in the Ohlsdorfer Cemetery. They had four children.
As a composer, Van der Stucken followed the precepts of the Liszt–Wagner school of programmatic music. He wrote colorful orchestral and choral works as well as many songs and a few miscellaneous instrumental works. His major works include an unproduced opera, Vlasda; Symphonic Prologue to Heine's William Ratcliffe; incidental music for Shakespeare's The Tempest; Festzug; Pax Triumphans; and Louisiana, a march commissioned for the St. Louis Exposition in 1904. He was named Officier de l'Instruction Publique by the French government and Chevalier de l'Ordre Leopold and Officier de la Couronne by King Albert of Belgium. An international music festival named for the composer was inaugurated in Fredericksburg in 1991. The Friends of Van der Stucken organization raised funds for a bust of the composer and a commemorative plaque which were dedicated on the Marketplatz in Fredericksburg in 1999. The Friends group has also established an archive of the composer's musical compositions gathered from libraries all over the world.