Australian Dictionary of Biography

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Buck, Vera Winifred (1903–1986)

by Georgina Binns

This article was published in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

Vera Winifred Buck (1903-1986), composer and pianist, was born on 15 February 1903 at Kew, Melbourne, third daughter and fifth of nine children of William Buck, a Tasmanian-born accountant, and his wife Tessa Quinn, née Herberte, who was born in Victoria. Vera attended private schools in Melbourne. She played the piano from an early age and was said to have `a prodigious memory’, with one hundred solos at her command. On 18 November 1922 at the Methodist Church, Camberwell, she married Edgar Charles Wilson Burridge, an importer; they had two daughters and were to be divorced in 1937. She was radio-station 3AR’s official accompanist in the late 1920s.

At age 15 Buck had written her first song, Love of You, which was performed at salon concerts in Melbourne. As a young woman she wanted `to develop a real Australian spirit in her composing’. Allan & Co. Pty Ltd published her early works. Marche Orientale (1928) and Piper’s Dance (1931) sold well and were set for piano competitions and examinations. In 1930 she was awarded a scholarship to study composition with Fritz Hart, director of the Albert Street Conservatorium, East Melbourne. A gifted, driven woman who defied social norms by putting her career first, she placed her children in the care of relatives and moved to Britain later that year.

Buck’s song The Birds (1932), with words by Hilaire Belloc, was sung by Florence Austral and, in Australia, by Vera’s sister, Consuelo (d.1933), a respected soprano and teacher of singing who promoted her music. Their sister Lilian (d.1928) had been a poet, and Buck set a number of her verses to music, including Serenity (1937). Her compositions published in London included The Donkey (1935), Blue Bows (1937) and This Is My Prayer (1938); the words were by G. K. Chesterton, Helen Taylor and Kenneth Ellis respectively. Under the pseudonym Pat Francis, she wrote light songs, two of which, Across the Sands of Time (1936) and How Wonderful (1937), used Bruce Sievier’s lyrics. Reminiscence (1936), with words by Noel Cripps, and Full Sail (1937), with words by Perceval Graves, featured in musical events marking the coronation of King George VI in 1937; the British Broadcasting Corporation transmitted Peter Dawson's recital of Reminiscence during the proceedings. She performed on stage and on radio and coached singers—including Jessie Matthews and Florence Desmond—for roles in musical comedies and films.

In 1938 Buck returned to Melbourne and continued to perform. Studio audiences for the Australian Broadcasting Commission’s radio program `Merry-Go-Round’ watched her set to music lyrics, sent in by listeners, within ninety seconds of having seen the words. She married Bramwell John Gilchrist (d.1962), a manufacturer and a divorcee, on 15 February 1940 at Wesley Church, Melbourne. In World War II she gave recitals to raise funds and to entertain troops. The first movement of her Concerto Impressionistique, inspired by the campaigns in the Middle East, was performed in 1943; a reviewer described it as `woven with definite skill and form’. Two songs published by Buck in 1943 used words by Toyohiko Kagawa: A Hymn for Country and Take Thou the Burden, Lord. Until the Day I Die, with words by A. D. Jones, appeared in 1945.

Buck was a vice-president of the Guild of Australian Composers. Talented and glamorous, she made a significant contribution to serious and popular music through her compositions and performances. Her songs were melodious and written with an economy of style, placing few demands on the piano accompanist, and allowing the singer to provide the dramatic interpretation. Survived by the daughters of her first marriage, she died on 2 January 1986 at Kew and was cremated.

Select Bibliography

  • G. R. Davies, Music Makers of the Sunny South (1934?)
  • Australian Musical News, Nov 1925, p 37, 1 Jan 1929, p 25, Mar 1930, p 11, 1 Oct 1932, p 14, Mar 1933, p 2, June 1937, p 26, Mar 1938, p 22, 1 July 1938, p 18, 2 Aug 1943, p 25
  • Musical Opinion, Dec 1937, p 243.

Citation details

Georgina Binns, 'Buck, Vera Winifred (1903–1986)', Australian Dictionary of Biography, National Centre of Biography, Australian National University, http://adb.anu.edu.au/biography/buck-vera-winifred-12260/text22001, published first in hardcopy 2007, accessed online 21 October 2018.

This article was first published in hardcopy in Australian Dictionary of Biography, Volume 17, (MUP), 2007

View the front pages for Volume 17

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