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Edward Alexander MacDowell

Edward Alexander MacDowell

Edward Alexander MacDowell (1861-1908), pianist and composer, was among the first American musicians to win an international reputation. In the late 19th century he was considered the greatest composer of the United States.

Edward MacDowell was born on Dec. 18, 1861, into an upper-middle-class family in New York City. His father was Scottish; his mother was Irish. The boy early showed promise as a musician and received every encouragement from his family. At the age of 8 he began piano lessons, and when he was 15 his mother took him to Paris for study. For a year he was a pupil of Antoine François Marmontel. In 1877 MacDowell won a scholarship to the Paris Conservatory. After 2 years he grew disenchanted with the conservatory and left for Germany.

For a brief time MacDowell was a student at the Stuttgart Conservatory and then went to the Frankfurt Conservatory, where he studied piano with Karl Heymann and composition with Joachim Raff. By 1880 MacDowell had decided to devote himself primarily to composition, although he continued private piano lessons and began taking pupils himself. His first published work was First Modern Suite, which had been written between lessons.

In 1882 MacDowell called on Franz Liszt at Weimar. Liszt not only encouraged the American to devote himself to composition but helped him secure publication of his early works. Two years later MacDowell married Marian Nevins, one of his pupils.

In 1888 MacDowell returned to the United States permanently, spending 8 years in Boston as a composer, teacher, and concert pianist. He made a number of concert tours, specializing in his own music, which by then was much in demand. In 1896 he was invited to head the new department of music at Columbia University. MacDowell was not temperamentally suited for either an administrative position or the routine aspects of academic life. He resigned in 1904 after a public disagreement with the faculty over the position of music and the fine arts in the university curriculum. He did some private teaching for a year, but by 1905 mental deterioration had become evident. He died in New York City on Jan. 23, 1908.

His Works

Although MacDowell's compositions are not as highly regarded today as they once were, they are still among the most frequently performed American works. In style MacDowell has much in common with the Norwegian composer Edvard Grieg, and his smaller piano pieces are generally superior to his larger orchestral works. MacDowell wrote two piano concertos (1884, 1890). The Second Concerto has maintained a consistent popularity, but neither shows the imaginative depth of his later works. He wrote four sonatas: the Tragica, the Eroica, the Norse, and the Keltic, but not until the Twelve Virtuoso Studies for piano (1894) did MacDowell demonstrate his maturity as a composer. Of his Woodland Sketches (1896) the most popular are To a Wild Rose and To a Water Lily, both quite excellent. The Sea Pieces (1898) reveal him at the height of his lyric and dramatic ability.

MacDowell's first purely orchestral work was the tone poem Hamlet and Ophelia (1885). Lancelot and Elaine (1888), the First Suite for Orchestra (1891), and the Second (Indian) Suite (1896) conclude his orchestral writing. The Indian Suite ranks among his best compositions for orchestra, although MacDowell insisted that he was not intending to write American music simply by employing Indian themes. Besides his choruses, he published over 40 songs, some set to his own poems and all reflecting his remarkable gift for melody.

At heart MacDowell was a romantic, essentially in the German tradition. He was probably at his best when expressing the moods of nature. In these smaller, impressionistic pieces he caught much of the American spirit, blending romantic techniques with an intimate feeling for the American scene. "If a composer is sincerely American at heart," MacDowell said, "his music will be American."

Further Reading

MacDowell's Critical and Historical Essays, edited by W. J. Baltzell (1912), is an interesting collection of lectures. The best biographies of MacDowell are Elizabeth Fry Page, Edward MacDowell: His Work and Ideals (1910), and John F. Porte, Edward MacDowell, a Great American Tone Poet: His Life and Music (1922). There is a comprehensive chapter on MacDowell in Gilbert Chase, America's Music from the Pilgrims to the Present (1955; 2d ed. 1966).

Additional Sources

Porte, John Fielder, Edward MacDowell: a great American tone poet, his life and music, Boston: Longwood Press, 1978. □

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MacDowell, Edward (Alexander)

MacDowell, Edward (Alexander) (b NY, 1860; d NY, 1908). Amer. composer and pianist. Teacher of pf., Darmstadt Cons. 1881. In 1882 visited Liszt at Weimar; on Liszt's recommendation, First Modern Suite for pf. and 1st pf. conc. were pubd. From 1885 to 1888 lived at Wiesbaden. Returned to USA 1888, settling in Boston. Soloist in f.p. of 2nd pf. conc., NY 1889. First head of mus. dept., Columbia Univ., NY, 1896–1904. His mus. is romantic in style and charmingly melodic. The MacDowell Colony in Peterboro, New Hampshire, where composers and other artists can work peacefully, was founded in his memory. Prin. works:ORCH.: sym.-poems Hamlet and Ophelia (1885), Lancelot and Elaine (1886), Lamia (1887–8), Suite No.1 (1888–93), No.2 (Indian) (1891–5).CONCERTOS: pf., No.1 in A minor (1882), No.2 in D minor (1884–6); Romance, vc., orch. (1888).PIANO: 1st Modern Suite (1880–1), 2nd Modern Suite (1882–3); Forest Idyls (1884); Idyls (1887, rev. as 6 Idyls After Goethe, 1901); 12 Studies (1890); Sonatas: Tragica (1893), Eroica (1895), Norse (1900), Keltic (1900); 12 Virtuoso Studies (1894); 10 Woodland Sketches (1896, No.1 is To a Wild Rose); 8 Sea Pieces (1898); 6 Fireside Tales (1902); 10 New England Idyls (1902).Also many songs, part-songs, arrangements, and works pubd. under pseudonym Edgar Thorn.

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MacDowell, Edward Alexander

Edward Alexander MacDowell, 1860–1908, American composer, b. New York City. He studied at the conservatories in Paris and Frankfurt and taught (1881–82) at the Darmstadt Conservatory. His work has been described as romantic, direct, and intentionally international in style. MacDowell held the first chair of music at Columbia Univ. from 1896 until 1904. His outstanding works are four programmatic piano sonatas—Tragica (1893), Eroica (1895), Norse (1900), and Keltic (1901)—and his Indian Suite (1897) for orchestra, which employs adaptations of Native American melodies. He also wrote two piano concertos, the 10-part New England Idyls (1902), and numerous smaller works, including the popular Woodland Sketches (1896) and Sea Pieces (1898) for piano. The MacDowell Colony for composers, artists, and writers, founded by his widow, Marian Nevins MacDowell, at their summer home in Peterborough, N.H., is a fulfillment of a plan of MacDowell's.

See biography by E. D. Bomberger (2013).

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MacDowell, Edward Alexander

MacDowell, Edward Alexander (1861–1908) US composer. He is remembered chiefly for his piano works, including four sonatas, 12 studies, some lyrical suites and, above all, his two piano concertos.

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MacDowell, Edward (Alexander)

MacDowell, Edward (Alexander)

MacDowell, Edward (Alexander), greatly significant American composer; b. N.Y., Dec. 18,1860; d. there, Jan. 23,1908. His father was a Scotch-Irish tradesman; his mother, an artistically inclined woman who encouraged his musical studies. He took piano lessons with Juan Buitrago and Paul Desvernine; also had supplementary sessions with Teresa Carreño, who later championed his works. In 1876, after traveling in Europe with his mother, MacDowell enrolled as an auditor in Augustin Savard’s elementary class at the Paris Cons.; on Feb. 8, 1877, he was admitted as a regular student; he also studied piano with Antoine-François Marmontel and solfège with Marmontel’s son, Antonin. Somewhat disappointed with his progress, he withdrew from the Cons, on Sept. 30, 1878, and went to the Stuttgart Cons, for a brief period of study with Sigmund Lebert. He then proceeded to Wiesbaden to study theory and composition with Louis Ehlert; in 1879 he enrolled at the newly founded but already prestigious Hoch Cons, in Frankfurt am Main as a student of Carl Heymann in piano, of Joachim Raff (the Cons, director) in composition, and of Franz Böhme in counterpoint and fugue. During MacDowell’s stay there, Raff’s class had a visit from Liszt, and MacDowell performed the piano part in Schumann’s Quintet, op.44, in Liszt’s presence. At another visit, MacDowell played Liszt’s Hungarian Rhapsody No. 14 for him; 2 years later he visited Liszt in Weimar, and played his own 1st Piano Concerto for him, accompanied by Eugène d’Albert at the 2nd piano. Encouraged by Liszt’s interest, MacDowell sent him the MS of his Modern Suite, op.10, for piano solo; Liszt recommended the piece for performance at the meeting of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musikverein (Zürich, July 11, 1882); he also recommended MacDowell to the publishers Breitkopf & Härtel, who subsequently brought out the first works of MacDowell to appear in print, the Modern Suites for piano, opp.10 and 14. MacDowell left the Cons, in 1880 and began teaching piano privately. However, he pursued private piano and composition lessons with Heymann and Raff.

Despite his youth, MacDowell was given a teaching position at the Darmstadt Cons, in 1881 but he resigned in 1882; he also accepted private pupils, among them Marian Nevins of Conn.; they were secretly married on July 9, 1884, in N.Y., followed by a public ceremony in Waterford, Conn., on July 21. During the early years of their marriage, the MacDowells made their 2nd home in Wiesbaden, where MacDowell composed industriously; his works were performed in neighboring communities; Carretto put several of his piano pieces on her concert programs. There were also performances in America. However, the MacDowells were beset by financial difficulties; his mother proposed that he and his wife live on the family property, but MacDowell declined. He also declined an offer to teach at the National Cons, in N.Y. at the munificent fee of $5 an hour. Similarly, he rejected an offer to take a clerical position at the American Consulate in Krefeld, Germany. In 1888 he finally returned to the U.S., making his home in Boston, where he was welcomed in artistic circles as a famous composer and pianist; musical Boston at the time was virtually a German colony, and MacDowell’s German training was a certificate of his worth. On Nov. 19, 1888, MacDowell made his American debut as a composer and pianist at a Boston concert of the Kneisel String Quartet, featuring his Modern Suite, op.10. On March 5, 1889, he was the soloist in the premiere performance of his 2nd Piano Concerto with the N.Y. Phil, under the direction of Theodore Thomas. Frank van der Stucken invited MacDowell to play his concerto at the spectacular Paris Exposition on July 12, 1889. MacDowell had no difficulty having his works pubi., although for some reason he preferred that his early piano pieces, opp.1-7, be printed under the pseudonym Edgar Thorn.

In 1896 Columbia Univ. invited MacDowell to become its first prof. of music, “to elevate the standard of musical instruction in the U.S., and to afford the most favorable opportunity for acquiring instruction of the highest order.” MacDowell interpreted this statement to its fullest; by 1899, 2 assistants had been employed, Leonard McWhood and Gustav Hinrichs, but students received no credit for his courses. At the same time, he continued to compose and to teach piano privately; he also conducted the Mendelssohn Glee Club (1896–98) and served as president of the Soc. of American Musicians and Composers (1899–1900). In the academic year 1902–03, he took a sabbatical; played concerts throughout the U.S. and in Europe; played his 2nd Piano Concerto in London (May 14,1903). During his sabbatical, Columbia Univ. replaced its president, Seth Low, with Nicholas Murray Butler, whose ideas about the role of music in the univ. were diametrically opposed to the ideals of MacDowell. MacDowell resigned in 1904 and subsequently became a “cause célèbre,” resulting in much acrimony on both sides. It was not until some time later that the Robert Center Chair that MacDowell had held at Columbia Univ. was renamed the Edward MacDowell Chair of Music to honor its first recipient.

Through the combination of the trauma resulting from this episode, an accident with a hansom, and the development of what appears to have been tertiary syphilis, MacDowell rapidly deteriorated mentally into a vegetative state. In 1906 a public appeal was launched to raise funds for his care; among the signers were Horatio Parker, Victor Herbert, Arthur Foote, George Chadwick, Frederick Converse, Andrew Carnegie, J. Pierpont Morgan, and former President Grover Cleveland. MacDowell was only 47 years old when he died. The sum of $50,000 was raised for the organization of the MacDowell Memorial Assoc. Mrs. MacDowell, who outlived her husband by nearly half a century (she died at the age of 98, in Los Angeles, on Aug. 23, 1956), deeded to the association her husband’s summer residence at Peterborough, N.H. This property became a pastoral retreat, under the name of the MacDowell Colony, for American composers and writers, who could spend summers working undisturbed in separate cottages, paying a minimum rent for lodging and food. During the summer of 1910, Mrs. MacDowell arranged an elaborate pageant with music from MacDowell’s works; the success of this project led to the establishment of a series of MacDowell Festivals at Peterborough.

MacDowell received several awards during his lifetime, including 2 honorary doctorates (Princeton Univ., 1896; Univ. of Pa., 1902) and election into the American Academy of Arts and Letters (1904); in 1940 a 5-cent U.S. postage stamp with his likeness was issued; in 1960 he was the second composer elected to the Hall of Fame at N.Y.U., where, in 1964, a bust was unveiled.

Among American composers, MacDowell occupies a historically important place as the first American whose works were accepted as comparable in quality and technique with those of the average German composers of his time. His music adhered to the prevalent representative Romantic art. Virtually all of his works bear titles borrowed from mythical history, literature, or painting; even his piano sonatas, set in Classical forms, carry descriptive titles, indicative of the mood of melodic resources, or as an ethnic reference. Since he lived in Germany during his formative years, German musical culture was decisive in shaping his musical development; even the American rhythms and melodies in his music seem to be European reflections of an exotic art. A parallel with Grieg is plausible, for Grieg was also a regional composer trained in Germany. But Grieg possessed a much more vigorous personality, and he succeeded in communicating the true spirit of Norwegian song modalities in his works. Lack of musical strength and originality accounts for MacDowell’s gradual decline in the estimation of succeeding generations; his romanticism was apt to lapse into salon sentimentality. The frequency of performance of his works in concert (he never wrote for the stage) declined in the decades following his death, and his influence on succeeding generations of American composers receded to a faint recognition of an evanescent artistic period. MacDowelFs writings were collected by W. Baltzell and pubi, as Critical and Historical Essays (1912; reprinted, with new introduction by I. Lo wens, N.Y., 1969).

Works

orch.:Hamlet and Ophelia, 2 tone poems, op.22 (1885; Ophelia, N.Y., Nov. 4, 1886; Hamlet, N.Y, Nov. 15, 1887; together, Chicago, March 26, 1890); Lancelot and Elaine, symphonic poem, op.25 (Boston, Jan. 10, 1890); Lamia, symphonic poem, op.29 (1889; Boston, Oct. 23, 1908); The Saracens and The Lovely Alda, 2 fragments after the Song of Roland, op.30 (Boston, Nov. 5, 1891); Suite No. 1, op.42 (Worcester Festival, Sept. 24, 1891; 3rd movement, “In October,” op.42a, added in 1894; complete work 1st perf., Boston, 1896); Suite No. 2, Indian, op.48 (N.Y., Jan. 23, 1896); Piano Concerto No. 1, in A minor, op.15 (movements 2 and 3, N.Y, March 30,1885, Adele Margulies soloist; complete version, Chicago, July 5, 1888, Teresa Carreno soloist); Piano Concerto No. 2, in D minor, op.23 (N.Y, March 5, 1889, composer soloist); Romance for Cello and Orch., op.35 (1888). piano:Amourette, op.l (1896); In Lilting Rhythm, op.2 (1897); Forgotten Fairy Tales (Sung outside the Prince’s Door, Of a Tailor and a Bear, Beauty in the Rose Garden, From Dwarfland), op.4 (1898); 6 Fancies (A Tin Soldier’s Love, To a Humming Bird, Summer Song, Across Fields, Bluette, An Elfin Round), op.7 (1898); Waltz, op.8 (1895); 1st Modern Suite, op.10 (1880); Prelude and Fugue, op.13 (1883); 2nd Modern Suite, op.14 (1881); Serenata, op.16 (1883); 2 Fantastic Pieces (Legend, Witches’ Dance), op.17 (1884); 2 Pieces (Barcarolle, Humoresque), op.18 (1884); Forest Idyls (Forest Stillness, Play of the Nymphs, Reverie, Dance of the Dryads), op.19 (1884); 4 Pieces (Humoresque, March, Cradle Song, Czardas), op.24 (1887); 6 Idyls after Goethe (In the Woods, Siesta, To the Moonlight, Silver Clouds, Flute Idyl, The Bluebell), op.28 (1887); 6 Poems after Heine (From a Fisherman’s Hut, Scotch Poem, From Long Ago, The Post Wagon, The Shepherd Boy, Monologue), op.31 (1887); 4 Little Poems (The Eagle, The Brook, Moonshine, Winter), op.32 (1888); Étude de concert in F-sharp, op.36 (1889); Les Orientales, after Victor Hugo (Clair de lune, Danse le Hamac, Danse Andalouse), op.37 (1889); Marionnettes, 8 Little Pieces (Prologue, Soubrette, Lover, Witch, Clown, Villain, Sweetheart, Epilogue), op.38 (1888; originally only 6 pieces; Prologue and Epilogue were added in 1901); 12 Studies, Book I (Hunting Song, Alla Tarantella, Romance, Arabesque, In the Forest, Dance of the Gnomes); Book II (Idyl, Shadow Dance, Intermezzo, Melody, Scherzino, Hungarian), op.39 (1890); Sonata No. 1, Tragica, op.45 (1893); 12 Virtuoso Studies (Novelette, Moto perpetuo, Wild Chase, Improvisation, Elfin Dance, Valse triste, Burleske, Bluette, Traumerei, March Wind, Impromptu, Polonaise), op.46 (1894); Air and Rigaudon, op.49 (1894); Sonata No. 2, Eroica, op.50 (1895); Woodland Sketches, 10 pieces (To a Wild Rose, Will o’ the Wisp, At an Old Trysting Place, In Autumn, From an Indian Lodge, To a Water Lily, From Uncle Remus, A Desert Farm, By a Meadow Brook, Told at Sunset), op.51 (1896); Sea Pieces (To the Sea, From a Wandering Iceberg, A.D. 1620, Star-light, Song, From the Depths, Nautilus, In Mid-Ocean), op.55 (1898); Sonata No. 3, Norse, op.57 (1900); Sonata No. 4, Keltic, op.59 (1901); Fireside Tales (An Old Love Story, OfBr’er Rabbit, From a German Forest, Of Salamanders, A Haunted House, By Smouldering Embers), op.61 (1902); New England Idyls, 10 pieces (An Old Garden, Midsummer, Midwinter, With Sweet Lavender, In Deep Woods, Indian Idyl, To an Old White Pine, From Puritan Days, From a Log Cabin, The Joy of Autumn), op.62 (1902); 6 Little Pieces on Sketches by J.S. Bach (1890); Technical Exercises, 2 Books (1893, 1895). vocal: chora1:2 choruses for Men’s Voices, op.3: Love and Time and The Rose and the Gardener (1897); The Witch for Men’s Chorus, op.5 (1898); War Song for Men’s Chorus, op.6 (1898); 3 songs for Men’s Chorus, op.27 (1887); 2 songs for Men’s Chorus, op.41 (1890); 2 Northern Songs for Mixed Voices, op.43 (1891); 3 choruses for Men’s Voices, op.52 (1897); 2 Songs from the 13th Century for Men’s Chorus (1897); 2 choruses for Men’s Voices, op.53 (1898); 2 choruses for Men’s Voices, op.54 (1898); College Songs for Men’s Voices (1901); Summer Wind for Women’s Chorus (1902). voice and piano:2 OldSongs, op.9 (1894); 3 songs, op.ll (1883); 2 songs, op.12 (1883); From an Old Garden (6 songs), op.26 (1887); 3 songs, op.33 (1888; rev. 1894); 2 songs, op.34 (1888); 6 Love Songs, op.40 (1890); 8 songs, op.47 (1893); 4 songs, op.56 (1898); 3 songs, op.58 (1899); 3 songs, op.60 (1902).

Bibliography

L. Gilman, E. M.: A Study (N.Y, 1908; corrected reprint, N.Y, 1969); E. Page, E. M.: His Works and Ideals (N.Y., 1910); J. Adams, What the Piano Writings ofM. Mean to the Piano Student (Chicago, 1913); O. Sonneck, Catalogue of First Editions of E. M.(Washington, D.C., 1917; reprint, N.Y., 1973); W Humis-ton, M.(N.Y, 1921); J. Matthews, Commemorative Tributes to M.(N.Y., 1922); J. Porte, A Great American Tone Poet: E. M.(London, 1922); A. Brown, The Boyhood of E. M.(N.Y, 1924); J. Cooke, E. M., A Short Biography (Philadelphia, 1928); A. Brown, A Mosaic of Muses of the M. Club of New York (N.Y, 1930); Catalogue of an Exhibition Illustrating the Life and Work ofE. M.(N.Y, 1938); M. MacDowell, Random Notes on E. M. and His Music (Boston, 1950); C. Kefferstan, The Piano Concertos of E. M.(diss., Univ. of Cincinnati, 1984); A. Levy, E. M., an American Master (Lanham, Md., 1998).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire

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"MacDowell, Edward (Alexander)." Baker’s Biographical Dictionary of Musicians. . Retrieved October 22, 2018 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/arts/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/macdowell-edward-alexander-0

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