Edward MacDowell

From New World Encyclopedia

Edward A. MacDowell.jpg

Edward Alexander MacDowell (December 18, 1860 – January 23, 1908) was an American composer, best known for his piano concertos and piano miniatures, and founder of the American Academy in Rome and the MacDowell Colony. The MacDowell Colony was a place where artists could have a stimulating and reflective environment for their studies and works which demonstrated the desire of Edward MacDowell to help many artists and to live for the sake of others. This unselfish action created a forum for the arts which helped to generate the human spirit and to enrich the culture of music in America.

MacDowell is considered among the first American composers to achieve major recognition as a composer of concert music. The Boston Symphony Orchestra was an important advocate of MacDowell's music having premiered several of his works. His Second Piano Concerto was premiered by the New York Philharmonic in 1889 with Theodore Thomas conducting.


Juan Buitrago, a Colombian violinist who was living with the MacDowell family at the time, gave the young Edward his first piano lessons and later with friends of Buitrago, including lessons from Teresa CarreƱo, a Venezuelan pianist. His family moved to Paris, France and in 1877 Edward MacDowell was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire, then he went to the Hoch Conservatory in Frankfurt, Germany to study piano with Carl Heymann and composition with Joachim Raff. When Franz Liszt visited the Conservatory in 1879, a recital of student compositions was put on and MacDowell presented some of his own along with transcriptions of a Liszt symphonic poem. MacDowell taught piano at the Darmstadt Conservatory for a year. In New York in 1884 MacDowell married Marian Griswold Nevins, whom he had met as a piano student of his.

In 1888 he returned to the United States, where he shifted his focus from composer to concert pianist. He was appointed the first professor of music at Columbia, a position he held until 1904, and conducted the Mendelssohn Glee Club. Like Gustav Mahler, MacDowell was forced to relegate his compositional activities to the summer months.

In his final years MacDowell established the MacDowell Colony at the site of his summer home in Peterborough, New Hampshire. In 1904, he was one of the first seven chosen for membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. Also in 1904, MacDowell was run over by a hansom cab and his physical as well as mental health rapidly declined. The Mendelssohn Glee Club raised money to help MacDowell and his wife.

On his passing in 1908 from a general paralysis, Edward MacDowell was buried in MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire.

Compositional Output

MacDowell wrote two Piano Concertos for himself to play. His solo piano oeuvre includes four sonatas, subtitled each "Tragica," "Eroica," "Norse" and "Keltic," as well as the piano miniatures for which he became best known. MacDowell set to music poems by Heine, Goethe and other German poets. For the Mendelssohn Glee Club, he wrote male choral pieces with English texts.

From 1896 to 1898, MacDowell published 13 piano pieces and four part-songs under the pseudonym of Edgar Thorn. These compositions were not listed or even mentioned in Gilman's 1908 biography of MacDowell. They were listed in Arthur P. Schmidt advertisements in the 1912 publication of MacDowell's Critical and Historical Essays, without the misleading opus numbers later attached to them, which falsely suggested that they were composed prior to his first publications of 1883 (which began with Op. 10). MacDowell himself was responsible for assigning his "Two Old Songs" (1894) a misleading Op. 9. That may have provided someone an excuse, years after MacDowell's death, for assigning Edgar Thorn compositions opus numbers in the open one to eight range.

The Composer Speaks

Like many composers of the late nineteenth century, MacDowell intuited that music possessed innate spiritual attributes. He states: "The high mission of music...is neither to be an agent for expressing material things; nor to utter pretty sounds to amuse the ear; nor a sensuous excitant to fire the blood; nor a sedative to lull the senses. It is a language, but a language of the intangible, a kind of soul-language. It appeals directly to the Seelenzustande (soul state) it springs from, for it is the natural expression of it, rather than like words, a translation of it into stereotyped symbols which may or may not be accepted for what they are intended to denote to the writer....music the stuff dreams are made of."

MacDowell echoes Schopenhauer and Nietzsche and their attitudes about the importance of the listener in experiencing music when he states, "The successful recognition of this [the soul state of music] depends not only upon the susceptibility of the hearer to delicate shades of sensation, but also upon the receptivity of the hearer and riessen his power to accept freely and unrestrictedly the mood shadowed by the composer. Such music cannot be looked upon objectively...its potency depends entirely upon a state of willing subjectivity on the part of the hearer."


Edward MacDowell is remembered as the first American composer to achieve international acclaim due to his ties with an earlier life in Europe and his compositional techniques which were based on a European style of counterpoint and harmony. He championed having poetical suggestions within his works with programmatic titles to evoke certain moods in his music. Moreover, he had the foresight to create a musical forum for young and rising artists and musicians at the prestigious MacDowell Colony.

Listed Works

Published compositions for piano, a complete listing

Op. 10 First Modern Suite (1883) 1 Praeludium 2 Presto 3 Andantino and Allegretto 4 Intermezzo 5 Rhapsody 6 Fugue

Op. 13 Prelude and Fugue (1883) 1 Prelude 2 Fugue

Op. 14 Second Modern Suite (1883) 1 Praeludium 2 Fugato 3 Rhapsody 4 Scherzino 5 March 6 Fantastic Dance

Op. 15 First Concerto (1885) 1 Maestoso 2 Andante tranquillo 3 Presto

Op. 16 Serenata (1883)

Op. 17 Two Fantastic Pieces (1884) 1 A Legend 2 Witches' Dance

Op. 18 Two Compositions (1884) 1 Barcarolle 2 Humoreske

Op. 19 Forest Idyls (1884) 1 Forest Stillness 2 Play of the Nymphs 3 Revery 4 Dance of the Dryads

Op. 20 Three Poems (1886) duets 1 Night at Sea 2 A Tale of the Knights 3 Ballad

Op. 21 Moon Pictures (1886) duets 1 The Hindoo Maiden 2 Stork's Story 3 In Tyrol 4 The Swan 5 Visit of the Bear

Op. 23 Second Concerto (1890) 1 Larghetto calmato 2 Presto giocoso 3 Largo

Op. 24 Four Compositions (1887) 1 Humoreske 2 March 3 Cradle Song 4 Czardas

Op. 28 Six Idyls after Goethe (1887) 1 In the Woods 2 Siesta 3 To the Moonlight 4 Silver Clouds 5 Flute Idyl 6 The Bluebell

Op. 31 Six Poems after Heine (1887,1901) 1 From a Fisherman's Hut 2 Scotch Poem 3 From Long Ago 4 The Postwaggon 5 The Shepherd Boy 6 Monologue

Op. 32 Four Little Poems (1888) 1 The Eagle 2 The Brook 3 Moonshine 4 Winter

Op. 36 Etude de Concert (1889)

Op. 37 Les Orientales (1889) 1 Clair de lune 2 Dans le hamac 3 Danse Andalouse

Op. 38 Marionettes (1888,1901) 1 Prologue 2 Soubrette 3 Lover 4 Witch 5 Clown 6 Villain 7 Sweetheart 8 Epilogue

Op. 39 Twelve Studies (1890) 1 Hunting Song 2 Alla Tarantella 3 Romance 4 Arabesque 5 In the Forest 6 Dance of the Gnomes 7 Idyl 8 Shadow Dance 9 Intermezzo 10 Melody 11 Scherzino 12 Hungarian

Op. 45 Sonata Tragica (1893) 1 Largo maestoso 2 Molto allegro, vivace 3 Largo con maesta 4 Allegro eroica

Op. 46 Twelve Virtuoso Studies (1894) 1 Novelette 2 Moto Perpetuo 3 Wild Chase 4 Improvisation 5 Elfin Dance 6 Valse Triste 7 Burlesque 8 Bluette 9 Traumerei 10 March Wind 11 Impromptu 12 Polonaise

Op. 49 Air and Rigaudon (1894) 1 Air 2 Rigaudon

Op. 50 Sonata Eroica (1895) "Flos regum Arthurus" 1 Slow, with nobility 2 Elf-like, as light and swift as possible 3 Tenderly, longingly, yet with passion 4 Fiercely, very fast

Op. 51 Woodland Sketches (1896) 1 To a Wild Rose 2 Will o' the Wisp 3 At an Old Trysting Place 4 In Autumn 5 From an Indian Lodge 6 To a Water-lily 7 From Uncle Remus 8 A Deserted Farm 9 By a Meadow Brook 10 Told at Sunset

Amourette (1896) by Edgar Thorn

In Lilting Rhythm (1897) two pieces by Edgar Thorn

Forgotten Fairy Tales (1897) by Edgar Thorn 1 Sung outside the Prince's door 2 Of a Tailor and a Bear 3 Beauty in the Rose-Garden 4 From Dwarf-land

Six Fancies (1898) by Edgar Thorn 1 A Tin Soldier's Love 2 To a Humming Bird 3 Summer Song 4 Across Fields 5 Bluette 6 An Elfin Round

Op. 55 Sea Pieces (1898) 1 To the Sea 2 From a Wandering Iceberg 3 A. D. 1620 4 Starlight 5 Song 6 From the Depths 7 Nautilus 8 In Mid-Ocean

Op. 57 Third Sonata (1900) 1 Mesto, ma con passione 2 Tristamente, ma con tenerezza 3 Allegro con fuoco

Op. 59 Fourth Sonata (1901) 1 With great power and dignity 2 With naive tenderness 3 Very swift and fierce

Op. 61 Fireside Tales (1902) 1 An Old Love Story 2 Of Br'er Rabbit 3 From a German Forest 4 Of Salamanders 5 A Haunted House 6 By Smouldering Embers

Op. 62 New England Idyls (1902) 1 An Old Garden 2 Mid-Summer 3 Mid-Winter 4 With Sweet Lavender 5 In Deep Woods 6 Indian Idyl 7 To an Old White Pine 8 From Puritan Days 9 From a Log Cabin 10 The Joy of Autumn

Published compositions for orchestra, a complete listing

Op. 15 First Concerto (1885)

Op. 22 Hamlet and Ophelia (1885)

Op. 23 Second Concerto (1890)

Op. 25 Lancelot and Elaine (1888)

Op. 29 Lamia (1908)

Op. 30 Two Fragments after the Song of Roland (1891) 1 The Saracens 2 The Lovely Alda

Op. 35 Romance for Violoncello and Orchestra (1888)

Op. 42 First Suite (1891-1893) 1 In a Haunted Forest 2 Summer Idyl 3 In October 4 The Shepherdess' Song 5 Forest Spirits

Op. 48 Second Suite (1897) 1 Legend 2 Love Song 3 In War-time 4 Dirge 5 Village Festival

Published songs

Op. 11 and 12 An Album of Five Songs, for voice and piano (1883) 1 My Love and I 2 You Love Me Not 3 In the Skies 4 Night-Song 5 Bands of Roses

Op. 26 From an Old Garden, for voice and piano (1887) 1 The Pansy 2 The Myrtle 3 The Clover 4 The Yellow Daisy 5 The Blue Bell 6 The Mignonette

Op. 27 Three Songs, for male chorus (1890) 1 In the Starry Sky Above Us 2 Springtime 3 The Fisherboy

Op. 33 Three Songs, for voice and piano (1894) 1 Prayer 2 Cradle Hymn 3 Idyl

Op. 34 Two Songs, for voice and piano (1889) 1 Menie 2 My Jean

Op. 40 Six Love Songs, for voice and piano (1890) 1 Sweet, Blue-eyed Maid 2 Sweetheart, Tell Me 3 Thy Beaming Eyes 4 For Love's Sweet Sake 5 O Lovely Rose 6 I Ask but This

Op. 41 Two Songs, for male chorus (1890) 1 Cradle Song 2 Dance of the Gnomes

Op. 43 Two Northern Songs, for mixed chorus (1891) 1 The Brook 2 Slumber Song

Op. 44 Barcarolle, for mixed chorus with four-hand piano accompaniment (1892)

Op. 47 Eight Songs, for voice and piano (1893) 1 The Robin Sings in the Apple Tree 2 Midsummer Lullaby 3 Folk Song 4 Confidence 5 The West Wind Croons in the Cedar Trees 6 In the Woods 7 The Sea 8 Through the Meadow

Op. 9 Two Old Songs, for voice and piano (1894) 1 Deserted 2 Slumber Song

Two Songs from the Thirteenth Century, for male chorus (1897) 1 Winter Wraps his Grimmest Spell 2 As the Gloaming Shadows Creep

Op. 52 Three Choruses, for male voices (1897) 1 Hush, hush! 2 From the Sea 3 The Crusaders

Part-Songs Published under the Pseudonym of Edgar Thorn: Love and Time (1897), The Rose and the Gardener (1897), The Witch (1898), War Song (1898)

Op. 53 Two Choruses, for male voices (1898) 1 Bonnie Ann 2 The Collier Lassie

Op. 54 Two Choruses, for male voices (1898) 1 A Ballad of Charles the Bold 2 Midsummer Clouds

Op. 56 Four Songs, for voice and piano (1898) 1 Long Ago 2 The Swan Bent Low to the Lily 3 A Maid Sings Light 4 As the Gloaming Shadows Creep

Op. 58 Three Songs, for voice and piano (1899) 1 Constancy 2 Sunrise 3 Merry Maiden Spring

Op. 60 Three Songs, for voice and piano (1902) 1 Tyrant Love 2 Fair Springtide 3 To the Golden Rod

Summer Wind, for women's voices (1902)

Two College Songs, for women's voices (1907) 1 Alma Mater 2 At Parting

ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Crawford, Richard. America's musical life: a history. NY: Norton, 2001. ISBN 0-810-83463-4
  • Ewen, David. American Composers: A Biographical Dictionary. G.P. Putnam's Sons, New York, 1982. ISBN 0-399-12626-0
  • Gilman, Lawrence. Edward MacDowell: a study. NY: Da Capo Press, 1969. OCLC 602168
  • Levy, Aln Howard. Edward MacDowell, an American master. Lanham, MD: Scarecrow Press, 1998. ISBN 0-810-83463-4

Additional reading

  • Lawrence Gilman, Lawrence. Edward MacDowell. New York, 1909.
  • Page, E. F. Edward Macdowell: His Work and Ideals. New York, 1910.

External links

All links retrieved February 12, 2024.


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