The contemporary audience is practically unfamiliar with the creative work of the American composer Edward MacDowell, who lived in 1860-1908. Edward MacDowell was a part of the Boston Six and made a key contribution to the development of academic music of the United States. He was incredibly popular in the 1920’s. The number of records of his performances was equal to the number of works by Mozart and Haydn taken together. The composer whose formation was influenced by the virtuoso playing of Latin American pianist Theresa Carreño mad the education that he received in the Paris Conservatoire in the class of Antoine Marmontel together with Claude Debussy; the acquaintance with Ferencz Liszt in Weimar and the master’s approval of his creative work — all this delivered benefit when he returned home.
The composer was born in New York on December 18, 1860, in the Irish-Scottish family. Thomas MacDowell, father of Edward, possessed artistic talent that was not realized due to the uncompromising views of his parents, who were the Quakers’ followers. Edward inherited his father’s talents. Thomas MacDowell did not want his son to share his fate and contributed to the disclosure of his son’s musical potential.
Edward began to study music from the age 8. His first teacher was Juan Buitrago. The Colombian violinist was the family friend; the young musician talent impressed him. Their musical lessons continued for several years. Edward's teacher was be on friendly terms with the famous pianist Theresa Carreño. She visited Buitrago every time when she came to New York. During one of those visits, the violinist introduced his student to Teresa. Edward’s talent impressed the pianist. Carreño took him under her care and in every possible way contributed to the development of his career. She gave him classes during her visits and promoted his creative work during her concerts, adding MacDowell's compositions to her permanent repertoire.
She used to say that in 1872 Edward was such a sensitive and modest child that it was painful to watch him. When she saw the boy for the first time, he looked exhausted from the piano lessons. Teresa elaborated a special system of teaching for the boy. She was sitting next to the child; she acted not only as a teacher, but as a friend and a sister as well. This revived the boy’s interest in music and made him more receptive to classes.
MacDowell’s next teacher in his early teens was pianist Pablo Desvernine, the Cuban friend of Buitrago. He was giving piano lessons to Edward for two years, while Carreno gave him occasional supporting lessons. At the end of this period, it was decided that Edward should go to Paris to receive professional education at the Conservatory.
In April 1876, when Edward was 14 years old, he left for France with his mother. Upon arrival, the pianist began taking private piano lessons from Antoine-François Marmontel and theory lessons from Marie Emmanuel Saward. On February 8, 1877, he was officially enrolled in the Сonservatory and continued to study there with the same teachers. Edward became friends with Claude Debussy while he was studying there.
Edward was not satisfied with the quality of education at the Paris Conservatoire. He had his own conception of some musical moments. He often conflicted with his teachers. Nikolay Rubinstein performance who played Tchaikovsky's piano concert in 1878 became the pivotal factor. “I will never learn to play the same way if I stay here,” said MacDowell. Choosing between Moscow, where Nikolai Rubinstein taught, Leipzig, Frankfurt and Stuttgart, he settled on the latter. In November 1878, he was already there. However, he soon became disillusioned with Stuttgart; the principles of teaching here did not suit him very much.
Following the advice of one of his friends, Edward went to Wiesbaden to find a new mentor. He choose the pianist Carl Heymann, who recently successfully completed a European tour. The musician agreed to take 17-year-old Edward as a student; the mother of the young pianist, who constantly accompanied him during his travel in Europe, returned to the USA. Carl Heymann was invited to the post of lecturer at the Frankfurt Conservatoire, where Clara Schumann headed the piano department. Edward MacDowell followed the teacher, continuing his studies at the Conservatory as a student in his mentor’s class.
At the conservatory, he began taking composition lessons from the famous composer Joachim Raff.
MacDowell’s first performance as a pianist was at the concert in honor of Ferencz Liszt on June 9, 1879 in Frankfurt. He performed the Symphonic poem Tasso by Liszt transcribed for two pianos together Theodor Muller. When Edward studied at the Conservatory, Liszt visited his class twice. During one of his visits, MacDowell played the piano part in Schumann's quintet, opus 44 and played the composer’s 14th Rhapsody during his second visit.
The composer’s first major work was the First Modern Suite, a work that resulted from Raff’s assignment. The teacher was tired of the routine exercises in composition and suggested that MacDowell would compose something genuine. The Suite became a response to this proposal. Soon the Second Modern Suite that he wrote in trains on the way to the classes followed it. Once Raff unexpectedly called MacDowell and asked what he was working at. "I am composing a concert” MacDowell replied. The teacher asked to bring it to the next lesson. However, he postponed the lesson for several weeks, allowing MacDowell to finish the work for the next meeting with the teacher. That was how his First Piano Concerto appeared.
In 1882, when Edward was 20 years old, Raff invited him to visit Ferencz Liszt in Weimar. The master cordially welcomed the young musician. Eugène D’Alber was at Liszt’s at that time, and he played the orchestral part of MacDowell's piano concerto, with the author himself playing the piano solo on the second piano.
Leaving, Edward left all his compositions to Liszt: the First Modern Suite was among them. Soon Liszt wrote that he recommended it to the German musicians’ General Society. On July 11, 1882, MacDowell played it at the Society meeting in Zurich, and it went down warm with the audience.
The Suite was published in 1883. Teresa Carreno included Andante from The First Modern Suite in her performance in New York on August 4 the same year. Thus, MacDowell's composition was performed on the US stage for the first time.
Between 1882 and 1885, MacDowell combined the career of a pianist and a composer. His composing activity of this period was extremely fruitful; he wrote opuses from 10 to 22: The Second Modern Suite (opus 14) and Two Fantastic Pieces (opus 17). The Witch’s Dance that became a popular piano composition, were among them.
In 1884, MacDowell visited his hometown, New York, and on July 9 of the same year, he married Marian Nevins, a native of Waterford, Connecticut. After the wedding, the couple returned to Frankfurt, and in 1885, they moved to Wiesbaden and bought a cottage there. MacDowell decided to devote himself entirely to the composition. Living there until 1888, he composed opuses from 23 to 35, including his Second Piano Concerto, opus 23 and several orchestral and piano pieces.
MacDowell's music won popularity not only in Europe, but in the United States as well. Carreno continued to promote the composer’s works. In 1886, his good friend and mentor - Franz Liszt died. In 1888, MacDowell and his wife decided to return to the United States. Without Liszt’s support, attention to MacDowell’s creative work would have been much smaller in Germany. Thus, there was no point in staying there.
The composer’s wife decided that the best solution would be to settle in Boston, because there was a large variety of jobs, both composing and performing, and the possibility of teaching as well. MacDowell’s first performed in the United States in November 1888 as a composer and pianist at one of the Boston concert halls. He performed the Prelude, Intermezzo and Presto from the First Modern Suite, as well as the piano part from the Quintet of Karl Goldmark in B-flat major. In March 1889, he performed his Second Piano Concerto. A month later, in New York, MacDowell repeated his performance accompanied by the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
MacDowell’s prestige grew for the several years. He continued to compose music: during this period, he wrote opuses from 36 to 51, including the Forest Sketches, one of the composer’s most famous piano opuses. The pieces To a Wild Rose, To a Water Lily, and others were the part of it. Several pieces were published under the pseudonym Elgar Thorn.
MacDowell worked in the European musical tradition. He often used the Celtic or the Scandinavian legends to create music Lancelot and Elaine (op 25), Hamlet and Ophelia (op 22), The Song of Roland (op 30) and others. His third piano sonata was called The Northern; the fourth one was called The Celtic. The Indian Suite was the only exclusion. It included motifs from the songs of the North American Indians’ tribes.
MacDowell’s distinctive feature composing music was the use of English terminology instead of Italian in the instructions for the published works. In the later period of his career, MacDowell refused to listen to modern composers, since his fearing to copy them.
MacDowell’s invitation for the position of a teacher at Columbia University, New York in 1896 was the turning point. In autumn of this year, the composer and his family left Boston and returned to his hometown. Despite his steady income, he was frustrated by students who often did not understand him. MacDowell’s teaching at the university lasted until 1904.
In 1904, the composer was one of the founders of the American Academy of Arts and Literature.The same year, however, the composer was overtaken by mental illness. This forced him to stop any creative activity. The composer died on January 23, 1908 at the age of 47.