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ClassicsOnline Home » MACDOWELL: Songs (Complete)
Edward MacDowell (1860 -1908)
Edward MacDowell, one of America's most distinguished
composers, was born in New York City on 18th December, 1860. Though he was not a prodigy, he soon showed remarkable musical gifts, especially at the
keyboard. He began having piano lessons at the age of eight and later studied
with Teresa Carreno, one of the greatest pianists of the century. When he was
fourteen, his mother took him to Paris, where he studied the piano privately
with Marmontel and was enrolled in the Conservatoire, where his fellow-pupils
included Claude Debussy.
MacDowell continued his studies in Germany, first at Stuttgart
and then at
Frankfurt, where he was a pupil of the composer Joachim
Raff, who became his friend and one of the strongest influences on his musical development.
At Rafrs suggestion, MacDowell visited Liszt in Weimar in 1882 and performed
Piano Concerto, which he had dedicated to Liszt.
The old man was delighted, and praised his visitor's outstanding pianistic ability.
MacDowell's name soon became known in European musical circles and the sphere
of his activity widened. The death of Raff in the summer of 1882 was a sad
blow, and for the next two years he led a quiet life, devoting himself mainly
After many productive years in Europe, the composer
returned to America in 1888 together with his wife, Marian Griswold Nevins, who
had been one of his American pupils in Germany. They settled in Boston, where
he taught, composed and gave concerts. In 1896 he became the first Professor of
Music at Columbia University, New York City, where he was active until early in
1904. He continued to compose and teach and conducted the Mendelssohn Glee
Club, but in 1905 he became incapacitated by a cerebral disease which finally
caused his death on 23rd January, 1908.
MacDowell's works include symphonic poems and orchestral
suites, songs for voice and chorus, two piano concertos, and many solo piano
works, including four sonatas, studies, suites, shorter pieces and transcriptions.
The estate which MacDowel1 bought in Peterborough, New
Hampshire, is today an artist colony (in fulfilment of one of his fondest
dreams), where talented artists from many fields work throughout the day in
quiet and charming surroundings, unhampered by the disturbances of city life.
Some 250 MacDowel1
Clubs have been organized allover the country to
encourage music in their own communities and to give help to the MacDowel1
Colony, whose members have included Leonard Bernstein, Aaron Copland, Norman Dello
Joio, Lukas Foss, Roy
Harris, Gail Kubik, Douglas Moore, Gardner Read, Louise Talma
This is the first complete recording of MacDowell's art
songs. Between 1883 and 1902 he composed a total of 42 songs, which were,
however, published out of chronological sequence. The earliest in opus number,
the Two Old Songs, Opus 9, were actually the eighth group of songs
MacDowel1 wrote. If we examine
MacDowell's songs in their order of composition, we
notice a marked change in technical style. The earliest, dating from 1883, are
full and opulent, but he soon began cutting back the piano score to the merest
background for the vocal line.
The earliest songs were composed in 1883 and published as
Opp. 11 and 12 by C.F. Kahnt in Leipzig. In 1898 Breitkopf & Hartel
reprinted the five songs as one set. Heinrich Heine is the author of the poems
for Du liebst mich nicht (You Love me Not), Oben, wo
die Sterne gluhen (The Skies, where Stars are Glowing) and Mein LiebGhen
(My Love and I sat Close Together). The texts for the two songs of Opus 12
are by Emanuel Geibel and Friedrich Gottlieb Klopstock. MacDowel1 was still very
much under the influence of Raff and these five early songs are fairly Germanic
in both style and beauty and some biographers have even compared them stylistically
to early Richard Strauss.
In From an Old Garden, composed in 1887, he used
lyrics by Margaret Wade
Deland (1857-1945). Best known for her Old Chester
Tales (1899), Deland began her career as a poet. Her first published book,
The Old Garden (1886) impressed MacDowell, and the six
poems he selected from her collection became his Opus 26.
Like MacDowell, Deland was a lifelong nature-lover, with
a passion for gardening.
This kinship between composer and poet is plainly evident
in these sensitive songs.
MacDowell completed another five songs in 1888,
publishing both collections in 1889 as his Opp. 33 and 34. For
the texts of the Drei Lieder, he chose a poem by Ch. Glucklich, Latin
words from an old German print of the Virgin, and a poem by the great poet
Goethe. The Goethe song is particularly distinctive, with its dainty staccato
accompaniment against a sustained cantilena in the voice. The Two Songs, Opus
34 employ poems by Robert Burns. Menie is to be performed Sadly, despondently,
while MacDowell directs My Jean, to be sung Unaffectedly, tenderly.
These are chronologically followed by the Six Love
Songs, Opus 40, settings of verses by W.H. Gardner published in Boston in
1890. As an opus, and individually, these were among MacDowell's most popular
compositions. The simplicity of the accompaniments, along with the
sentimentality of the texts proved to be winning combinations. In the Eight
Songs, Opus 47; published by Breitkopf & Hartel in 1893, we encounter
two of MacDowell's best known songs, Midsummer Lullaby and The Sea.
Here he used three of his own poems, two by Goethe, and three by William Dean
Howells. Here we encounter a mature MacDowell, following his credo:
"A song, if at all dramatic, should have climax, form, and plot, as does a
play. Words to me seem so paramount and, as it were, apart in value from the
musical setting, that, while I cannot recall the melodies of many of the songs
that I have written, the words of them are so indelibly impressed upon my mind
that they are very easy to recall... Music and poetry cannot be accurately
stated unless one has written both."
Although published as Opus 9, the Two Old Songs
were composed and published in 1894. Deserted, to lyrics by Robert
Burns, has the barest accompaniment, underscoring the pathos MacDowel1 was
feeling in the words. MacDowel1 does not credit the author of Slumber Song
(perhaps the text was his own), however, the piano writing is vintage
MacDowell, typical of his late piano pieces with images of falling snow and smouldering
The Four Songs, Opus 56, were written to his own
texts and published in New York in 1898. Here, MacDowel1 provides rich,
expressive melodic lines for his poems, stating that "...the paramount
value of the poem is its suggestion in the field of instrumental music, where a
single line may be elaborated upon... To me, in this respect, the poem holds
its highest value of suggestion..."
The Three Songs, Opus 58 (1899) and the Three
Songs, Opus 60 (1902) contain some of MacDowell's best lines and
beautifully demonstrate the conciseness of his musical thought.
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MACDOWELL: Songs (Complete)