Edward Alexander Macdowell18 dec 1861 (New York) - 24 jan 1908 (New York)
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Edward Alexander MacDowell (December 18, 1860 - January 23, 1908) was an American composer and pianist of the Romantic period. He was best known for his second piano concerto and his piano suites "Woodland Sketches", "Sea Pieces", and "New England Idylls". "Woodland Sketches" includes his most popular short piece, "To a Wild Rose". In 1904 he was one of the first seven Americans honored by membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
Edward MacDowell was born in New York City. He received his first piano lessons from Juan Buitrago, a Colombian violinist who was living with the MacDowell family at the time. He later received lessons from friends of Buitrago, including Teresa Carreño, a Venezuelan pianist.
His family later moved to Paris, France, where in 1877 he was admitted to the Paris Conservatoire. He then continued his education at Dr. Hoch's Conservatory in Frankfurt, Germany where he studied piano with Carl Heymann and composition with Joachim Raff. When Franz Liszt visited the conservatory in 1879 and attended a recital of student compositions, MacDowell performed some of his own compositions, along with a transcription of a Liszt symphonic poem. MacDowell also taught piano at "Schmitt’s Akademie für Tonkunst" in Darmstadt (now known as the "Akademie für Tonkunst") for a year.
Marriage and family
In 1884, MacDowell married Marian Griswold Nevins, an American who was one of his piano students in Frankfurt for three years. About the time that MacDowell composed a piano piece titled "Cradle Song", Marian suffered an illness that resulted in her being unable to bear children.
The MacDowells settled first in Frankfurt, then in Wiesbaden. From 1885 to 1888 MacDowell devoted himself almost exclusively to composition. Driven in part by financial difficulties, he decided to return to America in the autumn of 1888.
The MacDowells lived in Boston until 1896, when MacDowell became professor of music at Columbia University. He held this position until 1904. In addition to composing and teaching, from 1896-1898 he directed the Mendelssohn Glee Club. MacDowell composed some music for the group to perform.
In 1896 Marian MacDowell purchased Hillcrest Farm, to serve as their summer residence in Peterborough, New Hampshire. MacDowell found his creativity flourished in the beautiful setting.
MacDowell's compositions included two piano concertos, two orchestral suites, four symphonic poems, four piano sonatas, piano suites, and songs. He also published dozens of piano transcriptions of mostly 18th century pre-piano keyboard pieces.
From 1896 to 1898, MacDowell also published 13 piano pieces and 4 partsongs under the pseudonym of Edgar Thorn. These compositions were not mentioned in Lawrence Gilman's 1909 biography of MacDowell. They were listed without opus numbers in MacDowell's Critical and Historical Essays (1912) and in John F. Porte's Edward MacDowell (1922). They were listed with opus numbers in Oscar Sonneck's Catalogue of First Editions of Edward MacDowell (1917).
In 1904, MacDowell was one of the first seven people chosen for membership in The American Academy of Arts and Letters. After this experience, the MacDowells envisioned establishing a colony for artists near their summer home in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
A 1904 accident in which MacDowell was run over by a Hansom cab may have contributed to a growing disorder and dementia. This ended his composing and teaching career, causing him to lose his mental capacities. Lawrence Gilman, a contemporary, described him: "His mind became as that of a little child. He sat quietly, day after day, in a chair by a window, smiling patiently from time to time at those about him, turning the pages of a book of fairy tales that seemed to give him a definite pleasure, and greeting with a fugitive gleam of recognition certain of his more intimate friends."
The Mendelssohn Glee Club raised money to help the MacDowells. Friends launched a public appeal to raise funds for his care; among the signers were Horatio Parker, Victor Herbert, Arthur Foote, George Whitefield Chadwick, Frederick Converse, Andrew Carnegie, J. P. Morgan and former President Grover Cleveland
Marian MacDowell cared for her husband to the end of his life. In 1907 she founded the MacDowell Colony by deeding the Hillcrest Farm to the newly established Edward MacDowell Association. She led the Association and Colony for more than 25 years, building its endowment through resuming her performing career, and creating a wide circle of support, especially among women's clubs and musical sororities.
Edward MacDowell died in 1908 and was buried at the MacDowell Colony, which Marian established at Hillcrest Farm in 1907.
Legacy and honors
The following lists were compiled from information in collections of sheet music, Lawrence Gilman's Edward MacDowell: A Study (1908), Oscar Sonneck's Catalogue of First Editions of Edward MacDowell (1917), and John F. Porte's Edward MacDowell (1922).
Published compositions for piano, a complete listing
Op. 1 Amourette (1896) by Edgar Thorn
MacDowell published two books of Technical Exercises for piano; piano duet transcriptions of Hamlet and Ophelia for orchestra (op. 22); First Suite for orchestra (op.42); and a piano solo version of op. 42, no. 4, "The Shepherdess' Song", renamed "The Song of the Shepherdess".
Published compositions for orchestra, a complete listing
Op. 15 First Concerto (1885)
Op. 3 Love and Time and The Rose and the Gardener, for male chorus (1897) by Edgar Thorn
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