Edward MacDowell
by Lawrence Gilman
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A Study



Author of Phases of Modern Music; The Music of Tomorrow; Stories of Symphonic Music; A Guide to Strauss' "Salome"; Debussy's "Pelleas el Melisande": A Guide to the Opera; Aspects of Modern Opera; etc.

London: John Lane, The Bodley Head New York: John Lane Company MCMIX




This study is based upon the monograph on MacDowell which I contributed in 1905 to the "Living Masters of Music" series. That book could not, of course, remain in the series after the death of MacDowell three years later; it was therefore taken from its place and used as a foundation for the present volume, which supersedes it in every respect. The biographical portion is almost wholly new, and has been greatly enlarged, while the chapters dealing with MacDowell's music have been revised and extended.

In completing this survey of one who in his art is still of to-day, I have been poignantly conscious throughout of the fact that posterity has an inconvenient habit of reversing the judgments delivered upon creative artists by their contemporaries; yet to trim deftly one's convictions in the hope that they may elastically conform to any one of a number of possible verdicts to be expected from a capricious futurity, is probably as dangerous a proceeding as to avow, without equivocation or compromise, one's precise beliefs. It will therefore be understood that the critical estimates which are offered in the following pages have been set down with deliberation.

I desire to acknowledge gratefully the assistance which I have received from various sources: Primarily, from Mrs. Edward MacDowell, who has rendered help of an indispensable kind; from Mr. Henry T. Finck, who furnished me with his views and recollections of MacDowell as a pianist; and from reminiscences and impressions contributed by Mr. W.H. Humiston, Miss J.S. Watson, and Mr. T.P. Currier—pupils and friends of MacDowell—to The Musician, and by Mr. William Armstrong to The Etude, parts of which I have been privileged to quote. MacDowell wrote surprisingly few letters, and comparatively little of his correspondence is of intrinsic or general interest. I am indebted to Mr. N.J. Corey for permission to quote from several in his possession; while for the use of letters written to MacDowell and his wife by Liszt and Grieg my thanks are due to Mrs. MacDowell.



















II MACDOWELL AT FOURTEEN From a sketch drawn by himself





VII MACDOWELL AND TEMPLETON STRONG From a photograph taken at Wiesbaden in 1888










... we grow immortal, And that ... harp awakens of itself To cry aloud to the grey birds; and dreams, That have had dreams for fathers, live in us.

The Shadowy Waters.




Edward MacDowell, the first Celtic voice that has spoken commandingly out of musical art, achieved that priority through natural if not inevitable processes. Both his grandfather and grandmother on his father's side were born in Ireland, of Irish-Scotch parents. To his paternal great-grandfather, Alexander MacDowell, the composer traced the Scottish element in his blood; his paternal great-grandmother, whose maiden name was Ann McMurran, was born near Belfast, Ireland. Their son, Alexander, born in Belfast, came to America early in the last century and settled in New York, where he married a countrywoman, Sarah Thompson, whom he met after his arrival in the New World. A son, Thomas (Edward's father), was born to them in New York—where, until his retirement some time ago, he was engaged in business for many years. He married in 1856 Frances M. Knapp, a young American woman of English antecedents. Five years later, on December 18, 1861, their third son, Edward Alexander (he discarded the middle name toward the end of his life), was born at 220 Clinton Street, New York—a neighbourhood which has since suffered the deterioration common to many of what were once among the town's most irreproachable residential districts.

From his father, a man of genuine aesthetic instincts, Edward derived his artistic tendencies and his Celtic sensitiveness of temperament, together with the pictorial instinct which was later to compete with his musical ability for decisive recognition; for the elder MacDowell displayed in his youth a facility as painter and draughtsman which his parents, who were Quakers of a devout and sufficiently uncompromising order, discouraged in no uncertain terms. The exercise of his own gift being thus restrained, Thomas MacDowell passed it on to his younger son—a somewhat superfluous endowment, in view of the fact that the latter was to demonstrate so ample a gift for an equally effective medium of expression.

Edward had his first piano lessons, when he was about eight years old, from a friend of the family, Mr. Juan Buitrago, a native of Bogota, Colombia, and an accomplished musician. Mr. Buitrago was greatly interested in the boy, and had asked to be permitted to teach him his notes. Their piano practice at this time was subject to frequent interruptions; for when strict supervision was not exercised over his work, Edward was prone to indulge at the keyboard a fondness for composition which had developed concurrently with, and somewhat at the expense of, his proficiency in piano technique. He was not a prodigy, nor was he in the least precocious, though his gifts were as evident as they were various. He was not fond of drudgery at the keyboard, and he lacked the miraculous aptness at acquirement which belongs to the true prodigy. He was unusual chiefly by reason of the versatility of his gifts. His juvenile exercises in composition were varied by an apt use of the pencil and the sketching board. He liked to cover his music books and his exercises with drawings that showed both the observing eye and the naturally skilful hand of the born artist. Nor did music and drawing form a sufficient outlet for his impulse toward expression. He scribbled a good deal in prose and verse, and was fond of devising fairy tales, which were written not without a hint of the imaginative faculty which seems always to have been his possession.

He continued his lessons with Mr. Buitrago for several years, when he was taken to a professional piano teacher, Paul Desvernine, with whom he studied until he was fifteen. He received, too, at this time, occasional supplementary lessons from the brilliant Venezuelan, Teresa Carreno. When he was in his fifteenth year it was determined that he should go abroad for a course in piano and theory at the Paris Conservatory, and in April, 1876, accompanied by his mother, he left America for France. He passed the competitive examination for admission to the Conservatory, and began the Autumn term as a pupil of Marmontel in piano and of Savard in theory and composition—having for a fellow pupil, by the way, that most remarkable of contemporary music-makers, Claude Debussy, whom MacDowell described as having been, even then, a youth of erratic and non-conformist tendencies.

MacDowell's experiences at the Conservatory were not unmixed with perplexities and embarrassment. His knowledge of French was far from secure, and he had considerable difficulty in following Savard's lectures. It was decided, therefore, that he should have a course of tuition in the language. A teacher was engaged, and Edward began a resolute attack upon the linguistic chevaux de frise which had proved so troublesome an impediment—a move which brought him, unexpectedly enough, to an important crisis in his affairs.

On one occasion it happened that, during these lessons in French, he was varying the monotony of a study hour by drawing, under cover of his lesson-book, a portrait of his teacher, whose most striking physical characteristic was a nose of extravagant bulk. He was detected just as he was completing the sketch, and was asked, much to his confusion, to exhibit the result. It appears to have been a remarkable piece of work as well as an excellent likeness, for the subject of it was eager to know whether or not MacDowell had studied drawing, and, if not, how he acquired his proficiency. Moreover, he insisted on keeping the sketch. Not long after, he called upon Mrs. MacDowell and told her, to her astonishment, that he had shown the sketch to a certain very eminent painter—an instructor at the Ecole de Beaux Arts—and that the painter had been so much impressed by the talent which it evidenced that he begged to propose to Mrs. MacDowell that she submit her son to him for a three-years' course of free instruction under his personal supervision, offering also to be responsible for his support during that time. The issue was a momentous one, and Mrs. MacDowell, in much perplexity of mind as to the wisest settlement of her son's future, laid the matter before Marmontel, who, fearful of losing one of his aptest pupils, urgently advised her against diverting her son from a musical career. The decision was finally left to MacDowell, and it was agreed that he should continue his studies at the Conservatory. Although it seems not unlikely that, with his natural facility as a painter and draughtsman and his uncommon faculties of vision and imagination, he would have achieved distinction as a painter, it may be questioned whether in that case music would not have lost appreciably more than art would have gained.

Conditions at the Conservatory were not to the taste of MacDowell, for he found his notions of right artistic procedure frequently opposed to those that prevailed among his teachers and fellow students. His growing disaffection was brought to a head during the summer of 1878. It was the year of the Exposition, and MacDowell and his mother attended a festival concert at which Nicholas Rubinstein played in memorable style Tchaikovsky's B-flat minor piano concerto. His performance was a revelation to the young American. "I never can learn to play like that if I stay here," he said resolutely to his mother, as they left the concert hall. Mrs. MacDowell, whose fixed principle it was to permit her son to decide his affairs according to his lights, thereupon considered with him the merits of various European Conservatories of reputation. They thought of Moscow, because of Nicholas Rubinstein's connection with the Conservatory there. Leipsic suggested itself; Frankfort was strongly recommended, and Stuttgart seemed to offer conspicuous advantages. The latter place was finally determined upon, and Mrs. MacDowell and her son went there from Paris at Thanksgiving time, having agreed that the famous Stuttgart Conservatory would yield the desired sort of instruction.

The choice was scarcely a happy one. It did not take MacDowell long to realise that, if he expected to conform to the Stuttgart requirements, he would be compelled to unlearn all that he had already acquired—would have virtually, so far as his technique was concerned, to begin de novo. Rubinstein himself, MacDowell was told by one of the students, would have had to reform his pianistic manners if he had placed himself under the guidance of the Stuttgart pedagogues. Nor does the system of instruction then in effect at the Conservatory appear to have been thorough even within its own sphere. MacDowell used to tell of a student who could play an ascending scale superlatively well, but who was helpless before the problem of playing the same scale in its descending form.

His mother, disheartened over the failure of Stuttgart to justify her expectations, was at a loss how best to solve the problem of her son's immediate future. Having heard much of the ability of Carl Heymann, the pianist, as an instructor, Mrs. MacDowell thought of the Frankfort Conservatory, of which Joachim Raff was the head, and where Heymann would be available as a teacher.

She learned from a friend, to whom she had written for advice, that the pianist had promised soon to visit her at her home in Wiesbaden, and it was suggested that the MacDowells pay her a visit at the same time, and thus benefit by the opportunity of becoming acquainted with Heymann. Mrs. MacDowell and her son were not slow to avail themselves of this proposal, and the end of the year 1878 found them in Wiesbaden. Here they met Heymann, who had just concluded a triumphantly successful tournee of the European capitals. They heard him play, and were impressed by his mastery and poetic feeling. Heymann was not, however, to begin teaching at the Frankfort Conservatory until the following autumn, so MacDowell remained in Wiesbaden, studying composition and theory with the distinguished critic and teacher, Louis Ehlert, while his mother returned to America.

"Ehlert," MacDowell has written, "was very kind to me, and when I asked him for 'lessons' he refused flatly, but said he would be glad for us to 'study together,' as he put it. This rather staggered me, as my idea in leaving Paris was to get a severe and regenerating overhauling. I worked hard all winter, however, and heard lots of new music at the Cur Haus, which was like manna in the desert after my long French famine. Ehlert, who thought that Heymann was not the man for me, spoke and wrote to Von Bulow about me; but the latter, without even having seen me, wrote Ehlert a most insulting letter, asking how Ehlert dared 'to propose such a silly thing' to him; that he was not a music teacher, and could not waste his time on an American boy, anyway. So, after all, I went to Frankfort and entered the conservatory." MacDowell's first interview with Raff, in the autumn of 1879, was, as he relates, "not promising." "Heymann took me to him and told him, among other things, that, having studied for several years the 'French School' of composition, I wished to study in Germany. Raff immediately flared up and declared that there was no such thing nowadays as 'schools'—that music was eclectic nowadays; that if some French writers wrote flimsy music it arose simply from flimsy attainments, and such stuff could never form a 'school.' German and other writers were to be criticised from the same standpoint—their music was bad, middling, or good; but there was no such thing as cramping it into 'schools' nowadays, when all national musical traits were common property."

MacDowell remained in the Conservatory for two years, studying composition with Raff and piano with Heymann. His stay there was eminently satisfactory and profitable to himself. He found both Raff and Heymann artistic mentors of an inspiring kind; in Raff, particularly, he encountered a most sympathetic and encouraging preceptor, and an influence at once potent and engrossing—a force which was to direct the currents of his own temperament into definite artistic channels.

For Heymann as a pianist MacDowell had a fervent admiration. He spoke of him as "a marvel," whose technique "seemed mysteriously capable of anything." "When I went to him," MacDowell has said, "I had already transposed most of the fugues and preludes of Bach (Paris ideas of 'thoroughness'!) and had gone through much rough technical work. Heymann let me do what I wanted; but in hearing him practise and play I learned more in a week than I ever had before." When Heymann, who had already begun to show symptoms of the mental disorder which ultimately overcame him, left the Conservatory in 1881, he recommended MacDowell as his successor—a proposal which was cordially seconded by Raff. But there were antagonistic influences at work within the Conservatory. MacDowell's candidacy was opposed by certain of the professors, on account, it was said, of his "youth"; but also, doubtless, because of the advocacy of Heymann, who was not popular with his colleagues; for he dared, MacDowell has said, "to play the classics as if they had been written by men with blood in their veins." So MacDowell failed to get the appointment. He continued, unofficially, as a pupil of Heymann, and went to him constantly for criticism and advice.

MacDowell began at this time to take private pupils, and one of these pupils, an American, Miss Marian Nevins, was later to become his wife. He was then living in lodgings kept by a venerable German spinster who was the daughter of one of Napoleon's officers. She was very fond of her young lodger, and through her he became acquainted with the work of Erckmann-Chartrian, whose tales deeply engrossed him at this time. Later he moved to the Cafe Milani, on the Zeil, at that time an institution of considerable celebrity. As a teacher he made a rather prominent place for himself; the recommendation of Raff—who had said to one of MacDowell's pupils that he expected "great things" of him—had helped at the start, and his personality counted for not a little. His appearance at this time (he was then nineteen years old) is described as having been strikingly unlike that of the typical American as known in Germany. "His keen and very blue eyes, his pink and white skin, reddish mustache and imperial and jet black hair, brushed straight up in the prevalent German fashion, caused him to be known as 'the handsome American.'" Teaching at that time must have been a sore trial to him. He was, as he continued to be throughout his life, painfully shy; yet he seems, strangely enough, to have had, even then, the knack for imparting instruction, for quickening the interest and stimulating the enthusiasm of those who came under his guidance, which in later years made him so remarkable a teacher.

In 1881 MacDowell applied for the vacant position of head piano teacher at the Conservatory in the neighbouring town of Darmstadt, and was engaged. He found it an arduous and not too profitable post. He has described it as "a dreary town, where the pupils studied music with true German placidity." They procured all their music from a circulating library, where the choice of novelties was limited to late editions of the classics and a good deal of sheer trash, poor dance music and the like. His work, which was unmitigated drudgery, consumed forty hours a week. For a time he took up his quarters in Darmstadt; but he missed the attractions of Frankfort; so throughout his term he travelled on the railroad twice daily between the two towns. In addition to his regular work at the Conservatory, he undertook private lessons, going by train once a week to the Erbach-Fuerstenau castle at Erbach-Fuerstenau, a wearisome three-hour journey. The castle was a mediaeval Schloss, with a drawbridge and moat. There his pupils were little counts and countesses, discouragingly dull and sleepy children who spoke only German and Latin, and who had the smallest interest in music. MacDowell gave them lessons in harmony as well as piano-playing, and one day, in the middle of an elaborately simplified exposition of some rudimentary point, he heard a gentle noise, looked around from the piano, and discovered his noble young pupils with their heads on their arms, fast asleep. MacDowell could never remember their different titles, and ended by addressing them simply as "mademoiselle" and "monsieur," to the annoyance of the stern and ceremonious old chatelaine, the Baroness of Rodenberg.

The twelve hours a week which he spent in railway travelling were not, though, wholly unprofitable, for he was able to compose on the train the greater part of his second "Modern Suite" for piano (op. 14). This was the second of his compositions which he considered worthy of preservation, its predecessor being the "First Modern Suite," written the year before in Frankfort. Much other music had already found its way upon paper, had been tried in the unsparing fire of his criticism, which was even then vigorous and searching, and had been marked for destruction—a symphony, among other efforts. His reading at this time was of engrossing interest to him. He was absorbed in the German poets; Goethe and Heine, whom he was now able to read with ease in the original German, he knew by heart—a devotion which was to find expression a few years later in his "Idyls" and "Poems" (op. 28 and 31). He had begun also to read the English poets. He devoured Byron and Shelley; and in Tennyson's "Idyls of the King" he found the spark which kindled his especial love for mediaeval lore and poetry. Yet while he was enamored of the imaginative records of the Middle Ages, he had little interest, oddly enough, in their tangible remains. He liked, for example, to summon a vision of the valley of the Rhone, with its slow-moving human streams flowing between Italy and the North, and with Sion still looking down from its heights, where the bishops had been lords rather than priests. But this was for him a purely imaginative enchantment. He cared little about exploring the actual and visible memorials of the past: to confront them as crumbling ruins gave him no pleasure, and, as he used to say, he "hated the smells." It was this instinct which, in his visits to the cathedrals, prompted him to stand as far back as possible while the Mass was being said. To see in the dim distance the white, pontifical figures moving gravely through the ritual, to hear the low tones, enthralled and stirred him; but he shrank from entering the sacristy, with its loud-voiced priests describing perfunctorily the relics: that was a disillusionment not to be borne with.

Having found that his labours at Darmstadt were telling upon his health, MacDowell resigned his position there and returned to Frankfort. Here he divided his time between his private teaching and his composition. He was ambitious also to secure some profitable concert engagements as a pianist. He had made occasional appearances at orchestral concerts in Wiesbaden, Frankfort, Darmstadt, but these had yielded him no return save an increase of reputation.

At Raff's instigation he visited Liszt at Weimar in the spring of 1882, armed with his first piano concerto (op. 15). This work he had just composed under amusing circumstances. One day while he was sitting aimlessly before his piano there came a knock at his door, and in walked, to his startled confusion, his master, Raff, of whom MacDowell stood in unmitigated awe. "The honor," he relates, "simply overwhelmed me. He looked rather quizzically around at my untidy room, and said something about the English translation of his Welt-Ende oratorio (I found out after, alas, that he had wanted me to copy it in his score for him; but with his inexplicable shyness he only hinted at it, and I on my side was too utterly and idiotically overpowered to catch his meaning); then he abruptly asked me what I had been writing. I, scarcely realising what I was saying, stammered out that I had a concerto. He walked out on the landing and turned back, telling me to bring it to him the next Sunday. In desperation, not having the remotest idea how I was to accomplish such a task, I worked like a beaver, evolving the music from some ideas upon which I had planned at some time to base a concerto. Sunday came, and I had only the first movement composed. I wrote him a note making some wretched excuse, and he put it off until the Sunday after. Something happened then, and he put it off two days more; by that time I had the concerto ready." Except for three lines of passage work in the first part, the concerto remains to-day precisely as MacDowell finished it then.

In the event, the visit to Liszt, which he had dreaded, was a gratifying surprise. That beneficent but formidable personage received him with kindly courtesy, and had Eugen D'Albert, who was present, play the orchestral part of the concerto which MacDowell had brought with him in manuscript, arranged for two pianos. Liszt listened attentively as the two young musicians played it through,—not too effectively,—and when they had finished he commended it in warm terms. "You must bestir yourself," he warned D'Albert, "if you do not wish to be outdone by our young American"; and he praised the boldness and originality of certain passages in the music, especially their harmonic treatment.

What was at that time even more cheering to MacDowell, who had not yet come to regard himself as paramountly a composer, was Liszt's praise of his piano playing. He returned to Frankfort greatly encouraged, and he was still further elated to receive soon after a letter from Liszt in which, referring to the first "Modern Suite," which MacDowell had sent to him, the Abbe wrote:

"... Since the foundation of the General Society of German Musicians, the definitive making up of the programs is entrusted to me, and I shall be very glad to recommend the execution of your work.

"Will you be good enough to give to your master, my old friend, J. Raff, the assurance of my highest esteem and admiration.


"Budapest. April 13, 1882."

The nineteenth annual convention of the Allgemeiner Deutscher Musik-Verein was held that year at Zuerich, from the 9th to the 12th of July; and at the fifth concert of the series, on July 11, MacDowell played his first piano suite. Both the music and his performance of it were praised. A contemporaneous account speaks of the composer as "an earnest and modest musician, free from all mannerisms," who "carried his modesty so far that he played with his notes before him, though he cannot have felt any particular necessity for having them there." He "was recalled enthusiastically, and with many bravos, and may be proud of the success he has achieved." Until then, as MacDowell confessed, with engaging candour, to Mr. Henry T. Finck, he "had never waked up to the idea" that his music could be worth actual study or memorising. "I would not have changed a note in one of them for untold gold, and inside I had the greatest love for them; but the idea that any one else might take them seriously had never occurred to me." A year later, upon Liszt's recommendation, the suite and its successor, the "Second Modern Suite," op. 14, were published at Leipzig by the famous house of Breitkopf and Haertel. "Your two pianoforte suites," wrote Liszt from Budapest, in February of that year, "are admirable. I accept the dedication of your concerto with sincere pleasure and thanks." The suites were the first of MacDowell's works to appear in print.[1]

[1] The "Two Old Songs," which bear an earlier opus number,—9,—were composed at a much later period—a fact which is betrayed by their style.

The death of Raff on June 25, 1882, brought to MacDowell his first profound sorrow. There was a deep attachment between pupil and master, and MacDowell felt in Raff's death the loss of a sincere friend, and, as he later came to appreciate, a powerful ally. The influential part which Raff bore in turning MacDowell's aims definitely and permanently toward creative rather than pianistic activity could scarcely be overestimated. When he first went to Paris, and during the later years in Germany, there had been little serious thought on his part, or on the part of his family, concerning his composition; his evident talent for piano-playing had persistently overshadowed his creative gifts, and had made it seem that his inevitable career was that of a virtuoso. As he wrote in after years: "I had acquired from early boyhood the idea that it was expected of me to become a pianist, and every moment spent in 'scribbling' seemed to be stolen from the more legitimate work of piano practice." It was Raff—Raff, who said to him once: "Your music will be played when mine is forgotten"—who opened his eyes.

The two following years,—from the summer of 1882 till the summer of 1884—were increasingly given over to composition, though MacDowell continued his private teaching and made a few appearances in concert. He continued to try his hand at orchestral writing, and in this pursuit he was greatly favoured by the willingness of the conductors of the Cur-Orchesters at Baden-Baden, Wiesbaden, and elsewhere, to "try over" in the rehearsal hour his experiments. His requests for such a trial reading of his scores were seldom refused, and the practical training in instrumentation which was afforded by the experience he always regarded as invaluable. Much that he tested in this manner was condemned as a result of the illuminating, if chastening, revelations thus brought about; and almost all of his orchestral writing which he afterward thought fit to publish received the benefit of such practical tests.

The music which dates from this period comprises the three songs of opus 11 ("Mein Liebchen,"[2] "Du liebst mich nicht," "Oben, wo die Sterne gluehen"); the two songs of op. 12 ("Nachtlied" and "Das Rosenband"); the Prelude and Fugue (op. 13); the second piano suite (op. 14)—begun in the days of his Darmstadt professorship; the "Serenade" (op. 16); the two "Fantasiestuecke" of op. 17: "Erzaehlung" and the much-played "Hexentanz"; the "Barcarolle" and "Humoreske" of op. 18; and the "Wald-Idyllen" (op. 19): "Waldesstille," "Spiel der Nymphen," "Traeumerei," "Dryadentanz."

[2] I give the German titles under which these compositions were originally published.

In June, 1884, MacDowell returned to America, and on July 21, at Waterford, Connecticut, he was married to his former pupil, Miss Marian Nevins—a union, which, for perfection of sympathy and closeness of comradeship, was, during the quarter of a century for which it was to endure, nothing less than ideal. A few days later MacDowell and his bride sailed from New York for Europe, innocent of any very definite plans for the immediate future. They visited Exeter and Bath, and then went to London, where they found lodgings at No. 5, Woburn Place. There MacDowell's interest in the outer world was divided between the British Museum, where he found a particular fascination in the Egyptian and Syrian antiquities, and the Shakespearian performances of Henry Irving and Ellen Terry. He was captivated by their performance of "Much Ado About Nothing," and made a sketch for a symphonic poem which was to be called "Beatrice and Benedick"—a plan which he finally abandoned. Most of the material which was to form the symphonic poem went ultimately to the making of the scherzo of the second piano concerto, composed during the following year.

Returning to Frankfort, MacDowell and his wife lived for a short time in a pension in the Praunheimer Strasse, keeping very much to themselves in two small rooms. Upon their return from a brief excursion to Paris, they found less restricted quarters in the Hotel du Nord. In September of this year MacDowell learned of an advantageous position that had been vacated at the Wuerzburg Conservatory, and, assisted by letters from Frau Raff, Marmontel (his former instructor at the Paris Conservatory), and the violinist Sauret, he sought the place. But again, as at Frankfort three years before, his youth was in his disfavour, and he was courteously rejected.

The following winter was given over largely to composition. The two-part symphonic poem, "Hamlet and Ophelia," his first production of important significance, was composed at this time. The "Drei Poesien" (op. 20) and "Mondbilder" (op. 21), both written for four-hand performance, also date from the winter of 1884-85, and the second piano concerto was begun. The "Moon Pictures" of op. 21 ("The Hindoo Maiden," "Stork's Story," "In Tyrol," "The Swan," "Visit of the Bear"), after Hans Christian Andersen, were at first intended to form a miniature orchestral suite; but an opportunity arose to have them printed as piano duets, and the orchestral sketches were destroyed—a regrettable outcome, as it seems.

His pupils, he found, were scattered, and he gave himself up without restraint to the pleasures of creative writing. These were days of quiet and deep happiness. He read much, often aloud in the evening—fairy-tales, of which he was devotedly fond, legendary lore of different countries, mediaeval romances, Keats, Shelley, Tennyson, Benvenuto Cellini's Memoirs, Victor Hugo, Heine; and also Mark Twain. Later, in the spring, the days were devoted partly to composition and partly to long walks with his wife in the beautiful Frankfort woods, where was suggested to MacDowell the particular mood that found embodiment, many years later, in one of the last things that he wrote: "From a German Forest," in the collection of "Fireside Tales."

The following summer (1885), the death of a friend of his earlier Frankfort days, Lindsay Deas, a Scotchman, left vacant in Edinburgh the post of examiner for the Royal Academy of Music, and Deas's family presented MacDowell's name as a candidate. A trip to London was undertaken for the purpose of securing the place, if possible—since composition alone could not be depended upon for a livelihood; but again his youth, as well as his nationality and his "modern tendencies," militated against him. He was obliged to admit that he had been a protege of "that dreadful man Liszt," as the potentate of Weimar was characterised by Lady Macfarren, an all-powerful factor in the control of the institution; and that proving finally his abandonment to a nefarious modernity, he was again rejected.

Upon their return to Germany the MacDowells moved from Frankfort to Wiesbaden, where they spent the winter of 1885-86, living in a small pension. The first concerto (op. 15) had recently been published by Breitkopf and Haertel. The same year (1885) was marked by the completion of the second concerto in D-minor, begun at Frankfort in the previous winter, and the publication by Breitkopf and Haertel of the full score of "Hamlet and Ophelia,"[3] with a dedication to Henry Irving and Ellen Terry, from whose performances in London MacDowell had caught the suggestion for the music. In the summer of 1886 MacDowell and his wife again yielded to their passion for travelling and went to London to buy furniture, for they had wearied of living in pensions and hotels and had determined to set up housekeeping. When they returned they hired a little flat in the Jahnstrasse and installed themselves therewith just enough furniture to give them countenance. Here Mrs. MacDowell suffered an illness which threatened for a time to bring a tragic termination to their happiness, and through which the hope of a child was lost to them.

[3] The published score of this opus bears the title (in German): "Hamlet; Ophelia: Two Poems for Grand Orchestra." But MacDowell afterward changed his mind concerning this designation, and preferred to entitle the work: "First Symphonic Poem (a. 'Hamlet'; b. 'Ophelia')." This alteration is written in MacDowell's handwriting in his copy of the printed score. When "Lancelot and Elaine" was published three years later it bore the sub-title: "Second Symphonic Poem."

One afternoon in the spring of 1887 MacDowell and his friend Templeton Strong, a brilliant American composer who had recently moved from his home in Leipzig to Wiesbaden, were tramping through the country when they came upon a dilapidated cottage on the edge of the woods, in the Grubweg. It had been built by a rich German, not as a habitation, but as a kind of elaborate summer house. The situation was enticing. The little building stood on the side of the Neroberg, overlooking the town on one side, with the Rhine and the Main beyond, and on the other side the woods. The two Americans were captivated by it, and nothing would do but that MacDowell should purchase it for a home. There was some question of its practicability by his cooler-headed wife; but eventually the cottage was bought, with half an acre of ground, and the MacDowells ensconced themselves. There was a small garden, in which MacDowell delighted to dig; the woods were within a stone's throw; and he and Strong, who were inseparable friends, walked together and disputed amicably concerning principles and methods of music-making, and the need for patriotism, in which Strong was conceived to be deficient.

This was a time of rich productiveness for MacDowell; and the life that he and his wife were able to live was of an ideal serenity and detachment. He was now devoting his entire energy to composition. He put forth during these years at Wiesbaden the four pieces of op. 24 ("Humoresque," "March," "Cradle Song," "Czardas"); the symphonic poem "Lancelot and Elaine" (op. 25); the six songs, "From An Old Garden," to words by Margaret Deland (op. 26); the three songs for male chorus of op. 27 ("In the Starry Sky Above Us," "Springtime," "The Fisherboy"); the "Idyls" and "Poems" for piano (op. 28 and op. 31), after Goethe and Heine; the symphonic poem "Lamia" (op. 29); the two "Fragments" for orchestra after the "Song of Roland": "The Saracens" and "The Lovely Alda" (op. 30); the "Four Little Poems" for piano—"The Eagle," "The Brook," "Moonshine," "Winter" (op. 32); the three songs of op. 33 ("Prayer," "Cradle Hymn," "Idyl") and the two of op. 34 ("Menie," "My Jean"); and the "Romance" for 'cello and orchestra. He had, moreover, the satisfaction of knowing that his work was being received, both in Europe and in his own country, with interest and respect. His reputation had begun unmistakably to spread. "Hamlet and Ophelia" had been performed at Darmstadt, Wiesbaden, Baden-Baden, Sondershausen, Frankfort. On March 8, 1884, his former teacher, Teresa Carreno, had played his second piano suite at a recital in New York; in March of the following year two movements from the first suite were played at an "American Concert" given at Princes' Hall, London; on March 30, 1885, at one of Mr. Frank Van der Stucken's "Novelty Concerts" in New York, Miss Adele Margulies played the second and third movements from the first piano concerto. In the same year Mme. Carreno played on tour in America three movements from the second suite, and in the following September she played at the Worcester Festival of that year the "Hexentanz" of op. 17. On November 4, 1886, the "Ophelia" section of op. 22 was performed at the first of Mr. Van der Stucken's "Symphonic Concerts" at Chickering Hall, New York. Mr. H.E. Krehbiel, reviewing the work in the Tribune, praised the orchestration as "brilliant" ("though the models studied are rather more obvious than we like"), the melodic invention as "beautiful" and as having a poetical mood and characteristic outline. He considered that the music deserved repetition during the course of the season, and pronounced it "a finer work in every respect than the majority of the novelties which have come to us this season with French and English labels." Mr. Henry T. Finck, writing in the Evening Post, characterised the work as "an exquisitely conceived tone-poem, charmingly orchestrated and full of striking harmonic progressions." A year after the performance of the "Ophelia" in New York Mr. Van der Stucken produced its companion piece, "Hamlet." In April, 1888, at the first of a course of "pianoforte-concerto concerts" given by Mr. B.J. Lang at Chickering Hall, Boston, MacDowell's first concerto was played by Mr. B.L. Whelpley. "The effect upon all present," wrote Mr. W.F. Apthorp in the Transcript, "was simply electric." The concerto "was a surprise, if ever there was one. We can hardly," he declared, "recall a composition so full of astonishing and unprecedented effects [it will be recalled that this concerto was composed in 1882, when MacDowell was nineteen years old]. The work was evidently written at white heat; its brilliancy and vigour are astounding. The impression it made upon us, in other respects, is as yet rather undigested... But its fire and forcibleness are unmistakable." These opinions are of interest, for they testify to the prompt and ungrudging recognition which was accorded to MacDowell's work, from the first, by responsible critics in his own country.

He might well have felt some pride in the sum of his achievements at this time. He had not completed his twenty-seventh year; yet he had published a concerto and two orchestral works of important dimensions—"Hamlet and Ophelia" and "Lancelot and Elaine"; most of the music that he had so far written had been publicly performed, and almost invariably praised with warmth; and he was becoming known in Europe and at home. His material affairs, however, were far from being in a satisfactory or promising condition; for there was little more than a precarious income to be counted upon from his compositions; and he had given up teaching. Musicians from America began coming to the little Wiesbaden retreat to visit the composer and his wife, and he was repeatedly urged to return to America and assume his share in the development of the musical art of his country. It was finally decided that, all things considered, conditions would be more favorable in the United States; and in September, 1888, the MacDowells sold their Wiesbaden cottage, not without many pangs, and sailed for their own shores.

They settled in Boston, as being less huge and tumultuous than New York, and took lodgings in Mount Vernon Street. In later years they lived successively at 13 West Cedar Street and at 38 Chestnut Street. Though all of his more important music was as yet unwritten, MacDowell found himself already established in the view of the musical public as a composer abundantly worthy of honour at the hands of his countrymen. He made his first public appearance in America, in the double capacity of pianist and composer, at a Kneisel Quartet concert in Chickering Hall, Boston, on November 19, 1888, playing the Prelude, Intermezzo, and Presto from his first piano suite, and, with Kneisel and his associates, the piano part in Goldmark's B-flat Quintet. He was cordially received, and Mr. Apthorp, writing in the Transcript of his piano playing, praised his technique as "ample and brilliant," and as being especially admirable "in the higher phases of playing"; "he plays," wrote this critic, "with admirable truth of sentiment and musical understanding." Of the early and immature suite he could not well write with much enthusiasm, though he found in it "life and brightness."

In the following spring MacDowell made a more auspicious appearance, and one which more justly disclosed his abilities as a composer, when, on March 5, he played his second concerto, for the first time in public, at an orchestral concert in Chickering Hall, New York, under the direction of Mr. Theodore Thomas. His success was then immediate and emphatic. Mr. Krehbiel, in the Tribune, praised the concerto as "a splendid composition, so full of poetry, so full of vigor, as to tempt the assertion that it must be placed at the head of all works of its kind produced by either a native or adopted citizen of America"; and he confessed to having "derived keener pleasure from the work of the young American than from the experienced and famous Russian"—Tchaikovsky, whose Fifth Symphony was performed then for the first time in New York. "Several enthusiastic and unquestionably sincere recalls," concluded the writer, "were the tokens of gratitude and delight with which his townspeople rewarded him." A month later MacDowell played the same concerto in Boston, at a Symphony concert, under Mr. Gericke; his performance of it evoked "rapt attention," and "the very heartiest of plaudits, in which both orchestra and audience joined."

In the summer of that year (1889) MacDowell and his wife went abroad. He had been invited to take part in an "American Concert" at the Paris Exposition, and on July 12, under Mr. Van der Stucken's direction, he played his second concerto.[4] After a short stay on the continent, he returned with his wife to America.

[4] The rest of the programme, it may be interesting to note, contained Arthur Foote's overture, "In the Mountains," Van der Stucken's suite, "The Tempest," Chadwick's "Melpomene" overture, Paine's "Oedipus Tyrannus" prelude, a romance and polonaise for violin and orchestra by Henry Holden Huss, and songs by Margaret Ruthven Lang, Dudley Buck, Chadwick, Foote, Van der Stucken. The concert ended with an "ouverture festivale sur l'Hymne Americaine, 'The Star Spangled Banner,'" by Dudley Buck.

MacDowell found in Boston a considerable field for his activity as pianist and teacher. He took many private pupils, and he made, during the eight years that he remained there, many public appearances in concert. In composition, these years were the most fruitful of his life. He wrote during this period the Concert Study for piano (op. 36); the set of pieces after Victor Hugo's "Les Orientales" (op. 37)—"Clair de lune," "Dans le Hamac," "Danse Andalouse"; the "Marionettes" (op. 38); the "Twelve Studies" of op. 39; the "Six Love Songs" (op. 40); the two songs for male chorus (op. 41)—"Cradle Song" and "Dance of the Gnomes"; the orchestral suite in A-minor (op. 42) and its supplement, "In October" (op. 42-A);[5] the "Two Northern Songs" and "Barcarolle" (op. 43 and op. 44) for mixed voices; the "Sonata Tragica" (op. 45); the 12 "Virtuoso Studies" of op. 46; the "Eight Songs" (op. 47); the second ("Indian") suite for orchestra; the "Air" and "Rigaudon" (op. 49) for piano; the "Sonata Eroica" (op. 50); and the "Woodland Sketches" (op. 51). This output did not contain his most mature and characteristic works—those were to come later, during the last six years of his creative activity; yet the product was in many ways a notable one, and some of it—the two sonatas, the "Indian" suite, the songs of op. 47, the "Woodland Sketches"—was, if not consistently of his very best, markedly fine and characteristic in quality. This decade (from 1887 to 1897) saw also the publication of all his work contained between his op. 22 ("Hamlet and Ophelia") and op. 51 (the "Woodland Sketches") with the exception of the symphonic poem "Lamia," which was not published until after his death.

[5] This episode formed part of the suite in its original form, but was not printed until several years after the publication of the rest of the music. The earlier portion, comprising four parts ("In a Haunted Forest," "Summer Idyll," "The Shepherdess' Song," "Forest Spirits"), was published in 1891, the supplement in 1893.

Meanwhile his prestige grew steadily. Each new work that he put forth met with a remarkable measure of success, both among the general public and at the hands of many not over-complacent critical appraisers. On January 10, 1890, his "Lancelot and Elaine" was played at a Boston Symphony concert under Mr. Nikisch. In September, 1891, his orchestral suite in A-minor (op. 42) was performed for the first time at the Worcester Festival, and a month later it was played in Boston at a Symphony concert under Mr. Nikisch. In November of the same year the Boston Philharmonic Orchestra, under Bernhard Listemann, performed for the first time, at the Tremont Theatre, his "Roland" pieces, "The Saracens" and "The Lovely Alda." On the following day—November 6, 1891—he gave his first piano recital, playing, in addition to pieces by Bach, Schubert, Schumann, Templeton Strong, P. Geisler, Alabieff, and Liszt, his own "Witches' Dance," "Shadow Dance" (op. 39), "The Eagle," the Etude in F-sharp (op. 36), the Prelude from the first suite, and the fourth of the "Idyls" after Goethe. He followed this with a second recital in January, 1892, at which he played, among other things, the "Winter," "Moonshine," and "The Brook," from the "Four Little Poems" (op. 32). Discussing the first of these recitals, Mr. Philip Hale (in the Boston Post) wrote these words, which have a larger application than their reference to MacDowell: "No doubt, as a composer, he has studied and mastered form and knows its value; but he prefers suggestions and hints and dream pictures and sleep-chasings to all attempts to be original in an approved and conventional fashion.... They [his compositions] are interesting, and more than that: they are extremely characteristic in harmonic colouring. Their size has nothing to do with their merits. A few lines by Gautier stuffed with prismatic words and yet as vague as mist-wreaths may in artistic worth surpass whole cantos of more famous poets; and Mr. MacDowell has Gautier's sense of colour and knowledge of the power of suggestion." His performance "was worthy of the warmest praise ... seeing gorgeous or delicate colours and hearing the voices of orchestral instruments, it is no wonder that Mr. MacDowell is a pianist of rare fascination." On January 28, 1893, the "Hamlet and Ophelia" was played, for the first time in Boston, by the Symphony Orchestra under Mr. Nikisch; but a more important event was the first performance[6] two months later of the "Sonata Tragica," which MacDowell played at a Kneisel Quartet concert in Chickering Hall. Concerning the sonata Mr. Apthorp wrote: "One feels genius in it throughout—and we are perfectly aware that genius is not a term to be used lightly. The composer," he added, "played it superbly, magnificently." MacDowell achieved one of the conspicuous triumphs of his career on December 14, 1894, when he played his second concerto with the Philharmonic Society of New York, under the direction of Anton Seidl. He won on this occasion, recorded Mr. Finck in the Evening Post, "a success, both as pianist and composer, such as no American musician has ever won before a metropolitan concert audience. A Philharmonic audience can be cold when it does not like a piece or a player; but Mr. MacDowell ... had an ovation such as is accorded only to a popular prima donna at the opera. Again and again he had to get up and bow after every movement of his concerto; again and again was he recalled at the close ... For once a prophet has had great honour in his own country ... He played with that splendid kind of virtuosity which makes one forget the technique." Concerning the concerto, Mr. W.J. Henderson wrote (in the Times) that it was difficult to speak of it "in terms of judicial calmness, for it is made of the stuff that calls for enthusiasm. There need be no hesitation," he continued, "in saying that Mr. MacDowell in this work fairly claims the position of an American master. We may have no distinctive school of music, but here is one young man who has placed himself on a level with the men owned by the world. This D-minor concerto is a strong, wholesome, beautiful work of art, vital with imagination, and made with masterly skill." And Mr. James Huneker observed that "it easily ranks with any modern work in this form. Dramatic in feeling, moulded largely, and its themes musically eloquent, it sounds a model of its kind—the kind which Johannes Brahms gave the world over thirty years ago in his D-minor concerto." In March of the following year MacDowell gave two piano recitals in the Madison Square Garden Concert Hall, New York, playing, beside a number of his smaller pieces, his "Tragica" sonata, which made, if anything, an even profounder impression than it had made in Boston two years before. Probably the most signal of the honours that came to him at this time was paid him when the Boston Symphony Orchestra placed both his "Indian" suite and his first concerto on the programme of its New York concert on January 23, 1896, at the Metropolitan Opera House.

[6] A single movement of the "Sonata Tragica," the third, was played by MacDowell in Boston on March 18, 1892, at the last of the three recitals which he gave in that season at Chickering Hall.

In the spring of 1896 it was determined to found a department of music at Columbia University, New York. This was made possible by a fund of $150,000 given to the trustees by Mrs. Elizabeth Mary Ludow, with the proviso that the income was to be applied in such ways as should "tend more effectually to elevate the standard of musical instruction in the United States, and to afford the most favourable opportunity for acquiring musical instruction of the highest order." In May of that year the professorship was offered to MacDowell, the committee who had the appointment in charge announcing the consensus of their opinion to be that he was "the greatest musical genius America has produced." MacDowell, though he valued greatly the honour of his selection, considered anxiously the advisability of accepting the post. He now had more pupils than he could take, and his pecuniary circumstances would not be improved by the change, save that a settled income would be assured to him. This was of course a tempting prospect; on the other hand, the task of organizing de novo a new department in a large university, and the curtailed freedom which the position would necessitate, made him hesitate. But the assurance of an income free from precariousness finally decided him in favour of acceptance; and in the following autumn he moved from Boston to New York, and began his duties at Columbia.

That he undertook his labours there, from the start, in no casual or perfunctory spirit, is made clear by the bare record of his activity. For the first two years of his incumbency he had no assistant, carrying all the work of his department on his own shoulders. He devoted from eight to ten hours a week to lectures and class-work; and this represented but a small proportion of the time and labour expended in establishing the new department. The aim of the instruction was to be twofold. "First, to teach music scientifically and technically, with a view to training musicians who shall be competent to teach and to compose. Second, to treat music historically and aesthetically as an element of liberal culture." This plan involved five courses of study, and a brief description of them will indicate the scope of the task undertaken by MacDowell.

There was to be, first, a "general musical course," consisting of lectures and private reading, with illustrations. This course, while "outlining the purely technical side of music," aimed at giving "a general idea of music from its historical and aesthetic side," and it treated of "the beginnings of music, the Greek modes and their evolution, systems of notation, the Troubadours and Minnesingers, counterpoint and fugue, beginnings of opera, the clavecinists, beginnings of programme music, harmony, beginnings of the modern orchestra, evolution of forms, the symphony and opera up to Beethoven." A second course (this was not begun until the following year) treated "of the development of forms, the song, romanticism, instrumental development, and the composers for pianoforte, revolutionary influences, the virtuoso, modern orchestration and symphonic forms, the music-drama, impressionism versus absolute music, color versus form, the relationship of music to the other arts, musical criticism." A third course treated of "general theory, dictation, harmony, comprising chords and their mutual significance, altered chords, suspensions, modulation, imitation, analysis, and the commencement of composition in the smaller forms." A fourth course comprised, in the first term, counterpoint, canon, choral figuration, and fugue; in the second term, "free counterpoint, canon and fugue, analysis, commencement of composition in the larger forms." The fifth course treated of "free composition, analysis, instrumentation, symphonic forms," and the study of "all the orchestral and other instruments, considered collectively and individually," together with demonstrations of their "technique, possibilities, and limitations."

At the end of the second year an assistant was appointed—a gentleman who had been a student in the department. To him were entrusted the classes in rudimentary harmony, dictation, and chord-analysis: and to this extent he relieved MacDowell until the latter had his sabbatical vacation in 1902-03; he then took over the classes in strict counterpoint; but all the more advanced courses were discontinued until MacDowell's return. Even with an assistant, however, MacDowell found his labours very far from being light. In his third year (1898-99) he still gave five courses of two hours a week each, with the exception of a single one-hour course. For these no less than eighty-six students were registered; and in the following year, fifty-two students were registered in one of the courses. In 1901-02 he gave six courses: a general course in musical culture, for which he had thirty-seven students; an advanced course in musical culture, for which he had fourteen students; a course in counterpoint, twelve students; in orchestration, twelve students; in practical composition, thirteen students; in free compositions, two students. This continued to be, in general, his work until he resigned in 1904. To these labours he added the appalling drudgery of correcting examination books and exercises—a task which he performed with unflagging patience and invariable thoroughness. Some of his friends remember seeing him at this particular labour, and they recall "the weary, tired, though interested face; the patient trying-over and annotating." In addition to his regular duties, he devoted every Sunday morning to receiving students in the more advanced courses who were invited to come to him for help in their composition and piano work. He was, as his friend Hamlin Garland has said, "temperate in all things but work—in that he was hopelessly prodigal."

These facts are worth stating in detail; for it has been said that MacDowell had no drudgery to perform at Columbia; that he had few students, and that the burden of the teaching work was borne by his assistant. The impression has gone abroad that he had little didactic capacity, that he was disinclined toward and disqualified for methodical work. It cannot, of course, be said that his inclinations tended irresistibly toward pedagogy, or that he loved routine. Yet that he had uncommon gifts as a teacher, that he was singularly methodical in his manner of work, are facts that are beyond question. His students have testified to the strikingly suggestive and illuminating manner in which his instruction was imparted. His lectures, which he wrote out in full, are remarkable for the amount of sheer "brain-stuff" that was expended upon them. They are erudite, accurate, and scholarly; they are original in thought, they are lucid and stimulating in their presentation and interpretation of fact, and they are often admirable in expression. They would reflect uncommon credit upon a writer who had given his life to the critical, historical, and philosophical study of music; as the work of a man who had been primarily absorbed in making music, rather than in discussing it, they are extraordinary.

As conveying an idea of MacDowell's methods in the class-room I cannot do better than quote from a vivid account of him in this aspect written by one of his pupils, Miss J.S. Watson:

"A crowd of noisy, expectant students sat in the lecture room nervously eyeing the door and the clock by turns. The final examination in course I of the Department of Music was in progress in the back room, the door of which opened at intervals as one pupil came out and another went in. The examination was oral and private, and when the door closed behind me Professor MacDowell, who was standing at the open window, turned with a smile and motioned me toward a chair. In a pedagogic sense it was not a regular examination. There was something beautifully human in the way the professor turned the traditional stiff and starched catechism into a delightfully informal chat, in which the faburden, the Netherland School, early notation, the great clavichord players, suites and sonatas, formed the main topics. The questions were put in such an easy, charming way that I forgot to be frightened; forgot everything but the man who walked rapidly about the room with his hands in his pockets and his head tipped slightly to one side; who talked animatedly and looked intently at the floor; but the explanations and suggestions were meant for me. When I tripped upon the beginning of notation for instruments, he looked up quickly and said, 'Better look that up again; that's important.'

"At the lectures Professor MacDowell's aim had been to emphasise those things that had served to mark the bright spots in the growth and advancement of music as an intelligible language. How well I recall my impression on the occasion of my first visit to the lectures, and afterwards! There was no evidence of an aesthetic side to the equipment of the lecture room. At the end it was vast and glaringly white, and except for an upright piano and a few chairs placed near the lecturer's table the room was empty. Ten or twelve undergraduates, youths of eighteen or twenty, and twenty or more special students and auditors, chiefly women, were gathered here. The first lectures, treating of the archaic beginnings of music, might have easily fallen into a business-like recital of dates, but Professor MacDowell never sank into the passionless routine of lecture giving. His were not the pedantic discourses students link most often to university chairs. They were beautifully illuminating talks, delivered with so much freedom and such a rush of enthusiasm that one felt that the hour never held all that wanted to be said, and the abundant knowledge, in its longing to get out, kept spilling over into the to-morrows.

"His ideas were not tied up in a manuscript, nor doled out from notes. They came untrammelled from a wonderfully versatile mind, and were illustrated with countless musical quotations and interlined with a wealth of literary and historical references. There was no regular textbook; some students carried a Rockstro or a Hunt, but the majority depended upon the references made during the lectures. These were numerous, and gave a broad view of this speculative period in musical history.

"Music was brought from behind the centuries and spread before us like a huge map. Whatever meaning lay hidden under the musical theories of the ancients was explained in a clear and conscientious way. Short decisive sentences swept into every obscure corner, and from all sides we saw reflected Professor MacDowell's resolute spirit and sincerity of purpose....

"To illustrate [a point in connection with a discussion of popular music], Professor MacDowell went to the piano to play 'A Hot Time in the Old Town To-night.' After playing a few measures, he turned abruptly toward the class, saying: 'Why, that isn't it! What is it I am playing?' Someone answered 'Annie Rooney.' Facing us with a droll smile, he asked if there was anyone present who could play 'A Hot Time.' A dozen boys rushed forward and the one who gained the chair dashed it off with the abandon of a four weeks' old freshman ...

"The lectures on musical form were distinguished by many brilliant demonstrations of MacDowell's genius. The ease and rapidity with which he flashed his thoughts upon the blackboard were both inspiring and bewildering to the student who must grope his way through notes before he can reach an idea. If any were unwise enough to stop even for a moment to catch these spontaneous thoughts as they flew along the staff, they were very apt upon looking up to see them vanishing like phantoms in a cloud of white chalk. At the same time he made sarabandes, gavottes, minuets, chaconnes, passepieds, gigues, polonaises and rondos dance across the piano in quick succession; and his comments were as spirited as his playing.

"Professor MacDowell's criticisms were clear and forceful, and filled with many surprising and humorous touches. Of Bach he said, 'Bach spoke in close, scientific, contrapuntal language. He was as emotional and romantic as Chopin, Wagner or Tchaikovsky; his emotion was expressed in the language of his time. Young women who say they adore Bach play him like a sum in mathematics. They find a grim pleasure in it, like biting on a sore tooth.'

"He never approached the piano like a conqueror. He had a nervous way of saying that he didn't know whether things would go, because he had had no time to practise. After an apologetic little preamble, he would sit down and play these rococo bits of trailing sound with fingers dipped in lightning, fingers that flashed over the keys in perfect evenness and with perfect sureness.

"The closing lectures were in reality delightfully informal concerts for which the class began to assemble as early as 8.30 in the morning. By 9.30 every student would be in his chair, which he had dragged as near to the piano as the early suburbanite would let him. Someone at the window would say, 'Here he comes!' and, entering the room with a huge bundle of music under one arm and his hat in his hand, MacDowell would deposit them on the piano and turn to us with his gracious smile. Then, instead of sitting down, he would continue to walk up and down the room, his thoughts following, apparently, the pace set by his energetic steps. He had an abundant word supply and his short, terse sentences were easy to follow."

This is not the picture of a man who was unqualified for his task, or indifferent, rebellious, or inept in its performance; it is the picture of a man of vital and electric temperament, with almost a genius—certainly with an extraordinary gift—for teaching. His ideals were lofty; he dreamed of a relationship between university instruction and a liberal public culture which was not to be realised in his time. He was anything but complacent; had he been less intolerant in his hatred of unintelligent and indolent thought on the subjects that were near his heart, his way would have been made far easier.

The results of his labours at the university, he finally came to feel, did not warrant the expenditure of the vitality and time that he was devoting to them. He was, in a sense, an anachronism in the position in which he found himself. Both in his ideals and in his plans for bringing about their fulfilment he had reached beyond his day. The field was not yet ripe for his best efforts. It became clear to him that he could not make his point of view operative in what he conceived as the need for a reformation of conditions affecting his work; and on January 18, 1904, after long and anxious deliberation and discussion with his wife, he tendered his resignation as head of the department. His attitude in the matter was grievously misunderstood and misrepresented at the time, to his poignant distress and harassment. The iron entered deeply into his soul: it was the forerunner of tragedy.

When he took up his work at Columbia his activity as a concert pianist had, of course, to be virtually suspended. With the exception of two short tours of a few weeks' each, he gave up his public appearances altogether until the year of his sabbatical vacation (1902-03). In December, 1902, he went on an extensive concert tour, which took him as far west as San Francisco and occupied all of that winter. The following spring and summer were spent Abroad, in England and on the Continent. In London he appeared in concert, playing his second concerto with the Philharmonic Society on May 14. He returned to America in October, and resumed his work at Columbia.

Meanwhile his composition had continued uninterruptedly. Indeed, the eight years during which he held his Columbia professorship were, in a creative sense, the most important of his life; for to this period belong the "Sea Pieces" (op. 55), the two superb sonatas, the "Norse" (op. 57) and the "Keltic" (op. 59), and the best of his songs—the four of op. 56 ("Long Ago," "The Swan Bent Low to the Lily," "A Maid Sings Light," "As the Gloaming Shadows Creep"), and the three of op. 58 ("Constancy," "Sunrise," "Merry Maiden Spring"): a product which contains the finest flower of his inspiration, the quintessence of his art.[7] He wrote also during these years the three songs of op. 60 ("Tyrant Love," "Fair Springtide," "To the Golden Rod"); the "Fireside Tales" (op. 61); the "New England Idyls" (op. 62); numerous part-songs, transcriptions, arrangements; and, finally, the greater part of a suite for string orchestra which he never finished to his satisfaction: in fact, nearly one quarter of the bulk of his entire work was composed during these eight years. During this period, moreover, was published all of the music hitherto unprinted which he cared to preserve.

[7] The only one of his works of equal calibre which does not, strictly speaking, belong to this period is the set of "Woodland Sketches"; these were composed during the last part of his stay in Boston, and were published in the year (1896) of his removal to New York.

He had bought in 1896 a piece of property near the town of Peterboro, in southern New Hampshire, consisting of a small farmhouse, some out-buildings, fifteen acres of arable land, and about fifty acres of forest. The buildings he consolidated and made over into a rambling and comfortable dwelling-house; and in this rural "asyl" (as Wagner would have called it), surrounded by the woods and hills that he loved, he spent his summers from then until the end of his life. There most of his later music was written, in a small log cabin which he built, in the heart of the woods, for use as a workshop. Thus his summers were devoted to composition, and his winters to the arduous though absorbing labours of his professorship; in addition, he taught in private a few classes for which he made time in that portion of the day which was not taken up by his sessions at the university. During his first two winters in New York he also served as conductor of the Mendelssohn Glee Club, and he was for a time president of the Manuscript Society, an association of American composers. Altogether, it was a scheme of living which permitted him virtually no opportunity for the rest and idleness which he imperatively needed.

In New York the MacDowells' home was, during the first year, a house in 88th Street, near Riverside Drive. Later they lived at the Majestic Hotel; but during most of the Columbia years—from 1898 till 1902—they occupied an apartment at 96th Street and Central Park West. After their return from the sabbatical vacation abroad they lived for a year at the Westminster Hotel in Irving Place, and for a year in an apartment house on upper Seventh Avenue, near Central Park. When that was sold and torn down they returned to the Westminster; and there MacDowell's last days were spent.

After he left Columbia in 1904, he continued his private piano classes (at some of which he gave free tuition to poor students in whose talent he had confidence). He should have rested—should have ceased both his teaching and his composing; for he was in a threatening condition. Had he spent a year in a sanitarium, or had he stopped all work completely and taken even a brief vacation, he might have averted the collapse which was to come. In the spring of 1905 he began to manifest alarming signs of nervous exhaustion. A summer in Peterboro brought no improvement. That autumn his ailment was seen to be far more deeply seated than had been supposed. There were indications of an obscure brain lesion, baffling but sinister. Then began a very gradual, progressive, and infinitely pathetic decline—the slow beginning of the end. He suffered little pain, and until the last months he preserved in an astonishing degree his physical well-being. It was clear almost from the start that he was beyond the aid of medical science, even the boldest and most expert. A disintegration of the brain-tissues had begun—an affection to which specialists hesitated to give a precise name, but which they recognized as incurable. 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. Toward the last his physical condition became burdensome, and he sank rapidly. At nine o'clock on the evening of January 23, 1908, in the beginning of his forty-seventh year, he died at the Westminster Hotel, New York, in the presence of the heroic woman who for almost a quarter of a century had been his devoted companion, counsellor, helpmate, and friend. After such simple services as would have pleased him, held at St. George's Episcopal Church, on January 25, his body was taken to Peterboro; and on the following day, a Sunday, he was buried in the sight of many of his neighbours, who had followed in procession, on foot, the passage of the body through the snow-covered lane from the village. His grave is on an open hill-top, commanding one of the spacious and beautiful views that he had loved. On a bronze tablet are these lines of his own, which he had devised as a motto for his "From a Log Cabin," the last music that he wrote:

"A house of dreams untold, It looks out over the whispering tree-tops And faces the setting sun."



In his personal intercourse with the world, MacDowell, like so many sensitive and gifted men, had the misfortune to give very often a wholly false account of himself. In reality a man of singularly lovable personality, and to his intimates a winning and delightful companion, he lacked utterly the social gift, that capacity for ready and tactful address which, even for men of gifts, is not without its uses. It was a deficiency (if a deficiency it is) which undoubtedly cost him much in a material sense. Had he possessed this serviceable and lubricant quality it would often have helpfully smoothed his path. For those who could penetrate behind the embarrassed and painful reticence that was for him both an impediment and an unconscious shield, he gave lavishly of the gifts of temperament and spirit which were his; even that lack of ready address, of social adaptability and adjustment, which it is possible to deplore in him, was, for those who knew him and valued him, a not uncertain element of charm: for it was akin to the shyness, the absence of assertiveness, the entirely genuine modesty, which were of his dominant traits. Yet in his contact with the outer world this incurable shyness sometimes, as I have said, led him into giving a grotesquely untrue impression of himself: he was at times gauche, blunt, awkwardly infelicitous in speech or silence, when he would have wished, as he knew perfectly how, to be considerate, gentle, sympathetic, responsive. On the other hand, his shyness and reticence were seemingly contradicted by a downright bluntness, a deliberate frankness in matters of opinion in which his convictions were involved; for his views were most positively held and his convictions were often passionate in intensity, and he declared them, upon occasion, with an utter absence of diplomacy, compromise, or equivocation; with a superb but sometimes calamitous disregard of his own interests.

Confident and positive to a fault in his adherence to and expression of his principles, he was as morbidly dubious concerning his own performances as he was uneasy under praise. He was tortured by doubts of the value of each new work that he completed, after the flush and ardour generated in its actual expression had passed; and he listened to open praise of it in evident discomfort. I have a memory of him on a certain occasion in a private house following a recital at which he had played, almost for the first time, his then newly finished "Keltic" Sonata. Standing in the center of a crowded room, surrounded by enthusiastically effusive strangers who were voluble—and not overpenetrating—in their expressions of appreciation, he presented a picture of unhappiness, of mingled helplessness and discomfort, which was almost pathetic in its genuineness of woe. I was standing near him, and during a momentary lull in the amiable siege of which he was the distressed object, he whispered tragically to me: "Can't we get out of this?—Do you know the way to the back door?" I said I did, and led him through an inconspicuous doorway into a comparatively deserted corridor behind the staircase. I procured for him, through the strategic employment of a passing servant, something to eat, and we staid in concealment there until the function had come to an end, and his wife had begun to search for him. He was quite happy, consuming his salad and beer behind the stairs and telling me in detail his conception of certain of the figures of Celtic mythology which he had had in mind while composing his sonata.

To visitors at his house in Peterboro, he said one morning, on leaving them, "I am going to the cabin to write some of my rotten melodies!" He was sincerely distrustful concerning the worth of any composition which he had finished; especially so, of course, concerning his more youthful performances. He once sent a frantic telegram to Teresa Carreno, upon learning from an announcement that she was to play his early Concert Etude (op. 36) for the first time: "Don't put that dreadful thing on your programme"; and for certain of his more popular and hackneyed pieces, as the "Hexentanz" and the much-mauled and over-sentimental song, "Thy Beaming Eyes," he had a detestation that was amusing in its virulence. He regretted at times that his earlier orchestral works—"Hamlet and Ophelia" and "Lancelot and Elaine"—had been published; and he was invariably tormented by questionings and misgivings after he had committed even his ripest work to his publisher. Only the assurances of his wise and devoted wife at times prevented him from recalling a completed work. Yet he was always touched, delighted, and genuinely cheered by what he felt to be sincere and thoughtful praise. To a writer who had published an admiring article concerning some of his later music he wrote:


"Your article was forwarded to me after all. I wish to thank you for the warm-hearted and sympathetic enthusiasm which prompted your writing it. While my outgivings have always been sincere, I feel only too often their inadequacy to express my ideals; thus what you speak of as accomplishment I fear is often but attempt. Certainly your sympathy for my aims is most welcome and precious to me, and I thank you again most heartily."

Those who knew the man only through his music have thought of him as wholly a dreamer and a recluse, a poet brooding in detachment, and unfriendly to the pedestrian and homely things of the world. Nothing could be further from the truth. He was overflowingly human, notably full-blooded. On his "farm" (as he called it) at Peterboro he lived, when he was not composing, a robust and vigorous outdoor life. He was an ardent sportsman, and he spent much of his time in the woods and fields, fishing, riding, walking, hunting. He had a special relish for gardening and for photography, and he liked to undertake laborious jobs in carpentry, at which he was quite deft. That his feeling for the things of the natural world was acutely sensitive and coloured by imagination and emotion is abundantly evidenced in his music. He was fond of taking long, leisurely drives and rides through the rich and varied hill country about Peterboro, and many of the impressions that were then garnered and stored have found issue in some of his most intimate and affecting music—as in the "Woodland Sketches" and "New England Idyls." He had an odd, naive tenderness for growing things and for the creatures of the woods: it distressed him to have his wife water some of the flowers in the garden without watering them all; and though an excellent shot, he never brought down game without a pang—it used to be said at Peterboro that for this reason he only "pretended to hunt," despite his expertness as a marksman.

In his intellectual interests and equipment he presented a striking contrast to the brainlessness of the average musician. His tastes were singularly varied and catholic. An omnivorous reader of poetry, an inquisitive delver in the byways of mediaeval literature, an authority in mythological detail, he was at the same time keenly interested in contemporary affairs. He read, and discussed with eagerness and acumen, scientific, economic, and historical deliverances; and he enjoyed books of travel, biographies, dramatic literature. Mark Twain he adored, and delighted to quote, and almost to the end of his life he read with inexhaustible pleasure Joel Chandler Harris's "Uncle Remus." In the later years of his activity he fell captive to the new and unaccustomed music of Fiona Macleod's exquisite prose and verse; he wanted to dedicate his "New England Idyls" to the author of "Pharais" and "From the Hills of Dream," and wrote for her permission; but the identity of the mysterious author was then jealously guarded, and his letter must have gone astray; for it was never answered.

His erudition was extraordinary. He exemplified in a marked degree the truth that the typical modern music-maker touches hands with the whole body of culture and the humanities in a sense which would have been simply incredible to Mozart or Schubert. He was, intellectually, one of the most fully and brilliantly equipped composers in the history of musical art. He had read widely and curiously in many literatures, and the knowledge which he had acquired he applied to the elucidation of aesthetic and philosophical problems touching the theory and practice of music. He had meditated deeply concerning the art of which he was always a tireless student—had come to conclusions concerning its actual and assumed records, its tendencies, its potentialities. He was a vigorous and original critic, and he had shrewd, cogent, and clear-cut reasons for the particular views at which he had arrived; whether one could always agree with them or not, they invariably commanded respect. Yet his erudition was seldom displayed. One came upon it unexpectedly in conversation with him, through the accident of some reference or the discussion of some disputed point of fact.

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