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The Triumph of Edward MacDowell

Unspoken words at parting
   Find their voice in song.
Ah! sing them soft and tenderly,
   The song will ne'er last long.
And hand grasps hand at parting,
   Heart finds heart in song,
Unspoken love sing tenderly,
   'Twill last as life is long.
 —From Verses by Edward MacDowell.
Three years is perhaps too short a time in which to determine whether the qualities of permanence in an artist's work have become evident, but it must be remembered that although Edward MacDowell died less than three years ago, nearly six years have passed since he ceased to produce new compositions. Those familiar with musical conditions, not only in this country, but in Europe as well, must realize that the fondness for MacDowell has been upon the increase instead of on the decrease since his death. These indications point to the fact that America has had a composer whose real greatness was such that the world has been forced to recognize it. The demand for MacDowell's composition is now greater than ever. During the past summer a MacDowell celebration in the form of a historical pageant was given at his summer home in Petersborough. This pagent (sic) was a huge success from every standpoint, and attracted national attention. Hundreds of visitors came from all parts of the country to pay tribute to America's greatest composer.
Realizing that MacDowell has succeeded in winning a very firm position in the history of music, although only fifty years have passed since he was born in New York City (Dec. 18th, 1861), it is well for American students of musical composition to study some of the characteristics of his style and work. Heredity evidently did not have a direct effect upon his musical development, for when MacDowell's own grandfather came to America from Ireland prior to the revolution the family was one of those severely puritanical Quaker pioneers, to whom music was little less than a crime which all God-fearing church-goers should sedulously avoid. Nevertheless, MacDowell's father, who was born in New York, showed a decided talent for drawing and painting. This became so evident that the elder MacDowell did everything possible to discourage it. Consequently the son went into business, and his artistic work became his avocation.
The somewhat cruel means employed to suppress his own artistic talent made the way easier for his famous son, Edward MacDowell, when the boy manifested interest in music. His training was extremely cosmopolitan. At first his teachers, Juan Buitrago, Pablo Desvernine and Teresa Carreño, were all Latin Americans. This was fortunate, since although these teachers were well schooled, they were not so likely to be dogmatic or arbitrary as would teachers of the more severe northern extraction. Thereafter he went to Paris, Stuttgart and Frankfurt, getting a taste of many different musical educational ideas, and remaining long enough with such celebrated masters as Raff, Ehlert and Heymann, to gain a practical knowledge of his craft.
In the meantime MacDowell showed a decided talent not only for music but for drawing and poetry as well. It is not generally known, but a volume of poems and translations exist from which the poem at the beginning of this article is quoted. The book met with considerable appreciation at the time of its publication. His long residence abroad and his association with great artists, poets and painters did much to mould his artistic judgment, which in after years led him to select his musical materials with taste and discrimination.
MacDowell personally was poetic and aesthetic to his finger tips,—and this without giving any suggestion of the effeminate. Although subdued, he always impressed his auditors by his lusty manhood. In a conversation with the writer some years ago, he gave his opinions upon various subjects with a divination that was all but prophetic. The writer has had the privilege of meeting and knowing many of the greatest musicians, composers, teachers and virtuosos of the last twenty years. None gave evidences of a more subtle and intelligent comprehension of the higher problems of musical art. MacDowell identified the greatness of his contemporaries Strauss and Debussy at once, at a time when the world was slowly awaking to the realization of their genius. MacDowell's pianoforte playing was virile and distinctive. He told the writer that his only conception of a complete piano technic was that kind of a technic which enabled him to work out his own ideas as demanded by his own digital and mental conditions. He was opposed to drastic arbitrary means, and claimed that art was being stultified by over-mechanical methods.
MacDowell's harmonies indicate deep study but do not sound studied. The poetical end was accomplished not by bowing to theoretical laws, but rather by following his own melodic and harmonic inclinations after the foundation of the art of musical composition had been thoroughly investigated. He is not only an American composer; he is a tone-poet whose song would, have added to the artistic greatness of any nation.
Many of MacDowell's piano works are really very difficult. These of course will be long in securing a popular audience. He himself played them in a very forceful and magnetic manner, but too few performers have found a place for them since then. They deserve a far greater popularity.
The songs are less difficult and win more immediate approval. Those for which he wrote original poems are excellent, one of the best of these being "The Robin Sings in the Apple Tree." Throughout all his work inspiration is constantly apparent. By this we mean that although he kept the practical knowledge of the trained musician continually engaged in supervising his musical efforts, it is very apparent that the unique harmonic and melodic combinations never came from any process of deliberate intent to compose. They could only be derived from those flashes of thought which burn brightly in the brains of a few great men and then disappear forever. It is this which gives his works their poetic quality. It is this which is winning MacDowell the artistic triumph whch (sic) can come from no other source. A great composer is a wonderful natural phenomenon, more remarkable than the awe-compelling masses of water, stone, fire or vapor which in the form of oceans, clouds win the eternal admiration of facades, mountains, volcanoes and man.

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