Edward MacDowell

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Edward MacDowell

Edward Alexander MacDowell (December 18, 1860[1] – 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 the Venezuelan pianist and composer Teresa Carreño.

His family later moved to Paris, France, where in 1877 he was admitted to the Paris conservatory. 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[edit]

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.[2]


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 the United States in the autumn of 1888.[3]

Edward and Marian MacDowell   (c 1905)

The MacDowells lived in Boston until 1896, when Edward was appointed 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.[4]

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.

MacDowell was also a noted teacher of the piano, and his students included John Pierce Langs, a student from Buffalo, NY with whom he became very close friends. Langs was also close to noted Canadian pianist Harold Bradley, and both championed MacDowell's piano compositions. The linguist Edward Sapir was also among his students.[5]

MacDowell was often stressed in his position at Columbia University, due to both overwork and conflict with the administration about what the appropriate role of music should be within the setting of a great university. He announced his resignation abruptly early in 1904, raising an unfortunate public controversy in so doing. E. Douglas Bomberger's 2013 biography notes that MacDowell suffered from Seasonal affective disorder throughout his life, and often made major negative decisions in the darkest months of the year; in this case a particularly calamitous event. Bomberger advances a new theory for the sudden decline of MacDowell's health: bromide poisoning. He had long suffered from insomnia, and potassium bromide or sodium bromide were the standard treatment for that condition, and in fact were used in many common remedies of the day. MacDowell also was in contact with bromides through his avid hobby of photography.[6]

A 1904 accident in which MacDowell was run over by a Hansom cab may have contributed to a growing disorder and dementia. Of his final years, Lawrence Gilman, a contemporary, described: "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."[7]

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. MacDowell died in 1908 in New York City and was buried at the MacDowell Colony at his beloved Hillcrest Farm.

Legacy and honors[edit]

~ Edward A. MacDowell ~
US Postage, Issue of 1940
  • 1940 - MacDowell was one of five American composers honored in a series of United States postage stamps. The other four composers were Stephen Foster, John Philip Sousa, Victor Herbert, and Ethelbert Nevin.
  • The MacDowell Colony continues to honor his memory by supporting the work of other artists in an interdisciplinary environment.


For Robert La Fosse's ballet to MacDowell's music, see Woodland Sketches.
Portrait of Edward MacDowell

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
Op. 2 In Lilting Rhythm (1897) by Edgar Thorn
Op. 4 Forgotten Fairy Tales (1897) by Edgar Thorn
Op. 7 Six Fancies (1898) by Edgar Thorn
In 1895, an "op. 8 Waltz" for piano by MacDowell was listed by Breitkopf & Härtel, but no price was shown, and the piece was not published.[8]
Op. 10 First Modern Suite (1883)
Op. 13 Prelude and Fugue (1883)
Op. 14 Second Modern Suite (1883)
Op. 15 First Concerto (1885)
Op. 16 Serenata (1883)
Op. 17 Two Fantastic Pieces (1884)
Op. 18 Two Compositions (1884)
Op. 19 Forest Idylls (1884)
Op. 20 Three Poems (1886) duets
Op. 21 Moon Pictures (1886) duets after Hans Christian Andersen's "Picture-book without Pictures"
Op. 23 Second Concerto (1890)
Op. 24 Four Compositions (1887)
Op. 28 Six Idylls after Goethe (1887)
Op. 31 Six Poems after Heine (1887,1901)
Op. 32 Four Little Poems (1888)
Op. 36 Etude de Concert (1889)
Op. 37 Les Orientales (1889)
Op. 38 Marionettes (1888,1901)
Op. 39 Twelve Studies (1890)
Op. 45 Sonata Tragica (1893)
Op. 46 Twelve Virtuoso Studies (1894)
Op. 49 Air and Rigaudon (1894)
Op. 50 Sonata Eroica (1895) "Flos regum Arthurus"
Op. 51 Woodland Sketches (1896)
Op. 55 Sea Pieces (1898)
Op. 57 Third Sonata (1900)
Op. 59 Fourth Sonata (1901)
Op. 61 Fireside Tales (1902)
Op. 62 New England Idylls (1902)

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. 22 Hamlet and Ophelia (1885)
Op. 23 Second Concerto (1890)
Op. 25 Lancelot and Elaine (1888)
Op. 29 Lamia (1908)
Op. 30 Two Fragments after the Song of Roland (1891) I. The Saracens - II. The Lovely Alda
Op. 35 Romance for Violoncello and Orchestra (1888)
Op. 42 First Suite (1891–1893) I. In a Haunted Forest - II. Summer Idyl - III. In October - IV. The Shepherdess' Song - V. Forest Spirits
Op. 48 Second ("Indian") Suite (1897) I. Legend - II. Love Song - III. In War-time - IV. Dirge - V. Village Festival

Published songs

Op. 3 Love and Time and The Rose and the Gardener, for male chorus (1897) by Edgar Thorn
Op. 5 The Witch, for male chorus (1898) by Edgar Thorn
Op. 6 War Song, for male chorus (1898) by Edgar Thorn
Op. 9 Two Old Songs, for voice and piano (1894) I. Deserted - II. Slumber Song
Op. 11 and 12 An Album of Five Songs, for voice and piano (1883) I. My Love and I - II. You Love Me Not - III. In the Skies - IV. Night-Song - V. Bands of Roses
Op. 26 From an Old Garden, for voice and piano (1887) I. The Pansy - II. The Myrtle - III. The Clover - IV. The Yellow Daisy - V. The Blue Bell - VI. The Mignonette
Op. 27 Three Songs, for male chorus (1890) I. In the Starry Sky Above Us - II. Springtime - III. The Fisherboy
Op. 33 Three Songs, for voice and piano (1894) I. Prayer - II. Cradle Hymn - III. Idyl
Op. 34 Two Songs, for voice and piano (1889) I. Menie - II. My Jean
Op. 40 Six Love Songs, for voice and piano (1890) I. Sweet, Blue-eyed Maid - II. Sweetheart, Tell Me - III. Thy Beaming Eyes - IV. For Love's Sweet Sake - V. O Lovely Rose - VI. I Ask but This
Op. 41 Two Songs, for male chorus (1890) I. Cradle Song - II. Dance of the Gnomes
Op. 43 Two Northern Songs, for mixed chorus (1891) I. The Brook - II. Slumber Song
Op. 44 Barcarolle, for mixed chorus with four-hand piano accompaniment (1892)
Op. 47 Eight Songs, for voice and piano (1893) I. The Robin Sings in the Apple Tree - II. Midsummer Lullaby - III. Folk Song - IV. Confidence - V. The West Wind Croons in the Cedar Trees - VI. In the Woods - VII. The Sea - VIII. Through the Meadow
Two Songs from the Thirteenth Century, for male chorus (1897) I. Winter Wraps his Grimmest Spell - II. As the Gloaming Shadows Creep
Op. 52 Three Choruses, for male voices (1897) I. Hush, hush! - II. From the Sea - III. The Crusaders
Op. 53 Two Choruses, for male voices (1898) I. Bonnie Ann - II. The Collier Lassie
Op. 54 Two Choruses, for male voices (1898) I. A Ballad of Charles the Bold - II. Midsummer Clouds
Op. 56 Four Songs, for voice and piano (1898) I. Long Ago - II. The Swan Bent Low to the Lily - III. A Maid Sings Light - IV. As the Gloaming Shadows Creep
Op. 58 Three Songs, for voice and piano (1899) I. Constancy - II. Sunrise - III. Merry Maiden Spring
Op. 60 Three Songs, for voice and piano (1902) I. Tyrant Love - II. Fair Springtide - III. To the Golden Rod
Summer Wind, for women's voices (1902)
Two College Songs, for women's voices (1907) I. Alma Mater - II. At Parting



  • Lawrence Gilman, Edward MacDowell: A Study (New York, 1909)
  • W. J. Baltzell (editor), Critical and Historical Essays: Lectures Delivered at Columbia University by Edward MacDowell (Boston, 1912)
  • Oscar Sonneck, Catalogue of First Editions of Edward MacDowell (Library of Congress, 1917)
  • John F. Porte, Edward Macdowell: A Great American Tone Poet, His Life and Music (New York, 1922)
  • Alan H. Levy, Edward MacDowell, an American master (Lanham, Md. : Scarecrow Press, 1998).


  1. ^ Until 1975, it was generally accepted that MacDowell's year of birth was 1861. A scholarly article in The Musical Quarterly [1] corrected this error.
  2. ^ Lawrence Gilman, op. cit., page 26.
  3. ^ D. Pesce: 'MacDowell, Edward', Grove Music Online, ed. L. Macy (Accessed 7 January 2006), <http://www.grovemusic.com>
  4. ^ W. J. Baltzell, op. cit., pages 288-289.
  5. ^ Darnell, R. (1990). Edward Sapir: linguist, anthropologist, humanist. University of California press Berkeley & Los Angeles. p. 8. ISBN 0-520-06678-2. 
  6. ^ E. Douglas Bomberger, MacDowell (2013) Oxford University Press. ISBN 9780199899296.
  7. ^ Lawrence Gilman, op. cit., page 54.
  8. ^ Oscar Sonneck, op. cit., page 9.

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