Piano Concerto No. 2 (MacDowell)

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The Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 23 by Edward MacDowell was completed in late 1885.[1][2] Although some obvious similarities with Edvard Grieg's, Camille Saint-Saëns's and Franz Liszt's concertos have often been stated, MacDowell’s composition proves to be quite original, at least it shows much more originality than his First Concerto. It was the first major piano concerto written by an American.[2] It was also the only large-scale composition by MacDowell to remain in standard repertoire.[2]


Macdowell's First Concerto was written and performed in 1882, when he was only 22. It was published in 1884. The composer soon began working on his Second. Finished in Wiesbaden in late 1885, for some years it remained unperformed. In 1888 MacDowell returned to America. On March 5, 1889[2][3] he performed the new concerto in Chickering Hall (New York City) with New York Philharmonic under Theodore Thomas. The program of this concert also included the American premiere of Tchaikovsky's Symphony No. 5.[3] Next year (1890) Breitkopf & Härtel published the orchestral score and an arrangement for 2 pianos (prepared by MacDowell himself). It was dedicated to Teresa Carreño, a famous pianist, who used to be one of MacDowell's earliest piano teachers. The first recording of this concerto was made by Jesús Maria Sanromá in 1934 with Boston Pops Orchestra under Arthur Fiedler.[2] Van Cliburn chose this concerto for his professional debut when he was eighteen.[4]


The work is scored for solo piano, 2 flutes, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets (B♭), 2 bassoons, 4 horns (F), 2 trumpets (F), 3 trombones, timpani and strings.


The concerto consists of three traditional movements, all in sonata form. However the first movement is largely slow (instead of being fast) and the second is a lively scherzo (instead of a slow one). Principal theme of the first movement (motto) reappears in the third. A typical performance lasts 25–28 minutes, half of which takes the first movement.

I. Larghetto calmato — Poco più mosso, e con passione (D minor)
II. Presto giocoso (B-flat major)
III. Largo — Molto allegro (D major)

The first movement opens with a lilting, almost Wagnerian,[3] introduction played by orchestra (Larghetto calmato). A stentorian cadenza follows, and after a short reprise of the introduction the proper sonata form begins (Poco più mosso, e con passione). The theme of the cadenza is incorporated in the first subject, while the introductory one is later transformed into the second (in F major). The development section is interrupted by the reappearing of the initial cadenza, much more elaborated. After this music proceeds to the recapitulation. Soon states orchestral tutti the main theme, after which the cadenza is heard for the last time. It ends in a gloomy mood. The orchestra repeats the principal theme in D minor, sounding like a funeral march. Surprisingly the soloist soon changes the key to D major, which becomes the key of the second subject. The movement ends peacefully with a brief coda.

The tone of the scherzo has much in common with the final of MacDowell's First Concerto. According to the composer, it was inspired by Ellen Terry's portrayal of Beatrice in Much Ado About Nothing.[2] There first subject here is a perpetual motion theme, it sounds somewhat folk-like[1] when played for the second time. Then comes a more lyrical second theme in E-flat minor, which after a shortened version of the first subject is repeated in B-flat minor. A new, full reprise of the scherzo theme is heard and leads to a coda.

The finale is the most complicated movement. It begins again with a dark introduction (Largo) recalling the main theme of the first movement. Even the piano cadenza manage to reappear. This section is in D minor, but the finale itself (in an unusual ¾ time[2]) turns out to be in D major (Molto allegro). Its main theme gives place soon to a second idea (Poco più mosso, in F major), rhythmically pert and skittish.[1] Nor statement of this requires long time, and a new valse-like theme (in B minor) is presented in the brass, which is derived from the principle theme of the first movement.[1] After some 30 bars it ends abruptly with piano stating the cadenza theme (Poco più lento). The recapitulation of the first theme entrancingly imitates musical snuff-box;[1] it is slightly expanded and lacks the final section. Different reminiscences upon the valse theme follow (mostly in D major, showing it to be the real second subject of this movement) before the skittish melody returns (Poco più mosso, again in F major). It is followed by the final section of the first theme and the coda providing a most brilliant conclusion.



  1. ^ a b c d e Leslie Howard. Booklet notes to Olympia OCD 353.
  2. ^ a b c d e f g h Jeremy Nicholas. Booklet notes to Hyperion CDA67165.
  3. ^ a b c Bill Lloyd. Booklet notes to Naxos 8.559049.
  4. ^ Rob Barnett. A review of two Macdowell recordings

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