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Edward MacDowell   By:

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EDWARD MACDOWELL

A Great American Tone Poet, His Life and Music

by

JOHN F. PORTE

Author of Edward Elgar , Sir Charles V. Stanford , etc.

With a Portrait of Edward MacDowell and Musical Illustrations in the Text

New York: E.P. Dutton & Company 681 Fifth Avenue

1922

I do like the works of the American composer MacDowell! What a musician! He is sincere and personal what a poet what exquisite harmonies! Jules Massenet.

I consider MacDowell the ideally endowed composer. Edvard Grieg.

[Illustration]

FROM MACDOWELL'S COLUMBIA UNIVERSITY LECTURES.

(Published as Critical and Historical Essays ).

For it is in the nature of the spiritual part of mankind to shrink from the earth, to aspire to something higher; a bird soaring in the blue above us has something of the ethereal; we give wings to our angels. On the other hand, a serpent impresses us as something sinister. Trees, with their strange fight against all the laws of gravity, striving upward unceasingly, bring us something of hope and faith; the sight of them cheers us. A land without trees is depressing and gloomy.

In spite of the strange twistings of ultra modern music, a simple melody still embodies the same pathos for us that it did for our grandparents.

We put our guest, the poetic thought, that comes to us like a homing bird from out the mystery of the blue sky we put this confiding stranger straightway into that iron bed, the "sonata form," or perhaps even the third rondo form, for we have quite an assortment. Should the idea survive and grow too large for the bed, and if we have learned to love it too much to cut off its feet and thus make it fit (as did that old robber of Attica), why we run the risk of having some critic wise in his theoretical knowledge, say, as was and is said of Chopin, "He is weak in sonata form!"

In art our opinions must, in all cases, rest directly on the thing under consideration and not on what is written about it. Without a thorough knowledge of music, including its history and development, and, above all, musical "sympathy," individual criticism is, of course, valueless; at the same time the acquirement of this knowledge and sympathy is not difficult, and I hope that we may yet have a public in America that shall be capable of forming its own ideas, and not be influenced by tradition, criticism, or fashion.

Every person with even the very smallest love and sympathy for art possesses ideas which are valuable to that art. From the tiniest seeds sometimes the greatest trees are grown. Why, therefore, allow these tender germs of individualism to be smothered by that flourishing, arrogant bay tree of tradition fashion, authority, convention, etc.

No art form is so fleeting and so subject to the dictates of fashion as opera. It has always been the plaything of fashion, and suffers from its changes.

Always respectable in his forms, no one else could have made music popular among the cultured classes as could Mendelssohn. This also had its danger; for if Mendelssohn had written an opera (the lack of which was so bewailed by the Philistines), it would have taken root all over Germany, and put Wagner back many years.

Handel's great achievement (besides being a fine composer) was to crush all life out of the then promising school of English music, the foundation of which had been so well laid by Purcell, Byrd, Morley, etc.

(On Mozart). His later symphonies and operas show us the man at his best. His piano works and early operas show the effect of the "virtuoso" style, with all its empty concessions to technical display and commonplace, ear catching melody ... He possessed a certain simple charm of expression which, in its directness, has an element of pathos lacking in the comparatively jolly light heartedness of Haydn.

Music can invariably heighten the poignancy of spoken words (which mean nothing in themselves), but words can but rarely, in fact I doubt whether they can ever, heighten the effect of musical declamation... Continue reading book >>




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