America’s Best Composer’s Idyllic Piano Music
Edward MacDowell was an American pianist and composer who studied extensively in the US and Europe (Franz Liszt was one of his mentors in Frankfurt and both of them were Romanticists) and settled down in Wiesbaden, Germany with his wife who was one of his piano students in Frankfurt. The couple’s home was in the midst of nature which is why his compositions at the time, which numbered 13 piano pieces and 4 part songs under the pseudonym of Edgar Thorn, were inspired by his natural environment, local legends, and elves. MacDowell used the pseudonym in instances when he meant for royalties from his pieces to be given to the family nurse. MacDowell made airy, accessible pieces which would be easy to sell. In hindsight, they would’ve sold for double and quicker had he attached his real name. Six Fancies Op.7, which includes No.2 To A Hummingbird was among the Edgar Thorn works. It’s a delightful, musical piece that evokes exploring the outdoors. Specifically, its arpeggios and scales symbolized a hummingbird hovering.
When the MacDowells returned to the US, he became Columbia University’s first Music Department Head. Princeton University awarded him an Honorary Degree of Doctor in Music and the Society of American Musicians and Composers (New York) elected him as its president. Soon after, Marian MacDowell purchased a family summer house in New Hampshire, Hillcrest Farm. There, just as it happened in Wiesbaden, Edward MacDowell’s composition career flourished while in the natural setting of their summer residence. His piano concertos, orchestral suites, symphonic poems, sonatas, songs, and suites evoked the beauty of Peterborough, New Hampshire. Following the election of a new president at Columbia in 1902 who eliminated MacDowell’s music department and forced him into resignation, his health declined rapidly until he passed away in 1908. The MacDowell’s New Hampshire home was turned into an artist colony that nurtured many American ingenues. In 1904 he was the most important composers in American canon and was one of seven Americans honored with membership to the American Academy of Arts and Letters. He influenced incidental music for radio and 1930s cartoons. He was inducted into the Classical Music Hall of Fame in 2000.