“MacDowell’s finger development has been thus dwelt upon, because it was, as has been said, the feature of his technic which immediately surprised and captivated his hearers. Less noticeable was his wrist and octave work. But his chord playing, though also relatively unattractive, was even in those early days almost as uncommon in its way as was his velocity. And in this field of technic, during his later years, when in composition his mind turned almost wholly to this mode of expression, he reached a plane of tonal effect which, for variety, from vague, shadowy, mysterious ppp, to virile, orchestral ffff, has never been surpassed by any pianist who has visited these shores in recent years. His tone in chord playing, it is true, was often harsh, and this fault also appeared in his melodic delivery. But in both cases any unmusical effect was so greatly overbalanced by many rare and beautiful qualities of tone production, that it was easily forgiven and forgotten.
“Wonderful tone blending in finger passages; a peculiarly crisp, yet veiled staccato; chord playing extraordinary in variety,—tender, mysterious, sinister, heroic; a curiously unconventional yet effective melodic delivery; playing replete with power, vitality, and dramatic significance, always forcing upon the ear the phrase, never the tickling of mere notes; a really marvellous command and use of both pedals,—these were the characteristics of MacDowell’s pianistic art as he displayed it in the exposition of his own works. Unquestionably he was a born pianist. If it had not been for his genius for composition, he would, without doubt, have been known as a brilliant and forceful interpreter of the greatest piano literature. But his compositional bent turned him completely away from mere piano playing. He was a composer-pianist, and as such he ever desired to be regarded.”
[Illustration: THE HOUSE AT PETERBORO, NEW HAMPSHIRE, WHERE MACDOWELL SPENT HIS SUMMERS]
As a pianist, as in all other matters touching his own capacities, he was often tortured by doubts concerning the effect of his performances. “I shall never forget,” recalls his wife, “the first time he played it [the “Eroica” sonata] in Boston. We all thought he did it wonderfully. But when I went around to the green-room door to find him, fearing something might be wrong, as he had not come to me, he had gone. When I got home, accompanied by two friends, there he was almost in a corner, white, and as if he were guilty of some crime, and he said as we came in: ’I can play better than that. But I was so tired!’ We almost wept with the pity of the unnecessary suffering, which was yet so real and intense. In a short time he was more himself, and naively admitted that he had played three movements well, but had been a ‘d—— fool in one.’ I grew to be very used to this as the years went on, for he could not help emphasising to himself what he did badly, and ignoring the good.”