Edward MacDowell eBook

Lawrence Gilman
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 150 pages of information about Edward MacDowell.
revised, confusing to the observer who attempts to place it among his productions in the order suggested by its opus number.  For although in the list of his published works the “Marionettes” follow immediately on the heels of the Concert Study and “Les Orientales” the form in which they are now most generally known represents the much later period of the “Keltic” sonata—­a fact which will, however, be sufficiently evident to anyone who studies the two versions carefully enough to perceive the difference between more or less experimental craftsmanship and ripe and heedful artistry.  The observer will notice in these pieces, incidentally, the abandonment of the traditional Italian terms of expression and the substitution of English words and phrases, which are used freely and with adroitness to indicate every shade of the composer’s meaning.  In place of the stereotyped terms of the music-maker’s familiarly limited vocabulary, we have such a system of direct and elastic expression as Schumann adopted.  Thus one finds, in the “Prologue,” such unmistakable and illuminating directions as:  “with sturdy good humour,” “pleadingly,” “mockingly”; in the “Soubrette”—­“poutingly”; in the “Lover”—­in the “Villain”—­“with sinister emphasis,” “sardonically.”  This method, which MacDowell has followed consistently in all his later works, has obvious advantages; and it becomes in his hands a picturesque and stimulating means for the conveyance of his intentions.  Its defect, equally obvious, is that it is not, like the conventional Italian terminology, universally intelligible.

The “Twelve Studies” of op. 39 are less original in conception and of less artistic moment than the “Marionettes.”  Their titles—­among which are a “Hunting Song,” a “Romance,” a “Dance of the Gnomes,” and others of like connotation—­suggest, in a measure, that imperfectly realised romanticism which I have before endeavoured to separate from the intimate spirit of sincere romance which MacDowell has so often succeeded in embodying.  The same thing is true, though in a less degree, of the suite for orchestra (op. 42).  It is more Raff-like—­not in effect but in conception—­than anything he has done.  There are four movements:  “In a Haunted Forest,” “Summer Idyl,” “The Shepherdess’ Song,” and “Forest Spirits,” together with a supplement, “In October,” forming part of the original suite, but not published until several years later.  The work, as a whole, has atmosphere, freshness, buoyancy, and it is scored with exquisite skill and charm; but somehow it does not seem either as poetic or as distinguished as one imagines it might have been made.  It is carried through with delightful high spirits, and with an expert order of craftsmanship; but it lacks persuasion—­lacks, to put it baldly, inspiration.

Passing over a sheaf of piano pieces, the “Twelve Virtuoso Studies” of op. 46 (of which the “Novelette” and “Improvisation” are most noteworthy), we come to a stage of MacDowell’s development in which, for the first time, he presents himself as an assured and confident master of musical impressionism and the possessor of a matured and fully individualised style.

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Edward MacDowell from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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