Edward MacDowell eBook

Lawrence Gilman
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 150 pages of information about Edward MacDowell.
of style, and a security and strength of workmanship, which he had not hitherto brought to the fulfilment of an avowedly impressionistic scheme.[13] He has exposed the particular emotions and the essential character of his subject with deep sympathy and extraordinary imaginative force—­at times with profoundly impressive effect, as in the first movement, “Legend,” and the third, “In War-Time”; and in the overwhelmingly poignant “Dirge” he has achieved the most profoundly affecting threnody in music since the “Goetterdaemmerung” Trauermarsch.  I am inclined to rank this movement, with the sonatas and one or two of the “Woodland Sketches” and “Sea Pieces,” as the choicest emanation of MacDowell’s genius; and of these it is, I think, the most inspired and the most deeply felt.  The extreme pathos of the opening section, with the wailing phrase in the muted strings under the reiterated G of the flutes (an inverted organ-point of sixteen adagio measures); the indescribable effect of the muted horn heard from behind the scenes, over an accompaniment of divided violas and ’cellos con sordini; the heart-shaking sadness and beauty of the succeeding passage for all the muted strings; the mysterious and solemn close:  these are outstanding moments in a masterpiece of the first rank:  a page which would honour any music-maker, living or dead.

[13] The “Tragica” sonata, op. 45, which antedates the suite by several years, and of which I shall write in another chapter, has a considerably less definite content.

In the suite as a whole he has caught and embodied the fundamental spirit of his theme:  these are the sorrows and laments and rejoicings, not of our own day and people, but of the vanished life of an elemental and dying race; here is the solitude of dark forests, of illimitable and lonely prairies, and the sombreness and wildness of one knows not what grim tragedies and romances and festivities enacted in the shadow of a fading past.

Into the discussion of the relation between such works as the “Indian” suite and the establishment of a possible “American” school of music I shall not intrude.  To those of us who believe that such a “school,” whether desirable or not, can never be created through conscious effort, and who are entirely willing to permit time and circumstance to bring about its establishment, the subject is as wearisome as it is unprofitable.  The logic of the belief that it is possible to achieve a representative nationalism in music by the ingenuous process of adopting the idiom of an alien though neighbouring race is not immediately apparent; and although MacDowell in this suite has admittedly derived his basic material from the North American aborigines, he never, so far as I am aware, claimed that his impressive and noble score constitutes, for that reason, a representatively national utterance.  He perceived, doubtless, that territorial propinquity is quite a different thing from racial affinity; and that a musical art derived from either Indian or Ethiopian sources can be “American” only in a partial and quite unimportant sense.  He recognised, and he affirmed the belief, that racial elements are transitory and mutable, and that provinciality in art, even when it is called patriotism, makes for a probable oblivion.

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Edward MacDowell from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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