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.