“brooding scowl and murk,”
“with husky-haughty lips”;
while elsewhere, as in the “Wandering Iceberg” and “Nautilus” studies, the pervading tone is of Swinburne’s
“deep divine dark dayshine of the sea.”
“Starlight” is of a brooding and solemn tenderness. The “Song” and “A.D. MDCXX.” (a memoir of the notorious galleon of the Pilgrims) are in a lighter vein. The tonal plangency, the epic quality, of these studies is extraordinary,—exposing a tendency toward an orchestral fulness and breadth of style that will offer a more pertinent theme for comment in a consideration of the sonatas. Their littleness is wholly a quantitative matter; their spiritual and imaginative substance is not only of rare quality, but of striking amplitude.
We come now to the final volumes in the series of what one may as well call pianistic “nature-studies”: the “Fireside Tales” (op. 61) and “New England Idyls” (op. 62), which, together with the songs of op. 60, constitute the last of his published works (they were all issued in 1902). In these last piano pieces there is a new quality, an unaccustomed accent. One notes it on the first page of the opening number of the “Fireside Tales,” “An Old Love Story,” where the voice of the composer seems to have taken on an unfamiliar timbre. There is here a turn of phrase, a quality of sentiment, which are notably fresh and strange. There is in this, and in “By Smouldering Embers,” a graver tenderness, a more pervasive sobriety, than he had revealed before. Read over the D-flat major section of “An Old Love Story.” Throughout MacDowell’s previous work one will find no passage quite like it in contour and emotion. It is quieter, more ripely poised, than anything in his earlier manner that I can recall. “Of Br’er Rabbit,” “From a German Forest,” “Of Salamanders,” and “A Haunted House,” are in his familiar vein; but again the new note is sounded in the concluding number of the book, “By Smouldering Embers.”
In the “New England Idyls,” the point is still more evident. One passes over “From an Old Garden” and “Midsummer” as belonging fundamentally to the period of the “Woodland Sketches” and “Sea Pieces.” But one halts at “Mid-Winter,” No. 3 of the collection; with those fifteen bars in E-flat major in the middle section, one enters upon unfamiliar ground in the various and delectable region of MacDowell’s fantasy. So in the succeeding piece, “With Sweet Lavender”: he had not given us in any of his former writing a theme similar in quality to the one with which he begins the thirteenth bar. “In Deep Woods” is less unusual—is, in fact, strongly suggestive, in harmonic colour, of the shining sonorities of the “Wandering Iceberg” study in the “Sea Pieces.” The “Indian Idyl,” “To an Old White Pine,” and “From Puritan Days” are also contrived in the familiar idiom of the earlier volumes, though