“A house of dreams untold,
It looks out over the whispering tree-tops
And faces the setting sun.”
[Illustration: THE “HOUSE OF DREAMS UNTOLD”—THE LOG CABIN IN THE WOODS AT PETERBORO WHERE MACDOWELL COMPOSED, AND WHERE MOST OF HIS LATER MUSIC WAS WRITTEN]
The music of this piece is suffused with a mood that is Schumann-like in its intense sincerity of impulse, yet with a passionate fulness and ardour not elsewhere to be paralleled. It is steeped in an atmosphere which is felt in no other of his works, is the issue of an inspiration more profoundly contemplative than any to which he had hitherto responded.
MacDowell never hesitated, as I have elsewhere said, to adapt—some would say “warp”—the sonata form to the needs of his poetic purposes. Moreover, he declared his convictions as to the considerations which should govern its employment. “If the composer’s ideas do not imperatively demand treatment in that [the sonata] form,” he has observed—“that is, if his first theme is not actually dependent upon his second and side themes for its poetic fulfilment—he has not composed a sonata movement, but a potpourri, which the form only aggravates.” There can be little question of the success which has attended his application of this principle to his own performances in this field, nor of the skill and tact with which he has reshaped the form in accordance with his chosen poetic or dramatic scheme.
His four sonatas belong undeniably, though with a variously strict allegiance, to the domain of programme-music. Neither the “Tragica,” the “Eroica,” the “Norse,” nor the “Keltic,” makes its appeal exclusively to the tonal sense. If one looks to these works for the particular kind of gratification which he is accustomed to derive, for example, from a sonata by Brahms (to name the most extreme of contrasts), he will not find it. It is impossible fully to appreciate and enjoy the last page of the “Keltic,” for instance, without some knowledge of the dramatic crisis upon which the musician has built—although its beauty and power, as sheer music, are immediately perceptible.