Edward MacDowell eBook

Lawrence Gilman
This eBook from the Gutenberg Project consists of approximately 150 pages of information about Edward MacDowell.

“Language and music have nothing in common.  In one way, that which is melodious in verse becomes doggerel in music, and meter is hardly of value.  Sonnets in music become abominable.  I have made many experiments for finding the affinity of language and music.  The two things are diametrically opposed, unless music is free to distort syllables.  A poem may be of only four words, and yet those four words may contain enough suggestion for four pages of music; but to found a song on those four words would be impossible.  For this reason the paramount value of the poem is that of its suggestion in the field of instrumental music, where a single line may be elaborated upon....  To me, in this respect, the poem holds its highest value of suggestion....  A short poem would take a lifetime to express; to do it in as many bars of music is impossible.  The words clash with the music, they fail to carry the full suggestion of the poem ...

“Many poems contain syllables ending with e or other letters not good to sing.  Some exceptionally beautiful poems possess this shortcoming, and, again, words that prove insurmountable obstacles.  I have in mind one by Aldrich in which the word ‘nostrils’ occurs in the very first verse, and one cannot do anything with it.  Much of the finest poetry—­for instance, the wonderful writings of Whitman—­proves unsuitable, yet it has been undertaken....

“A song, if at all dramatic, should have climax, form, and plot, as does a play.  Words to me seem so paramount and, as it were, apart in value from the musical setting, that, while I cannot recall the melodies of many of the songs that I have written, the words of them are so indelibly impressed upon my mind that they are very easy of recall....  Music and poetry cannot be accurately stated unless one has written both.”

It is clear that these are the views of a composer who placed veracious declamation of the poetic idea very much to the front in his conception of the art of the song-writer.  They explain in part, also, the fact that MacDowell himself wrote the words of many of his songs, though, quite characteristically, he did not avow the fact in the printed music.  The verses of all the songs of op. 56, save one, op. 58, and op. 60 (the last three sets that he wrote), of the “Slumber Song” of op. 9, of “The Robin Sings in the Apple Tree,” “Confidence,” and “The West Wind Croons in the Cedar Trees” (op. 47), and of some of the choruses, were of his authorship.  He enjoyed what he called “stringing words together,” and most of his verses were written off-hand, with a facility which betrayed the marked gift for verbal expression which is apparent in his often admirably stated lectures.  But his especial reason for writing the words for his songs was his difficulty hi finding texts which quite suited him.  Many poems which he would have liked to set were, as he explained in the words I have quoted, full of snags in the way of unsingable words. 

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Edward MacDowell from Project Gutenberg. Public domain.
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