Dedicated to Franz Liszt.
1. Maestoso, Allegro con fuoco.
2. Andante Tranquillo.
3. Presto—Maestoso—Molto piu lento—Presto.
Joachim Raff frightened MacDowell into composing this concerto. He called on his young American pupil one day and asked him what he had in hand? MacDowell, who stood in great awe of his master, was confused and hardly knowing what he was saying replied that he “was working at a concerto.” Raff told him to bring it along on the following Sunday, but when that day arrived MacDowell had only the first movement completed, which had been commenced as soon as Raff had left him. He evaded his appointment, and his master named the following Sunday for their meeting, but MacDowell’s visit had to be further postponed until the following Tuesday, and by that day he had finished the concerto. On Raff’s advice he took the work to Liszt, arranging a second pianoforte part for the purpose. The old master received him kindly and asked D’Albert, who was present, to play the second pianoforte. At the finish he not only complimented MacDowell on his composition, but on his ability as a pianist, which pleased the young American immensely, for he had not yet come to regard his compositions as of any value, and pianoforte playing was his first study. Afterwards MacDowell wrote to Liszt asking him to accept the dedication of the concerto, which the venerable Hungarian did.
The First Pianoforte Concerto hardly ranks as one of MacDowell’s finest works, it having been written before he had attained, in any notable degree, to his mature impressionist style. It is, however, brilliantly written, bold and original in harmonic treatment and full of youthful fire and vigour. With the second concerto (Op. 23), it is one of his few large works not having some definitely indicated poetic content. If it has not the significant expression of its greater successors, it has at least a strength and fervency that indicate a youthful genius of no common order. Its interest is not of mere historic value as an early example of MacDowell’s work, for it can be performed to-day with success. It has a lasting white heat of inspiration and even in the light of the composer’s greater works it still sounds remarkably brilliant and fresh. The influence of Teutonic training is evident and although the concerto cannot now be considered as thoroughly representative of MacDowell, it has a confident bearing and a certain individuality that mark it as something considerably more than a mere academic experiment. It must always be remembered, however, that a two-page piece from Sea Pieces, Op. 55, or New England Idyls, Op. 62, or any mature work by MacDowell is of greater artistic value than the whole of the concerto in question.