The interval of time between the preceding work and these pieces is explained by the fact that MacDowell and his wife had been travelling, and the latter had passed through a dangerous illness at Wiesbaden. The Four Pieces for Pianoforte (__ 24) were among the first productions of the composer after his return to Wiesbaden, and date from that delightful period when he lived with his wife in a cottage in the woods, some way from the town. The pieces under notice are tuneful and well written, but quite devoid of the individuality that distinguishes the composer’s later works. The brilliant Czardas was revised by MacDowell in his later period.
Composed, Wiesbaden, 1887-8. First American Performance at Boston, Mass., January 10th, 1890, at a Symphony Concert Conducted by Nikisch. First Published, 1888 (J. Hainauer).
Dedicated to Templeton Strong.
MacDowell was not long in returning to the domain of symphonic music, the First Symphonic Poem, Hamlet and Ophelia, Op. 22, and the Second Pianoforte Concerto, Op. 23, having been composed only about two or three years previously and separated from it in order of opus number merely by a group of unimportant piano pieces comprising Op. 24. Lancelot and Elaine has its poetical basis in the legends of King Arthur’s days, which MacDowell loved to read about and idealize. The work as a whole follows Tennyson’s poem and is essentially programme music. It is impressively scored, rich and sonorous in harmonic treatment and full of strikingly vivid and expressive poetical feeling. The brilliance of the tournament; the loveliness of Elaine; the nobleness of Lancelot; the scene of the maiden’s funeral barge floating down the river, and the knight’s ensuing grief—all are graphically illustrated in MacDowell’s tone poem. The work embraces moods and colours from brilliant exhilaration to sombreness and poignant emotion. The climaxes are stirring and coherent, and in many places the music really attains to a considerable amount of dramatic power, contrasted by passages of infinitely expressive tenderness. The whole thing was evidently composed in a state of fervent inspiration and the feeling of Teutonic influence, which was still over MacDowell at that time, is forgotten in the power and beauty of his tone poetry, already becoming individual and distinct from that of other composers.
Composed, Wiesbaden, 1887. First Published, 1887 (G. Schirmer).
1. The Pansy.
2. The Myrtle.
3. The Clover.
4. The Yellow Daisy.
5. The Bluebell.