1. From the first bars the majesty of the work becomes apparent. The first movement as a whole is full of the fire of Celtic inspiration, tinged with a wild and piercing sorrow. The final page of it contains music of stupendous power, and the limit of extremity of tone contrast is reached in the two last bars, one of which is to be played pppp and the other ffff.
2. The second movement opens with a tender and exquisite beauty, but the music soon becomes impassioned, the dominant mood being that wild sorrow we have already referred to.
3. The final movement is generally dark and fierce, moving swiftly and of great technical difficulty. Near the end we notice the direction, Gradually increasing in violence and intensity, and later an unforgettable passage occurs With tragic pathos. The sonata ends with a fierce rush, of enormous and elemental power. The key to the meaning of the Keltic sonata is given in some lines of his own which MacDowell placed at its head, but they are only part of all that he expressed in it. They should be read together with the lines entitled Cuchullin in the book of his verses. Cuchullin was considered unconquerable and even his form, when at last frozen in death, awed all who saw it; and it is of the might and tragedy of this old figure in Celtic legend that the sonata seems to tell. The final pages of the last movement may be considered as a vivid expression of the scene which Standish O’Grady, whose work MacDowell loved, has so superbly described:—“Cuculain sprang forth, but as he sprang, Lewy MacConroi pierced him through the bowels. Then fell the great hero of Gael. Thereat the sun darkened, and the earth trembled ... when, with a crash, fell that pillar of heroism, and that flame of the warlike valour of Erin was extinguished.” The stricken warrior made his way painfully to a tall pillar, the grave of some bygone fighter, and tied himself to it, dying with his sword in his hand and his terrifying helmet flashing in the sun. In O’Grady’s words:—“So stood Cuculain, even in death-pangs, a terror to his enemies, for a deep spring of stern valour was opened in his soul, and the might of his unfathomable spirit sustained him. Thus perished Cuculain.” ... Superb as these lines are, they are equalled in expression by the music of MacDowell’s Keltic sonata.
OPUS 60. THREE SONGS, FOR VOICE AND PIANOFORTE.
First Published, 1902 (Arthur P. Schmidt).
1. Tyrant Love.
2. Fair Springtide.
3. To the Golden-rod.
This is the last song group that MacDowell published. It contains music of great charm and poetic beauty, with a grave tenderness that was ever his own. The verses are all from his pen and show his unusual literary gifts.
Tyrant Love (Lightly, yet with tenderness). This is the least fine of the three, and yet in itself it is a song of rare quality and far above the commonplace. The music is beautiful, although not free from distortion of the words.