Compact Discoveries®
a series of one-hour radio programs produced, written, hosted, and edited by Fred Flaxman
©2007 by Fred Flaxman

Program 132
"Melodious MacDowell"

MUSIC: MacDowell: opening of To a Wild Rose, from Woodland Sketches, Op. 51, performed by James Barbagallo, piano [Marco Polo 8.223631, track 1] [under the following]

This short piano piece is today the most famous work of the Romantic Period American composer Edward Alexander MacDowell. He is also the composer of what once was one of the warhorses of the piano concerto repertoire. We’ll listen to both of these pieces plus MacDowell’s tuneful first orchestral suite on this hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman, hoping you can stay with me!

MUSIC: fades out

Once regarded as America’s greatest composer, MacDowell, who lived from 1860 until 1908, was the first to receive great success and international recognition. But was he really an American composer?

Well yes, in that he was American and he was a composer. But he was educated and lived in Europe and his music sounds as romantic and European as the music of Edvard Grieg. In fact, in the days of long-playing records, it was difficult to find a recording of MacDowell’s Second Piano Concerto which didn’t have Grieg’s Piano Concerto on the other side of the disc.

Believe me, I know, because I have always kept my large collection of classical music recordings in alphabetical order by composer, and the Grieg/MacDowell combination posed a severe placement problem!

I’ll tell you a bit more about MacDowell’s life later, but first let’s hear his Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Opus 23, which is really beautiful from beginning to end. In this 1992 release from Centaur Records, pianist Thomas Tirino is the soloist with the Bulgarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vassil Kazandjiev.

MUSIC: MacDowell: Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 23, performed by the Bulgarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vassil Kazandjiev with pianist Thomas Tirino [Centaur CRC 2149, tracks 4-6] [28:47]

Edward MacDowell’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 23, performed by the Bulgarian Radio Symphony Orchestra conducted by Vassil Kazandjiev with pianist Thomas Tirino.

You are listening to “Melodious MacDowell” on this hour of Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

[optional one-minute break not included in the total timing of the program]

Edward MacDowell was a New Yorker of Scotch ancestry. He was born on December 18, 1860, in New York City, where he began piano lessons at age 8. At 15 he went to the Paris Conservatory, but he turned out to be the only American composer I have ever heard of who didn’t like Paris. So he went on to Frankfurt. I guess the frankfurters were better there.

Once in Germany he impressed Franz Liszt, became a piano professor, and found his future wife. They secretly married in 1884 and purchased a house in the woods outside of Frankfurt. But financial difficulties caused him to return to the U.S., where he settled in Boston in 1888. There he did quite well, enabling him to purchase the property near Peterborough, New Hampshire, which later became the MacDowell Colony.

In 1896 he became chairman of the music department at Columbia University in New York, a position he resigned eight years later. That same year he was run over and injured by a horse-drawn cab in a street accident. He never recovered and gradually regressed into a childlike state and paralysis before his death in 1908 at the age of 47. He is buried in Peterborough on a hill in the forest he loved.

MacDowell’s Suite No. 1 in D Minor for Orchestra, Opus 42, was begun in 1890, shortly after his return from Germany. The première of the complete work was given by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1895. We hear it now as recorded by the Ulster Orchestra conducted by Takuo Yuasa on a Naxos compact disc.

MUSIC: MacDowell: Suite No. 1, Op. 42, performed by the Ulster Orchestra conducted by Takuo Yuasa [Naxos 8.559075, tracks 1-5] [20:23]

MacDowell’s Suite No. 1, Op. 42, performed by the Ulster Orchestra conducted by Takuo Yuasa

You are listening to “Melodious MacDowell” on Compact Discoveries. I’m your guide, Fred Flaxman.

MacDowell once confessed that he preferred to write for piano rather than orchestra, because getting an orchestra to perform a work was a headache, and usually he would hear such a work played perhaps once every two or three years. On the other hand, he himself could play any of his piano compositions whenever he wanted.

We’ll conclude this hour with MacDowell’s most famous work for solo piano: To a Wild Rose, from his piano suite, Woodland Sketches, Op. 51. In this Marco Polo compact disc, the pianist is James Barbagallo.

MUSIC: MacDowell: To a Wild Rose, performed by pianist James Barbagallo [Marco Polo 8.223631, track 1] [1:22]

To a Wild Rose, by Edward MacDowell, performed by pianist James Barbagallo, brings to an end this Compact Discoveries hour devoted to the music of this European-trained, Romantic period American composer. Since he wrote more beautiful, unjustly neglected pieces than I can fit in an hour, I’m going to devote two more Compact Discoveries hours to him. I hope you will be available to hear those as well.

MUSIC: MacDowell: opening of To a Wild Rose, from Woodland Sketches, Op. 51, performed by James Barbagallo, piano [Marco Polo 8.223631, track 1] [under the following]

For a complete playlist with details on the recordings played during this hour, go to www.compactdiscoveries.com. There you will find information on every Compact Discoveries program, this being program number 132. Listener comments are always welcome there, or you can write to me at Compact Discoveries, 36 Pickens Lane, Weaverville, North Carolina 28787. 

At the web site you’ll also find links you can use to stream most Compact Discoveries programs on demand.

My thanks to Thomas Tirino for his help with the program notes for this hour, and my thanks to you for listening and for supporting your local public radio station.

This Compact Discoveries program is a presentation of WPVM, Asheville, North Carolina, a broadcast service of the Mountain Area Information Network.

MUSIC ends

ANNOUNCER [Steve Jencks]:
Compact Discoveries is made possible in part by Story Books, publishers of The Timeless Tales of Reginald Bretnor, selected and edited by Fred Flaxman. Samples and ordering available at bretnor dot com, b-r-e-t-n-o-r dot com; and by Educate Yourself for Tomorrow, an on-line guide to 37 different Liberal Arts courses for personal development, including “Mozart and the Evolution of Western Music.” On the web at onlinehumanities.com.

Program Ends at 57:23

 
  ©2007 Compact Discoveries