Piano Concerto No. 1 in A minor Op. 15 (Piano Reduction for 2 pianos, 2 copies)
Piano Concerto No. 1 in A minor Op. 15 (Piano Reduction for 2 pianos, 2 copies)
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Edward MacDowell was born into an upper class household in New York City on December 18, 1860. His father, Thomas, was a businessman who encouraged his children in artistic endeavors. Edward exhibited talent and interest in both art and music at an early age. He started piano lessons at the age of eight and by sixteen, was an accomplished performer. As was often the case in 19th Century America, talented musicians went to Europe to finish their education. Accompanied by his mother, Edward first went to Paris to study at the Conservatoire. In 1878 they moved to Germany and he eventually ended up in Frankfurt studying both piano and composition at the Hoch Conservatory. The most important musical influence on the young McDowell was Joachim Raff, an excellent teacher and also well connected in the musical world. Raff mentored MacDowell in his dual musical paths of composition and performance, and also helped guide his career. He encouraged him to build on the achievements of the great masters at the same time finding his own individual voice. After leaving the Conservatory in 1880, MacDowell began a career in Germany as a performer, teacher and composer. One of his piano students, Marian Griswold Nevins, had come to Germany from Connecticut to study with Clara Schumann. Clara was unable to take on Marian and she recommended that Marian study with MacDowell. The lessons must have gone well, as they fell in love. He proposed, and she accepted on the condition she support him for five years while he composed. He agreed and they were married in 1884 back in Connecticut. They returned to Germany, where Edward was now able to focus on composing and performing. They returned to the United States in 1888, settling in Boston.
He enjoyed great critical and popular success, both as a concert pianist and composer. He was considered the leading American composer of the time. In 1896 he was appointed Chairman of the newly created Department of Music at Columbia University in New York City. In this position he lobbied for a cross fertilization of all the arts. His idea was that the sharing of concepts from all the fine arts would be an enriching experience for both the artists and the public. Those ideas were initially rejected and were not to become commonplace in academia until many years after his death. During his tenure at Columbia, composing and performing were largely confined to summers, which were spent on his 100-acre farm in Peterborough, New Hampshire. MacDowell passed away prematurely in 1908, shortly after his 47th birthday. His widow turned their summer home into the MacDowell Colony, a peaceful and secluded retreat for composers, writers, painters, and sculptors. This was a partial realization of his dream to incorporate all the arts.
MacDowell’s compositions were widely performed during his lifetime and his students admired him both as a teacher and friend. He was the first composer nominated for membership in the National Institute of Arts and Letters (1898) and was a leader in organizing the American Academy of Arts and Letters and the American Academy in Rome. The Piano Concerto No. 1 in A minor, op. 15 was written in 1882 while MacDowell was studying with Raff in Frankfurt. One day Raff paid MacDowell, who was at home practicing, a surprise visit. As MacDowell later told the story: »The honor simply overwhelmed me. He looked rather quizzically around at my untidy room…then he abruptly asked me what I had been writing. I, scarcely realizing what I was saying, stammered out that I had a concerto. He walked out on the landing and turned back, telling me to bring it to him the next Sunday. In desperation, not having the remotest idea how I was to accomplish such a task, I worked like a beaver, evolving the music from some ideas on which I had plans at some time to base a concerto. Sunday came, and I had only the first movement composed. I wrote him a note making some wretched excuse, and he put it off until the Sunday after. Something happened then, and he put it off two days more; by that time I had the concerto ready.« Raff was pleased with the work and arranged to have the twenty one year old MacDowell perform it in a two piano version for Franz Liszt. The latter was impressed enough to arrange the premiere performance and to have it published. The Concerto made an immediate impact on both the public and critics, receiving numerous performances in Europe and the United States. MacDowell’s music enjoyed widespread popularity during his lifetime and through his teaching and encouragement he influenced many American musicians and composers. After his death, with the exception of some miniatures, MacDowell’s music was largely ignored. Many considered it too old fashioned and derivative, too European, too much like Grieg, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Tchaikovsky, Dvorak etc. But that does not speak to the quality of the music. There are many historical precedents for such views; one that immediately comes to mind is J.S. Bach. In his music one hears Vivaldi, Torelli, Couperin, Buxtehude, etc. Only in recent years, with the availability of some terrific new recordings, has there been a change of attitude, as MacDowell’s music is judged on its own merits. His Concerto No. 1 is a terrific work, standing as an equal alongside the concerti of Chopin, Mendelssohn, Grieg, Schumann, Dvorak, Tchaikovsky and Liszt.
University of New Mexico, July 2006
Some contemporary critical opinions about this work
»Both Piano Concertos were written during MacDowell’s European period. They are neo romantic compositions in the best European sense. If you like the Grieg and Schumann piano concertos, you will like these exciting and tuneful works. (…) It [No. 1] has everything one would expect in a romantic concerto, virtuosic cadenzas, gorgeous melodies, and a thrilling, finger busting finale.« (Robert Moon)
»MacDowell was a great composer without a very distinctive voice – but so what? He was German-trained and knew a thing or two about the grand style of orchestration. These concerti are tremendous works and deserve to be heard.« (Dr. Michael Scott)
»These works have never grasped the sort of popularity that boosts the Grieg Concerto with which both (the second more than the first) are soul mates. That said the two concertos need not stand ashamed in the company of the Liszt concertos. They are in that bracket.« (Rob Barnett)
»Indeed, in addition to his works having a typical Germanic feel to them, they have both individuality and a tunefulness, which I find most attractive.« (John Phillips)
»MacDowell’s two piano concertos are works of immense charm and immediate melodic appeal. Full of romantic bravura, they demand much of the pianist, being reminiscent of Saint-Saens, or even Liszt.« (Opus Notes)
»The piano writing exudes scintillation and brilliance and seems custom-made for Seta Tanyel’s lush, colorful sonority and effortless leggiero fingerwork« (International Record Review)
– Gilman, Lawrence. Edward MacDowell: A Study; New York, NY: DaCapo Press, 1969 (Reprint of 1908 edition.)
– Levy, Alan Howard. Edward MacDowell, An American Master; Lanham, Md.: Scarecrow Press, 1998
– Porte, John F. Edward MacDowell; New York, N.Y.: Dutton, 1922
– Pesce, Dolores. ›MacDowell, Edward.‹ In: The New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, second edition, edited by Stanley Sadie and John Tyrrell; London: 2001
– New Hampshire Individuals of Note: Edward Alexander MacDowell
– Stephen Prutsman, Piano; National Symphony Orchestra of Ireland, Arthur Fagen (Naxos CD 8.559049)
– Seta Tanyel, Piano; BBC Scottish Symphony, Martyn Brabbins (Hyperion CDA67165)
– Donna Amato, Piano; London Philharmonic Orchestra, Paul Freeman (Olympia CD OCD353)
– D. Han, Piano; Chicago Sinfonietta, Paul Freeman (Pro Arte/Fanfare CD CDS3412)
– Thomas Tirino, Piano; Bulgarian Radio Symphony Orchestra, Vassil Kazandjiev (Centaur CRC 2149)
For performance material please contact the publisher Beitkopf und Härtel, Wiesbaden. Reprint of a copy from the collection Philipp Brookes, Market Drayton.