Wife: Marian Griswold Nevins
MacDowell Colony, 100 High St, Peterborough, NH 03458
Edward Alexander MacDowell (December 18, 1860 – January 23, 1908) was an American composer and pianist of the late Romantic period. He was best known for his second piano concerto and his piano suites Woodland Sketches, Sea Pieces and New England Idylls. Woodland Sketches includes his most popular short piece, "To a Wild Rose". In 1904 he was one of the first seven Americans honored by membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
In 1884, MacDowell married Marian Griswold Nevins, an American who had been one of his piano students in Frankfurt for three years. About the time that MacDowell composed a piano piece titled Cradle Song, Marian suffered an illness that resulted in her being unable to bear children.
Marian MacDowell cared for her husband to the end of his life. In 1907, the composer and his wife founded the MacDowell Colony by deeding the Hillcrest Farm to the newly established Edward MacDowell Association. MacDowell died in 1908 in New York City and was buried at the MacDowell Colony at his beloved Hillcrest Farm.
In 1896, Princeton University awarded MacDowell an honorary degree of Doctor of Music. In 1899, he was elected as the president of the Society of American Musicians and Composers (New York). In 1904, he became one of the first seven people chosen for membership in the American Academy of Arts and Letters. After this experience, the MacDowells envisioned establishing a colony for artists near their summer home in Peterborough, New Hampshire.
The MacDowell Colony, a multidisciplinary artists' retreat, continued to honor the composer's memory after his death by supporting the work of other artists in an interdisciplinary environment. With time, it created an important part of MacDowell's legacy. Marian MacDowell led the Edward MacDowell Association and Colony for more than 25 years, strengthening its initial endowment by resuming her piano performances and creating a wide circle of donors, especially among women's clubs and musical sororities and around 400 MacDowell music clubs. The Edward MacDowell Association backed many American composers, including Aaron Copland, Edgard Varese, Roger Sessions, William Schuman, Walter Piston, Samuel Barber, Elliott Carter, and Leonard Bernstein, in the beginning phases of their careers by awarding them residencies, fellowships, and the Edward MacDowell Medal. Between 1925 and 1956, Copland received a fellowship eight times; in 1961 he was awarded the Edward MacDowell Medal, and he served himself for 34 years on the board of Association and Colony. Amy Beach was at the Colony on fellowships from its beginning for many summers while she was in her middle to later career.
After his death, MacDowell was considered as a great, internationally known American composer. In 1940, MacDowell was one of five American composers honored in a series of United States postage stamps. The other four composers were Stephen Foster, John Philip Sousa, Victor Herbert, and Ethelbert Nevin. However, as the twentieth century progressed, his fame was eclipsed by such American composers as Charles Ives, Aaron Copland, and Roy Harris. In 1950s, Gilbert Chase, an American music historian and critic, wrote, "When Edward MacDowell appeared on the scene, many Americans felt that here at last was 'the great American composer' awaited by the nation. But MacDowell was not a great composer. At his best he was a gifted miniaturist with an individual manner. Creatively, he looked toward the past, not toward the future. He does not mark the beginning of a new epoch in American music, but the closing of a fading era, the fin de siecle decline of the genteel tradition which had dominated American art since the days of Hopkinson and Hewitt." In the 1970s, John Gillespie reaffirmed Chase's opinion by writing that MacDowell's place in time "accounts for his decreasing popularity; he does not belong with the great Romantics, Schumann and Brahms, but neither can be regarded as a precursor of twentieth century music." Other critics, such as Virgil Thomson, maintained that MacDowell's legacy would be reconsidered and regain a place proper to its significance in the history of American music.
As romantic tradition in music never lost its relevance and importance, the twenty-first century brought a reassessment of MacDowell's legacy not only as a talented piano virtuoso and piano composer, but also as one of America's preeminent composers. On February 14, 2000, he was inducted into a national Classical Music Hall of Fame. Macdowell's two concertos now perceived as the "most important works in the genre by an American composer other than Gershwin." His four sonatas, two orchestral suites and multiple solo piano pieces are performed and recorded.
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