Composers Datebook®

MacDowell and the fickle finger of fame

Edward MacDowell (1860-1908) Piano Concerto No. 2 in d André Watts, piano; Dallas Symphony; Andrew Litton, cond. Telarc 80429

Composers Datebook for March 5, 2021


March 05, 2021


On today's date in 1889 at New York’s Chickering Hall, a 28-year-old American composer named Edward MacDowell played the solo part at the premiere performance of his Piano Concerto No. 2.

The critic of The New York Tribune confessed he derived keener pleasure from MacDowell’s Concerto than he had from the Fifth Symphony of Tchaikovsky, another new work that had just premiered in New York that year. Others compared MacDowell's Concerto favorably to those of Brahms.

Ah, the fickle finger of fame — today MacDowell’s music is taken to task for exactly the reasons it was praised during his lifetime. Critics back then LIKED the fact that MacDowell’s music reminded them of famous European composers like Schumann or Grieg, while today’s critics complain it’s not “original” enough.

But in his day, MacDowell was a major figure on the American music scene. At age 36, he became the first professor of music at Columbia University and served as the president of the newly formed Society of American Musicians and Composers. He arranged for his summer home in New Hampshire, now known as the MacDowell Colony, to become a working retreat for composers, which it remains to this day.

Music Played in Today's Program

Edward MacDowell (1860-1908) Piano Concerto No. 2 in d André Watts, piano; Dallas Symphony; Andrew Litton, cond. Telarc 80429

On This Day


  • 1853 - American composer Arthur Foote, in Salem, Mass.;

  • 1887 - Brazilian composer Heitor Villa-Lobos, in Rio de Janeiro;


  • 1778 - British composer Thomas Arne, age 67, in London;

  • 1947 - Italian composer Alfredo Casella, age 63, in Rome;

  • 1953 - Russian composer Sergei Prokofiev, age 61, in Moscow (the same day that Joseph Stalin died);


  • 1735 - Handel: Organ Concertos Op. 4, nos. 2-3, in London as intermission features during a revival performance of Handel's oratorio "Esther" at the Covent Garden Theater (Gregorian date: March 16);

  • 1818 - Rossini: opera "Mosè in Egitto" (Moses in Egypt) (1st version in Italian), in Naples at the Teatro San Carlo;

  • 1868 - Boito: opera "Mefistofele," at the Teatro della Scala in Milan;

  • 1889 - MacDowell: Piano Concerto No. 2, with the composer as soloist, in New York City;

  • 1892 - Rachmaninoff: Piano Concerto No. 1 (Gregorian date: Mar. 17);

  • 1904 - Liadov: symphonic poem "Baba Yaga" (Gregorian date: Mar. 18);

  • 1904 - Ravel: String Quartet, in Paris, by the Heymann Quartet;

  • 1905 - Frederick S. Converse: "The Mystic Trumpeter" by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Fritz Scheel conducting;

  • 1933 - Barber: "Dover Beach" for medium voice and string quartet, at the French Institute in New York City, by mezzo-soprano Rose Bampton and the New York Art Quartet;

  • 1933 - Malipiero: Violin Concerto No. 1, by the Amsterdam Concertgebouw Orcherstra with Pierre Monteux conducting and Viola Mitchell the soloist;

  • 1940 - Copland: "John Henry," on a CBS "School of the Air" radio broadcast, by the Columbia Broadcasting Symphony conducted by Howard Barlow;

  • 1942 - Cage: "The Wonderful Widow of Eighteen Springs" (text by James Joyce) for voice and piano, in New York;

  • 1942 - Shostakovich: Symphony No. 7 ("Leningrad") by the Bolshoi Theater Orchestra, conducted by Samuel Abramovitch Samosud, in Kuibyshev (the temporary Soviet capital where the orchestra and Shostakovich had been evacuated);

  • 1944 - Piston: Symphony No. 2, in Washington, D.C., by the National Symphony, Hans Kindler conducting;

  • 1965 - Piston: Symphony No. 6, by the Boston Symphony;

  • 1990 - David Ward-Steinman: "Intersections II: Borobudur," for percussion and "fortified" piano, at the Canberra Institute of the Arts in Australia, by percussionist Daryl Pratt and the composer at the piano;

  • 2003 - Bright Sheng: Tone Poem for Pipa, Sheng, Cello, Piano, and Orchestra ("Song and Dance of Tears") with Wu Man (pipa, Wu Tong (sheng), Yo-Yo Ma (cello) and Emanuel Ax (piano), with the New York Philharmonic, David Zinman conducting.