Composers Datebook®

with host John Zech

Tuesday, July 11

MacDowell goes "modern"

Synopsis

These days, when "Modern Music" is on the program, a sizeable chunk of the concert hall audience might start nervously looking for the nearest exit—but that wasn't always the case.

On today's date in 1882, a 21-year old American composer and pianist named Edward MacDowell took the stage in Zurich, Switzerland, to perform his "Modern Suite" for piano at the 19th annual conference of the General Society of German Musicians, a showcase for new music whose programs were arranged by none other than Franz Liszt.

Liszt had met MacDowell earlier that year, and when MacDowell sent him the music for his "Modern Suite" for solo piano, Liszt asked the young composer to play it himself at the Society's conference in Zurich.

Now, in an era when piano virtuosos like Liszt always played from memory, MacDowell premiered his "Modern Suite" with his own manuscript score propped up in front of him at the piano. This struck contemporaries as rather odd, but MacDowell's explanation was (quote): "I had never realized that my compositions could be worth actual study or memorizing!"

The success of his First "Modern Suite" lead to the creation of a Second, and both were published a year later by the Leipzig firm of Breitkopf and Hærtel. These two suites were the first works of MacDowell to appear in print, and launched his career as one of the major American composers of the late 19th century.

Music Played in Today's Program

Edward MacDowell (1860 - 1908) First Modern Suite, Op. 10 James Barbagallo, piano Naxos 8.559011

Additional Information

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