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Composers Datebook®

with host John Birge

Friday, March 5

MacDowell and the fickle finger of fame

Synopsis

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

Additional Information

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