EDWARD MACDOWELL'S LETTERS TO TEMPLETON STRONG IN THE LIBRARY OF CONGRESS.
The letters of Edward MacDowell (1860-1908) to Strong--as it happens, they contain virtually nothing written by Marian MacDowell (nee Nevins; 1857-1956), the composer's wife--comprise one of the most interesting and informative collections of correspondence in our nation's musical history. Except for his wife Marian, MacDowell was probably closer to Strong than anyone else throughout his adult life. The letters MacDowell addressed to his friend reveal their author as consistently loyal, alternately generous and stingy, by turns conciliatory and pugnacious, often calculating in his encounters with his contemporaries, and unabashedly proud of his own successes. Among other issues, they demonstrate that nineteenth-century American artists confronted many of the same problems that composers and teachers of music encounter today. They also cast light on MacDowell's professional activities and attitudes, and they provide information about his character missing from much of the biographical and critical literature.
In the pages that follow, we summarise the history of the letters as a collection and describe some of its contents with special reference to MacDowell's personality, hobbies, and opinions of Boston's musical life at the end of the 1880s. We briefly discuss appearances of these letters in previous publications, especially those that are cited in the splendid biography by Douglas Bomberger, and we conclude the present article with a brief discussion of possible relationships between the letters' contents and the so-called "MacDowell myth" (3).
The MacDowell-Strong Correspondence: History and Accessibility
The history of the MacDowell-Strong correspondence is almost as intriguing as its contents. It deserves attention of its own.
Almost as soon as Strong's donation of MacDowell's letters and other documents reached Washington, D.C., the Library publically acknowledged their acquisition and significance in its annual report:
From Templeton Strong, Esq., the American composer who for a number of years has resided in Geneva, Switzerland, a selection of his more important works, in holograph scores and printed copies, together with several holographs of his friend, the late Edward MacDowell, and a voluminous collection of letters from McDowell and Mrs. MacDowell to Mr. Strong (4).
Apparently, no one at the Library informed Marian MacDowell of Strong's donation. Some how she learned of it, though, and on 19 March 1931 she wrote Carl Engel, then Chief of the Library's Music Division, to complain. Mrs. MacDowell felt "sure there is some blunder, for such intimate letters should not be available for the public":
And do be kind enough to make clear to me what this means. If Mr. Strong followed a sudden impulse and did give these letters to the Library, honestly, something should be done about it. I have had a very clear realization of the dangers of letters, finding from the use made of them in connection with biographies. All mine to MacDowell have been destroyed (5).
Two days later, on 21 March 1931, Engel replied, reminding Mrs. MacDowell that he had sent her a telegram "telling you about the letters that Mr. Templeton Strong has given to the library" the very day he received her complaint, and advising her that Strong's gift had been "briefly described on page 189 and 190 of the last annual report from the Music Division". The correspondence itself, he continued, "as is often the case with papers of this nature given to the Library, is strictly withheld from public use or from the prying curiosity of unauthorized people". Engel urged Mrs. MacDowell to "have no apprehension that any misuse of these papers could be made", and he expressed his belief that "Mr. Strong, I am sure, acted with the most laudable intentions".
Just one day later, on 22 March 1931, Marian MacDowell rushed to thank Engel for "that night letter which certainly was a great relief ". Nevertheless, she remained anxious about public access to her late husband's letters until almost the day of her own death in 1956, some thirty-five years later. On 26 March 1931, for example, she reminded Engel that "it seems a perfectly incredible thing that Mr. Strong without asking my permission, should have sent this correspondence to the Library of Congress". In this letter, Mrs. MacDowell seems mostly to have worried about "the absolute freedom with which reference was made to people and to events" in her husband's letters. She also mentions "the incredible frankness of Mr. Strong's letters to Mr. MacDowell which are in my possession"; unfortunately, most of Strong's letters appear to have been destroyed or lost (6). She complains that some of the MacDowell musical holographs also donated by Strong to the Library "weren't Mr. Strong's to give". These artifacts included both a manuscript of MacDowell's "First Modern Suite" [Erste moderne Suite] for piano, Op. 10, which "Mr. MacDowell gave to me personally before we were married"; and an unpublished cadenza for Mozart's Concerto in D minor, K. 466, which "he wrote for me when I was studying under him, two years before we were married". Finally, she returns to the MacDowell-Strong letters, observing that "there are probably family matters mentioned which might pain members of MacDowell's family or mine should they be made public even many years from now".
On 11 May 1932, with reference to Leonard L. MacKall's letter of 11 April 1932 addressed to "Mr. Boyd", one of Engel's colleagues, Engel himself observed:
The MacDowell letters presented by Mr. Templeton Strong to the Library of Congress are now... in a sealed package marked not to be opened. Mrs. MacDowell has read them all. ... I have had several discussions with her about them. There are perhaps six or seven letters in all that Mrs. MacDowell wants entirely destroyed, and some passages in other letters that she would like to render illegible. ... I have strongly urged Mrs. MacDowell to desist from such a course. ... The letters are undoubtedly, from the historian's and biographer's point of view, most valuable. It is fortunate that they were not destroyed. They should be preserved, as much as Mrs. Macdowell [sic] will permit, in their entirety.
Apparently MacKall reported the following objections of Mrs. MacDowell's to Strong's gift: (1) that "MacDowell himself asked Strong to destroy these letters"; (2) that MacDowell criticised through correspondence some of his fellow musicians "in order to 'encourage' the sensitive Strong" to respond in kind; and (3) that "the letters contain a few expressions too 'free' to stand publication". Evidently Spivacke wanted to inform his staff about their source and significance.
MacDowell himself shared the first of his widow's objections with Strong; he too seems to have feared that his letters might fall into the wrong hands. On 27 April 1889, for example, he insisted that Strong "cremate" his letters "as soon as received. I know you are all right", MacDowell continues, "but suppose any one wishing to do me an ill turn saw them, it might make trouble and seriously affect my 'bread and butter' ". This was by no means his only warning to Strong: as early as 2 November 1888, shortly after settling in Boston, MacDowell urged his friend "before hand to burn this letter".
Marian MacDowell's second objection, however, strikes us as exaggerated. MacDowell himself often expressed negative opinions about his publishers' activities--and this, in letters addressed to the publishers themselves. Furthermore, we have already seen that Mrs. MacDowell herself referred to the "incredible frankness" of Strong's own letters. If MacDowell meant to "encourage" Strong, he evidently succeeded. Unfortunately, we do not have many of Strong's replies, and consequently we do not know whether his letters matched MacDowell's in their blunt opinions.
Finally, one wonders how important Mrs. MacDowell's third objection was to her and her alone. MacDowell seems rarely if ever to have cursed out loud, and the "free" expressions he occasionally employed in his letters to Strong consisted of the mildest profanities, a few of them abbreviated "d-d" (for "damn" or "damned"). No comprehensive biography of Mrs. MacDowell has yet appeared in print, but we may assume that she was more cautious of expletives as a child of the Victorian era than most people are today.
Some twenty years later--on 2 December 1953, to be precise--Harold Spivacke, Engel's successor as Chief of the Music Division, wrote Mrs. MacDowell, informing her that the Division possessed "one package of letters still sealed up and not available to the public" and asking about "the bulk of your husband's personal papers and correspondence" still in her possession. Interestingly enough, much of Mrs. MacDowell's reply, dated 19 January 1954 concerned her husband's letters to Strong. After explaining that the papers she still possessed were "all mixed up in a terrible mess" and that she was unable--due to partial blindness--to give them the attention they deserved, she reminded Spivacke of four things: (1) that "By mere chance I heard of [Strong's donation] at the time"; (2) that MacDowell felt "he could write very frankly [to Strong] about his impressions on first coming back to America" in 1888; (3) that she was still concerned the letters themselves might prove "very painful for lots of people, perhaps some of the musicians that MacDowell had talked over freely with Strong"; and (4) that Carl Engel had explained to her that "the one thing that could be done was to seal [the collection] up and on the cover say 'Not to be opened for 50 years, at the request of Mrs. Edward MacDowell' ". Elsewhere in the same letter she describes her late husband as "a very shy man", one who rarely left her side and sent her telegrams rather than letters when he did (7).
On 28 January Spivacke replied:
First of all let me assure you that the letters to Mr. Strong have remained sealed and that although I have been here for twenty years, I never had any idea of their contents beyond the paragraph about them in your [last?] letter. I mention this only to reassure you that we respect such restrictions and we are willing to accept important materials under restriction just as long as they [i.e., the restrictions] are reasonable and for a definite period of time. My predecessor, Carl Engel, with whom you probably dealt (unless it was Oscar Sonneck) never told me anything about the contents.
Finally, on 16 February 1954, Spivacke again wrote Marian MacDowell, lamenting the "circulatory trouble" that was causing her pain at the time and reminding her that she was welcome to "take [her] time in arriving at a decision" about the possibility of additional donations. "I also agree with you that part of them [i.e., MacDowell's letters to Strong] should be sealed for the time being" and "You can count on our discretion in such matters". Precisely when the letters were first made available to Library patrons is uncertain. Writing in a 1986 issue of American Music, musicologist Dolores Pesce gives "15 February 1973" (8). Writing in the Fall 2004 issue of The Musical Quarterly, Kara Gardner gives "1980" (9). This last date approximates the "Not to be opened for 50 years" reference in Marian MacDowell's 1954 letter, because the letters may have been sealed in 1930 and certainly had been by 1931. In any event, references to the letters themselves have appeared only occasionally in musicological monographs and articles. Alan Levy's 1998 MacDowell biography, for example, contains only the briefest allusions to their contents (10). Prior to the publication of Bomberger's biography, only Pesce has dealt in detail with even a single letter: that of 1 March 1890, which contains an autobiographical critique of MacDowell's program for his symphonic poem Lancelot and Elaine (11). In spite of Bomberger's thoroughness, however, we can discuss issues he fails to raise in his own work.
The MacDowell-Strong Correspondence: Contents, Personal Characteristics, and Opinions both Positive and Negative
The letters addressed by MacDowell to Strong fall into four general categories. Many of them written prior to October 1888, for example, deal mostly with the MacDowells' last days in Germany, their travels to England, and business matters of various kinds. Those written between October 1888 and October 1890 are primarily concerned with MacDowell's experiences in Boston and his encouragements to Strong to resettle in the United States. The letters from 1888-1890 comprise the bulk of the collection and contain by far the most fulsome and detailed observations about musical matters. A single letter dates from 1896 (25 January, to be precise), near the end of the MacDowells' Boston sojourn. Finally, the letters written in 1903 and 1904 consist primarily of chit-chat, including observations about MacDowell's interest in photography.
MacDowell's English is lively, opinionated, and erratically punctuated. Interjections in German are commonplace, especially in the earlier Boston letters, and occasional English phrases are almost idiomatically 'Germaned': "I go often", for example, instead of "I often go". After October 1890, MacDowell's use of single, double, and triple underlinings, multiple dashes, and other "spontaneous" expressions of enthusiasm become somewhat less common, and the tone of his letters becomes calmer and less personal. All of the quotations below reproduce precisely what MacDowell wrote and how he wrote it. One example of his handwriting is produced: that of the first page from his letter of 30 May 1886 (Figure 1).
In the first group of letters, the difficulties associated with MacDowell's efforts to sell property he and his wife had acquired in Germany inspired a few anti-Teutonic observations, and this even though MacDowell seems to have enjoyed much of the time he spent in Wiesbaden and several other German towns. One such observation appears in an undated letter to Strong, with MacDowell referring to Bremen, which he and his wife left on 21 September 1888, as "a swindling hole--Sure cure for any doubts about staying in Germany--I shudder to think of your [i.e., Strong] staying here--even until next spring" (12). As late as 27 April 1889, MacDowell attacks the Germans--this time for another reason: some individual or individuals had caused problems for Strong, and MacDowell rallies to his friend's side. Like all such outbursts, MacDowell's observations should be considered in context. Nevertheless, calling "those Deutschers... regular pigs" was strong even for MacDowell. Suspicious of nationalism (although a patriotic American), MacDowell nevertheless reserved much of his praise for German composers, especially Wagner (13).
Occasionally and mostly early on, MacDowell sought practical advice from Strong. On 5 June 1886, for instance, while stopping at 5 Woburn Place, Russell Square, London, he asked: "By the way I am thinking of going on a Tricycle tour through Avon, Somersetshire etc. with my wife--Now could you tell me what is the best system, 'Tandem' or 'Sociable'? I mean for Comfort. What are the approximate prices for them in Germany?" And, "Could you put me up to any hints about how to choose a vehicle?" Later, however, MacDowell abandons the idea of buying what he now calls a "velocipede", informing Strong on 11 July 1886 that the cost of such machines is "enormous": some "[pounds sterling]30 for a new one and [pounds sterling]15-20 for a second hand one--altogether too much for my infirm pocketbook". Among the few items of artistic interest among MacDowell's London jottings is his description of Henry Irving's performance in Faust "on Friday" (i.e., 16 July 1886). A few days later, in his letter of 19 July, MacDowell gushes: "I must say it [was] one of the most impressive things
I have ever seen--I am sorry you could not have seen the 'Brocken' scene--it was simply blood-curdling--I never saw anything like it" (14).
The overwhelming majority of the letters were written from Boston and describe aspects of MacDowell's experiences there. Others were sent by him to Strong from Peterborough, New Hampshire, where the MacDowells first rented a summer house in 1890. As early as 15 August of that last year, MacDowell informed Strong that Peterborough was "simply beautiful and we are perfectly happy--An old fashioned house, with barn attachment in the heart of the Country! ... I go often [sic] trout fishing and in a week will be off partridge hunting". In this letter MacDowell implores Strong to return to his native land. "If you could only come for a month--We have a room for you!! ... Try. Try. Try!"
In many of the longest and most interesting letters, MacDowell urges Strong to leave Europe and join him in America. Consider the letter of 7 October 1888, written from "Mr. Lang's House" in the "Swellest part of Boston". Praising his native land, MacDowell reminds Strong that "America is simply paradise," and he goes on to observe that "An American breakfast has an oriental magnificence about it which is faintly expressed by 'Nyum y Nyum' ". The ingredients MacDowell catalogues--cracked wheat, fish balls, griddle cakes with maple syrup, Porterhouse steak, and the rest of a long list--are followed by this climactic offer: "To think that you are going to lose all that for 6 months yet" by lingering in Europe. "Strong, I pity you". Elsewhere--for example, in his letter of 2 May 1889--MacDowell again mentions food and drink. "I do hope you are taking care of yourself and chawing down Beefsteaks like blazes--plenty of wine too!!"
Some of these inducements may have been inspired, perhaps unwittingly, by Strong himself. On 6 February 1890, for instance, MacDowell writes: "Yours of the 20 Jan duly received yesterday. Was of course awfully sorry to hear of all your troubles including the overcoat tragedy", whatever that may have been. He continues: "The remedy for all the discomfort of Vevey is plain--move! and zwar to Amerika the blest. Seriously why won't you run over this summer and go with us to the Detroit Festival (about July 1-6)". A few weeks later, on 26 February 1890, MacDowell presented a new argument on behalf of Strong's repatriation. "Mme Carreno did my 1st Concerto in Berlin on the 13[th] and evidently scored a fine success", he reports. "The critics will probably call it a vile & trivial 'Machwerk,' but the [American?] public is the only thing I care about". And then, shifting to Boston: "Why are you not here and helping to push some of the d-d fools out? My blood boils on an average 4 times a week and no one to sympathize--I wish the New England Conservatory would offer you some big sum to come over on".
In 1891, the Conservatory did make Strong an offer, and during the 1891-1892 academic year he taught theory in Boston. Afterwards, however, Strong returned to Switzerland, where he spent the rest of his life. Either Strong kept none of the letters MacDowell wrote during 1892-1895 or MacDowell did not write him during those years. In the one surviving letter addressed to Strong between October 1890 and June 1903, however, MacDowell again encourages his friend to enjoy Peterborough's "art life", which he says is "just 'waiting & longing for you[']".
Perhaps the most interesting observations contained in the letters as a whole have to do with MacDowell's professional circumstances and personality. Many of his observations pertain to everyday professional issues: making and losing money, practicing for performances, reporting the musical gossip of the day, and so forth. These subjects crop up more and more frequently in the letters of late 1888 and 1889, as MacDowell struggled to improve his circumstances. At first things were hard for the composer and his wife, physically as well as financially and socially. In his letter of 24 October 1888, MacDowell reports that, since writing the previous week, he has fallen "down Chickering Hall back stairs [on Thursday night last] and sprained my ankle". Adding insult to injury, he observes that he subsequently received "a telegram from Worcester asking me to play the same evening in place of Mme Carreno who was temporarily indisposed--remuneration $75. Of course I couldn't on account of this cussed sprained ankle".
But all hope is not lost, he tells Strong: "There is some question of my getting together a class to lecture... Say six girls at $1 apiece would make about $12 for the hour" (here MacDowell's arithmetic appears faulty). He continues: "I have two [private] pupils in Harmony Composition etc. one in 'Symphony lessons' and one in piano--all at $5". Things improved for the MacDowells, however, and quickly. On 31 October, the following week, MacDowell informed Strong that "I have another pupil in orchestration! and am going to get $100 to $125 for my Baptist Anthem!! A millionaire 'runs' the church, so I have no scruples". We must remember that, in 1888, $5 was no small sum of money, $125 quite a large one. The following August--that of 1889, according to the opening page of Theodore Dreiser's novel--Caroline Meeber sets off for Chicago, where she struggles to earn $4.50 a week as a factory girl (15). Later, like MacDowell, Carrie does much better; her "fabulous" income of $150 a week as a star actress approximates MacDowell's during his Columbia years (16).
In the same letter, that of 31 October 1888, MacDowell also reports that "the cost of living is certainly immense", with rent for "one whole floor with bathroom", although "meals (and what meals!)" were "served in our room". All this, and the "best part of Boston" for "$30 per week". (Later, on West Cedar Street, the price fell to about $90 per month, or $1,100 per year, and for much larger accommodations.) To offset the cost of rent, MacDowell brags to Strong about the "very quiet aristocratic neighborhood" in which he and his wife were living; "The view is beautiful", he reports, "and beyond the green hills stretching as far as one can see. The town itself is one of the handsomest I think I have ever seen". In January 1896, just before he left Boston to accept an appointment as professor of music at Columbia University in New York City, MacDowell tells Strong: "The last week alone, 7 new pupils! (I did not accept two others)--means about $50 a week more than last year already--But it's hard--hard work".
As early as 7 October 1888, MacDowell began cautioning Strong on Boston's cultural politics: "The musical people here (I mean America)", he writes, "are all enemies to each other, and the amount of lies, gossip and 'hearsay' that goes about is simply bewildering. We are as yet Friends to everybody, as everybody wants us on their side--Therefore don't let a word be heard from you to anyone till you can profit by my experience". These concerns, however, did not prevent MacDowell from fraternising with potential enemies. Earlier, in a letter dated 13 October 1888, he explained that he "went to the Apollo Club the other night. ... Cigars and punch went around and altogether it was very interesting. Paine was there, also Foot [sic], Whiting, Gericke... any amount of fellows whom it was very interesting to become acquainted with" (17).
Soon afterward, however, MacDowell changes his mind about some of these individuals, or at least about their music. Writing on 25 November 1889, he observes that "Foote's 'String Suite'", which a conductor named Schmidt had "trotted out to us in Wiesbaden", was performed in Boston by Nikisch and "had lots of success but is 'rot de la rot.' By gum", he continues, "I don't mind its being prehistoric but it is bad prehistoric". On 9 December 1889 the phrase "rot rot rot" appears in reference to several of Foote's works as well as one of Chadwick's (18).
Often, too, MacDowell takes pot-shots at critics as well as composers. On 4 June 1890, for example, he appears to ridicule a review by Apthorp in the Boston Transcript--and this, although the review complained of works by Chadwick that MacDowell himself had already disparaged (19). But MacDowell did not always criticise. On 12 January 1890, for example, he writes: "Last night my Lancelot (20) was done and had a fine success--I had to get up from my place and bow three times and Nikisch was twice recalled. ... [He] led beautifully (without a score as usual)". And always MacDowell praised his friend Strong's music.
MacDowell also had disagreements with editors, publicists, and other musical profiteers. In his 27 April 1889 letter, he tells Strong a long story that involved being charged for having his portrait reproduced on the cover of the magazine, identified here only as the "Courier". Nevertheless, he was unable to "feel comfortable knowing that anyone would be out of pocket" on his account and therefore sent off a "money order for the $25 and remained etc., etc. E. A[lexander]. MacD". Finally, MacDowell observes on 4 June 1890--as do so many music teachers when summer rolls round: "Pupils are dropping off like thunder now". And, as is the case for today's American university professors paid on nine-month contracts: "Though I am glad of the rest. ... [t]he money doesn't flow in as I like to have it--I hope that next winter I will be able to save something". MacDowell even confesses to dieting when he writes: "I am--banting - ! I never knew how I longed for beer etc. till now!!"
Many of MacDowell's letters to Strong deal largely with non-musical subjects. One of these is photography; both MacDowell and Strong were amateur photographers. Consider the opening of the composer's 1 March 1890 letter: "Here I am again writing to you though I only yesterday mailed you a long epistle and 6 Photos of my music room". Nevertheless, MacDowell procedes to supplement his photos with a textual description of his music room, helping Strong see his lodgings through his own eyes: "By the way the room ('front parlour') with the piano and bookshelves and fireplace and my desk... is the front room and looks on the street", he notes. "The windows you see in the Photos had the blinds entirely closed and all the light comes from the side ones. I'd like to photograph my door plate but fear the cacchination [sic] of the neighbors".
MacDowell often gave Strong advice on photography, demonstrating the gravity with which he pursued his hobby. Material innovations advised by MacDowell include experiments in lighting and exposure time along with a suggestion for photographic paper. On 14 September 1889, MacDowell also addressed a particular, recurring problem of Strong's, namely focusing on the foreground while maintaining clarity in mountain backgrounds. In his letter of 13 November 1889, MacDowell teases Strong concerning his apparent difficulties in capturing mountain landscapes, expresses his desire to subscribe to and share with Strong a particular photographic paper, and describes his makeshift darkroom. Much of his 1903-1904 correspondence with Strong is also taken up with photographic references. Writing from Columbia on 31 October 1903, for example, MacDowell mentions his attempts at enlarging some photographs given him "but am sorry to say that the films are rapidly decaying". In his penultimate letter to Strong dated 20 November 1903, he continues: "I got some good enlargements out of the films--but most of them were upset by the sea air".
However much MacDowell enjoyed photography, a busy schedule kept him out of the darkroom during the 1880s and 1890s. After a description of music lessons, new compositions, and his own piano practice, he tells Strong on 21 September 1889: "Photography has languished with me also". Two months later, on 11 November 1889, he confesses: "I am simply head over heels in hard work--about 20 hour lessons to give a week and writing hard all the time too. No time at all for Photography now" (21).
MacDowell's Letters to Strong and the "MacDowell Myth"
During his lifetime, Edward MacDowell was proclaimed America's finest composer. During the decades that followed his death he became emblematic of everything an American creative musician should be. In addition to being a white male Protestant--no woman nor African American man, and probably no Catholic could have acquired as much distinction during the 1880s and 1890s as he did--MacDowell was handsome, outwardly modest, hard-working, and thoroughly respectable. He dressed conservatively, enjoyed baseball and the out-of-doors, and wrote music about his own nation, filling his volumes of piano pieces with references to New England's Puritan history and the charms of rural life. He even possessed an understated and "clean" sense of humour. MacDowell was that most unusual late nineteenth-century New World creature: an artist who could have passed for a banker, but who stuck to his art and made music pay.
All of these factors contributed to the establishment of a "MacDowell myth" that remained familiar until the 1950s. The myth presents the composer as a somewhat different person from the individual Strong described at length--itself a description never completely incorporated into the secondary literature (22). MacDowell's letters to Strong also contradict aspects of the myth. Lawrence Gilman, still possibly MacDowell's best-known biographer, admitted more than a century ago that his subject often gave a "wholly false account of himself". Later in the same passage, Gilman confesses that MacDowell was capable of "deliberate bluntness" and an "utter absence of diplomacy, compromise, or equivocation" when it came to expressing his convictions. Gilman also acknowledges MacDowell's "mingled helplessness and discomfort" in some social situations, as well as his subject's capacity for animated conversation and joshing (23). For Gilman, however, MacDowell's principal traits were "shyness", an "absence of assertiveness", and an "entirely genuine modesty" (24). Levy, on the other hand, ostensibly devotes an entire chapter to MacDowell's "high-strung temperament", but many of Levy's observations pertain exclusively to his subject's business dealings.
Most portrayals of MacDowell as a man have been less fulsome. Consider two "mythic" children's books about MacDowell that appeared in print between the 1920s and 1940s. The first, The Boyhood of Edward MacDowell, describes a few boyhood misadventures--among them, the famous tale of the young Edward paying his brother to practice the piano "for him" so that he could read in leisure--but otherwise depicts its subject as almost too good to be true (25). The second book, Edward MacDowell and His Cabin in the Pines, portrays MacDowell as a remorseful expatriate who returned to the United States at Strong's behest, and as creator of the MacDowell Colony (26). Although (as we have already seen) MacDowell did express delight in his New Hampshire home, and although he did discuss the creation of a retreat for artists, the organisation that eventually grew up around his "dream" was almost entirely the work of Marian MacDowell, his widow. By the 1960s, the Colony's reputation had surpassed MacDowell's own; today, more Americans have probably heard of the Colony than of the man after whom it was named (27).
Only Bomberger's biography, published in 2013, cites more than a few of MacDowell's letters to Strong and also refers to problematic aspects of his character. Although Bomberger deals much more explicitly and consistently with MacDowell's professional life than we set out to do, he begins his volume by acknowledging that his subject (and ours) was at once "a loner, not a joiner" and "the most iconic and enigmatic of nineteenth-century American composers"; that Edward MacDowell was a man who "managed to alienate many of his professional colleagues while winning an unprecedented audience for his works"; and that many of his "biographical details are shrouded in mystery" (28). Bomberger sets out to "peel back" legends and biases (29), although even in so lengthy and rich a monograph he cannot possibly address every document in the Library of Congress's massive holdings.
MacDowell's letters to Strong also cast multicolored light upon this myth and much of the MacDowell literature that incorporates it. In these letters we encounter a man who often blows his own horn, complains openly about his ailments and occasional financial difficulties, and damns many of his professional colleagues. At the same time, none of the letters tells us much about MacDowell the Magnificent: the Liszt protege, touring concert pianist, co-founder of the American Academy of Arts, and recipient of honorary doctoral degrees from Princeton and the University of Pennsylvania. Nor do many of them reveal precisely what he thought about Indian music and musical programmism, and none of them tells us anything substantial about MacDowell's relationship with his wife--a relationship recently cast into doubt, albeit obliquely and inconclusively, because of claims that the composer suffered from syphilis (30). Marian MacDowell was wise to express concern about her husband's letters to Strong: biographically they have not yet altogether upset the "official" apple cart, but only occasionally do they grease its wheels.
As a recitalist, a lecturer, and a composer, MacDowell rarely spoke out (31). 'In the leaf ', however, he often stops with Strong to laugh at his own bilingual puns, begs his friend for more and more frequent letters, and inveighs against the tight-ranked and seemingly hypocritical Boston musical establishment. Long sanctified as a hero of American culture--consider the numerous MacDowell Clubs that sprang up across the United States for the improvement of their members--MacDowell was in fact an iconoclastic, increasingly eccentric, and often combative individual. Lonely for masculine companionship, he lavished pages of musical information and personal observations on Strong. Yet he was also genuinely concerned with his friend's welfare as well as with his wife's (and his own). Edward MacDowell may no longer be quite as famous a composer as he once was, but his correspondence with Templeton Strong reveals him as a more interesting than merely "mythic" individual, an artistic adventurer who "conquered" Boston and survived to write many charming and useful observations about his experiences.
A professor in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences at Virginia Polytechnic Institute and State University, Michael Saffle has recently published on "rural American TV music", The Sopranos television series, and Phineas and Ferb as postmodern, serialised, and digitalised musical comedy. In 2000-2001, he held the Bicentennial Fulbright Professorship in American Studies at the University of Helsinki. In 2006, on the occasion of his sixtieth birthday, he was honoured with a Festschrift published in Spaces of Identity: the first-ever e-journal Festschrift in the field of musicology. His most recent book is The Music of Franz Liszt: Stylistic Development and Cultural Synthesis (Milton Park, Abington, Oxon: Routledge, 2018).
Elizabeth McLain is a Ph.D. candidate in Historical Musicology at the University of Michigan. Supported by a Lurcy Fellowship, her dissertation "Catholic, Nonconformist, Surrealist, Artist: Olivier Messiaen's Intellectual and Aesthetic Agenda in the 1930s" situates Messiaen's early works at the intersection of the composer--organist--improviser tradition, Ressourcement theology, Nonconformist ideology, and Surrealist aesthetics. Her published work includes a chapter in Mystic Modern: The Music, Thought, and Legacy of Charles Tournemire (Richmond, VA: Church Music Association of America, 2014) and an article on George Crumb's Black Angels for the Journal of Musicological Research (38, no. 1 [January-March 2019]: 44-68).
The authors would like to thank Virginia Tech, especially the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences, and the School of Music, Theatre & Dance at the University of Michigan for support toward the completion of this article. They would also like to thank Catherine C. Rivers of the Performing Arts Division, Library of Congress, for her generous and well-informed assistance; the heirs of Edward A. MacDowell for permission to examine and quote from his papers; and Paul Hlusko, M.D., former director of St. Albans Psychiatric Hospital, Radford Virginia, for medical opinions expressed in conjunction with the possibility that MacDowell suffered from syphilis.
(1.) MacDowell's handwritten letters to Strong are preserved today in Box 30 of the Edward A. MacDowell Papers, Division of Performing Arts, Library of Congress. All subsequent references to MacDowell's correspondence with Strong are to these documents. Box 29, folder 25, of the MacDowell Papers contains a complete, not entirely accurate, but carefully corrected typewritten copy of the letters' contents; the corrections also comment on some of the letters' contents.
(2.) MacDowell's correspondent and friend was also named George Templeton Strong, but throughout the MacDowell literature he is known simply as "Templeton Strong" and sometimes referred to as a composer, to distinguish him from his famous father.
(3.) See E. Douglas Bomberger, MacDowell (New York: Oxford University Press, 2013).
(4.) Report of the Librarian of Congress for the Fiscal Year Ending June 30[,] 1930 (Washington, D.C.: U.S. G.P.O., 1930), 189.
(5.) Ibid. From this point on, we identify individual letters only by author and date.
(6.) But see Strong to MacDowell of 24 November 1888. Quoted in Bomberger, 121-122. As it happens, this letter contains nothing either exceptionally "frank" or offensive, at least to us.
(7.) Marian MacDowell described her husband as "shy" on several occasions. See her Random Notes on Edward MacDowell and his Music (Boston: Arthur P. Schmidt, 1950), v.
(8.) See Dolores Pesce, "New Light on the Programmatic Aesthetic of MacDowell's Symphonic Poems", American Music 4, no. 4 (Winter 1986): 387n.
(9.) Kara Anne Gardner, "Edward MacDowell, Antimodernism, and 'Playing Indian' in the 'Indian Suite' ", The Musical Quarterly 87 (2004): 419n.
(10.) Alan Howard Levy, Edward MacDowell: An American Master (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 1998), passim.
(11.) See Pesce, 375-377. Lancelot and Elaine, Op. 25, is one of MacDowell's symphonic poems.
(12.) Quoted in Bomberger, 125.
(13.) See MacDowell, Critical and Historical Essays, ed. W. J. Baltzell (Boston: Arthur P. Schmidt, 1912), passim.
(14.) "Faust" refers to Johann Wolfgang von Goethe's Faust; the "Brocken" scene is more commonly known as the "Walpurgisnacht": Part I, scene xxi, of Goethe's verse drama.
(15.) Theodore Dreiser, Sister Carrie: The Unexpurgated Edition, ed. Neda M. Westlake, et al. (New York: Penguin, 1981), 28. Dreiser's novel was published for the first time in 1900, but in an expurgated edition.
(16.) See Dreiser, 448. By 1900, MacDowell's annual income must have been $7,000 or more, based on $5,000 salary at Columbia and more than $2,000 from concert appearances and sheet-music royalties. However, more than a few of his professional expenses he had to pay himself.
(17.) MacDowell refers to composers John Knowles Paine (1835-1906) and Arthur William Foote (1853-1957), organist George Elbridge Whiting (1840-1923), and conductor Wilhelm Gericke (1845-1925).
(18.) Here MacDowell refers to composer George Whitefield Chadwick (1854-1931) and conductor Arthur Nikisch (1855-1922). "Schmidt" is almost certainly Arthur P. Schmidt (1846-1921), who became MacDowell's principal American publisher.
(19.) Music critic William Foster Apthorp (1848-1913).
(20.) See note 11 above.
(21.) MacDowell also enjoyed "fishing, riding, walking, hunting" and gardening as well as carpentry. See Lawrence Gilman, Edward MacDowell: A Study (New York: John Lane, 1909), 60-61.
(22.) Templeton Strong, "Edward MacDowell as I Knew Him," The Music Student [Great Britain] (1915-1916): variously paginated.
(23.) Gilman, 57-65 passim.
(24.) Gilman, 56-57.
(25.) Abbie Farwell Brown, The Boyhood of Edward MacDowell (New York: Frederick A. Stokes, 1924).
(26.) See Opal Wheeler and Sybil Deucher, Edward MacDowell and His Cabin in the Pines (New York: E. P. Dutton, 1940). "You can hide from the world no longer, for your nest has been discovered", proclaims a fictionalised Strong in an especially saccharine passage." 'But how could I leave this beautiful [German] nature world?' cried Edward, gazing at the countryside that he loved so well. 'You can find it in your own land, my friend' ", replies Strong [Wheeler and Deucher, 120].
(27.) Among other documents pertaining to the Colony's character and fame, see Bridget Falconer-Salkeld, The MacDowell Colony: A Musical History of America's Premier Artists' Community (Lanham, MD: Scarecrow, 2005). Its defects are identified by Robin Rausch in Notes 64, no. 2 (2006): 989-991. Near the end of her life, Marian MacDowell gave an informative interview about 'her' organisation. See Olin Downes, "Colony of the Arts: Mrs. Edward MacDowell, 94, Maintains Center as Tribute to Her Husband", New York Times, 24 August 1952.
(28.) Bomberger, ix.
(30.) See Arnold T. Schwab, "Edward MacDowell's Mysterious Malady", The Musical Quarterly 89 (2006): 136-151. Of course, MacDowell may have had syphilis, but other illnesses unknown in his day may also have contributed to the complex of symptoms he presented during the last few years of his life. Only modern clinical tests unavailable in the early twentieth century could have confirmed his illness.
(31.) The one exception may have been an interview MacDowell gave to one or more New York newspaper reporters late in 1903. It was this interview that led to MacDowell's resignation from Columbia in 1904. See Margery Morgan Lowens, "The New York Years of Edward MacDowell" (Ph.D. diss., University of Michigan, 1971).
|Printer friendly Cite/link Email Feedback|
|Author:||Saffle, Michael; McLain, Elizabeth|
|Publication:||Fontes Artis Musicae|
|Date:||Jul 1, 2019|
|Previous Article:||A Sousa Reader: Essays, Interviews, and Clippings. Edited by Bryan Proksch.|
|Next Article:||FOLLOW THE BATON: THE STORY OF THE WAGNER SIEGFRIED IDYLLBATON.|