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Edward Albert MacDowell was born in New York City on December 18, 1860, the son of Quakers Thomas and Frances Knapp MacDowell. Thanks to his mother, he began taking piano lessons from Colombian violinist Juan Buitrago at age eight. After he surpassed Buitrago's ability, he began studying piano with Cuban pianist Pablo Desverine, whose lessons were supplemented by sessions with Venezuelan pianist Teresa Carre˝o.
By 1876 MacDowell had surpassed the abilities of both of his teachers, so in that year his mother took him to France so he could enroll in the Paris Conservatoire. He subsequently earned one of only thirteen scholarships awarded by the Conservatoire to foreign students wishing to study in the studio of Antoine Franšois Marmontel, one of the most sought-after piano teachers of the time (MacDowell was one of 230 applicants). After only two years, MacDowell grew dissatisfied with the instruction at the conservatoire and moved to Germany to continue his education.
In the fall of 1879, MacDowell entered the Frankfurt Conservatory, where he studied piano with Carl Heymann and composition with Joachim Raff. In early 1880, composer Franz Liszt attended a recital held by Raff, during which he heard MacDowell play the piano part of Robert Schumann's Quintet, op. 44. The following year, MacDowell visited Liszt in Weimar and played his own Piano Concerto in A Minor, op. 15 for him. Liszt was so impressed with the piece that he encouraged MacDowell to concentrate on composing instead of playing. On Liszt's recommendation, MacDowell's First Modern Suite, op. 10 was performed on July 11, 1882 at the Allgemeine deutsche Musikverein (General German Music Association). Liszt also encouraged the prestigious Leipzig firm of Breitkopf & Hńrtel to publish the work.
After Heymann's retirement in 1881, MacDowell began his professional career as a teacher at the Darmstadt Conservatory. He resigned a year later, but continued to teach privately. On July 11, 1884, he married Marian Griswold Nevins, one of his former students.The couple lived in Germany for several years (first in Frankfurt, then in Wiesbaden), during which time MacDowell dedicated himself solely to composition. He achieved fame with his Piano Concerto in A Minor, op. 15 and his Fantasy Pieces, op. 17 (1884).
Financial difficulties forced the MacDowells to return to America in 1888. They lived in Boston until 1896, when MacDowell became professor of music at Columbia University (in New York City). In addition to composing and teaching, he directed the Mendelssohn Glee Club (1896-1898) and started an all-male chorus at Columbia University. During this period, he also published dozens of piano transcriptions of eighteenth-century pre-piano keyboard pieces, arranged and composed college songs for Columbia University's men's glee club, and, for the Mendelssohn Glee Club, wrote nine arrangements for male voices of works by Borodin, Sokolov, Rimsky-Korsakov, and others.
In 1904, MacDowell became the first of the seven people chosen for membership in the newly established American Academy of Arts and Letters. He resigned from Columbia in that same year, after serious disputes with Murray Butler, the university's new president, regarding the role of the music program. Having experienced a tremendous "high" and a great "down" within a relatively short span of time, MacDowell was already beginning a mental decline when, also in 1904, he was run over and seriously injured by a Hansom cab. No longer able to compose or teach, MacDowell's mental health soon collapsed entirely, as did his physical health. He died in New York City on January 23, 1908, and was buried at The MacDowell Colony.
The MacDowell Colony
In 1896, Marian MacDowell purchased land near Peterborough, New Hampshire, on which she had a cabin built to serve as her and her husband's summer residence. In 1907, she founded the MacDowell Colony by deeding the property to the newly established Edward MacDowell Association. She led the Association and Colony for more than 25 years, building its endowment through resuming her performing career, and creating a wide circle of support, especially among women's clubs and musical sororities.
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This page was last updated on 12/17/2017.