Critical & Historical Essays by Edward MacDowell


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Page 2

It was in 1896 that the authorities of Columbia University
offered to him the newly created Chair of Music, for which he
had been strongly recommended as one of the leading composers
of America. After much thought he accepted the position, and
entered upon his duties with the hope of accomplishing much for
his art in the favorable environment which he fully expected
to find. The aim of the instruction, as he planned it, was:
"First, to teach music scientifically and technically, with a
view to training musicians who shall be competent to teach and
compose. Second, to treat music historically and aesthetically
as an element of liberal culture." In carrying out his plans he
conducted a course, which, while "outlining the purely technical
side of music," was intended to give a "general idea of music
from its historical and aesthetic side." Supplementing this,
as an advanced course, he also gave one which took up the
development of musical forms, piano music, modern orchestration
and symphonic forms, impressionism, the relationship of music
to the other arts, with much other material necessary to form
an adequate basis for music criticism.

It is a matter for sincere regret that Mr. MacDowell put in
permanent form only a portion of the lectures prepared for
the two courses just mentioned. While some were read from
manuscript, others were given from notes and illustrated with
musical quotations. This was the case, very largely, with
the lectures prepared for the advanced course, which included
extremely valuable and individual treatment of the subject of
the piano, its literature and composers, modern music, etc.

A point of view which the lecturer brought to bear upon his
subject was that of a composer to whom there were no secrets
as to the processes by which music is made. It was possible
for him to enter into the spirit in which the composers both
of the earlier and later periods conceived their works, and
to value the completed compositions according to the way in
which he found that they had followed the canons of the best
and purest art. It is this unique attitude which makes the
lectures so valuable to the musician as well as to the student.

The Editor would also call attention to the intellectual
qualities of Mr. MacDowell, which determined his attitude
toward any subject. He was a poet who chose to express himself
through the medium of music rather than in some other way. For
example, he had great natural facility in the use of the
pencil and the brush, and was strongly advised to take up
painting as a career. The volume of his poetical writings,
issued several years ago, is proof of his power of expression
in verse and lyric forms. Above these and animating them
were what Mr. Lawrence Gilman terms "his uncommon faculties
of vision and imagination." What he thought, what he said,
what he wrote, was determined by the poet's point of view,
and this is evident on nearly every page of these lectures.

He was a wide reader, one who, from natural bent, dipped into
the curious and out-of-the-way corners of literature, as will
be noticed in his references to other works in the course
of the lectures, particularly to Rowbotham's picturesque and
fascinating story of the formative period of music. Withal he
was always in touch with contemporary affairs. With the true
outlook of the poet he was fearless, individual, and even
radical in his views. This spirit, as indicated before, he
carried into his lectures, for he demanded of his pupils that
above all they should be prepared to do their own thinking and
reach their own conclusions. He was accustomed to say that we
need in the United States, a public that shall be independent
in its judgment on art and art products, that shall not be tied
down to verdicts based on tradition and convention, but shall be
prepared to reach conclusions through knowledge and sincerity.

That these lectures may aid in this splendid educational
purpose is the wish of those who are responsible for placing
them before the public.

W.J. BALTZELL.




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Books | Photos | Paul Mutton | Sun 15th Dec 2019, 20:56