Edward MacDowell's First piano concerto: at the origins of American genre history





musical culture of the USA, E. McDowell’s creativity, genre models, instrumental concert, European traditions


The relevance of the study. It consists in considering the concerto in A minor op. 15 by Edward MacDowell not only in the context of the author's artistic evolution, but also as the beginning of the history of the American branch of the genre. Written in 1882, it became the composer's first large-scale work and, at the same time, the first piano concerto composed by an American.

The main objective of the study is to identify the genre models by which MacDowell created his First Concerto, and to mark the composer's intended prospects for the further development of the American piano concerto.

The methodology includes biographical (to find out the circumstances of MacDowell's life and education in the European period), comparative (to reveal the continuity of the concert in question in relation to previous samples of the genre), as well as structural-functional, genrestylistic and intonational-dramatic methods (for a comprehensive analysis of the work).

Results and conclusions. It is emphasized that MacDowell's First piano concert was influenced by the European traditions learned by the young composer during his years in France and Germany. The vicissitudes of MacDowell's education are traced in detail, the names of his teachers and musicians with whom he communicated directly and whose work he admired are indicated, and his repertoire as a pianist is given. The compositional and thematic organization of the First piano concert is analyzed, attention is focused on the figurative and stylistic origins of this music, on the genre models that served as a reference point in MacDowell's work. The ratio of instrumental parts and methods of soloing are highlighted separately. It is concluded that when writing the concert, the novice composer strongly relied on the developed European tradition of interpretation of the genre. In particular, the investigation noted the parallels in the structure of the cycle with the Schumann’s and Grieg’s concertos, revealed the influence of Liszt's pianism on the features of the solo part, and emphasized the striving to balance the sound of the piano and the orchestra, mainly through their alternate juxtaposition. A certain eclecticism of the figurative and stylistic coloring of MacDowell's concerto is indicated (SaintSaëns’s scherzo traits, Mendelssohn’s peacefulness, Liszt’s imposingness, Beethoven’s effectiveness), the similarity of some harmonic turns with Liszt’s and Wagner’s writing styles is noted, the continuity of MacDowell’s motivic and contrapuntal work in relation to the instructions from his teacher Raff is substantiated. These findings highlight that, despite the well-perceived influences and the borrowing of quite specific compositional and dramaturgical techniques, the music of MacDowell's First piano concerto already clearly shows an individual authorial principle, which manifests itself in a number of pianistic techniques, in a masterful combination of contrasting images, in the balancing between simplicity and sophistication, pathos and poetics. The considered work testifies to the unconditional composer’s talent and independent thinking of the future founder of American music.

Author Biography

Olena Antonova, Tchaikovsky National Music Academy of Ukraine

Doctor of Philosophy in Art Criticism, Associate Professor, Professor at the Department of the World Music History


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Foreign music in the reflections of Ukrainian musicologists