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American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: M (Part 1—MacDowell, Edward)

This is a guest post written by music librarian Brian McCurdy.

If one were to examine the career of Edward MacDowell (1860-1908) solely based on the merit of his compositions, his life would be considered an extraordinary one.  However, his legacy of influence on the composers, writers, journalists, performers, and artists who passed through the woods of the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, N.H., has extended more than 100 years after his passing.

Edward MacDowell facing front

A photographic negative of Edward MacDowell by Oscar Mauer, 1902-1903.  From the Harris & Ewing Collection //hdl.loc.gov/loc.pnp/hec.23692

The MacDowell Colony was founded in 1907 by both MacDowell and his wife Marian.  Marian, a pianist and philanthropist, continued the work of the non-profit venture and led the colony for the next 25 years.  Intended to give artists a peaceful environment where they can create, be inspired, and work without the stress and struggle of day-to-day life, the colony now offers annual fellowships to about 300 artists each year.

Who has spent time at the MacDowell Colony? While on fellowship, Aaron Copland worked on Appalachian Spring—a Pulitzer Prize-winning composition that was premiered at the Library of Congress in 1945.

Thornton Wilder wrote Our Town, and Leonard Bernstein completed Mass—both while at the colony.

The international music fraternity Sigma Alpha Iota (SAI) sponsors their own living quarters on the colony, known to its members as “Pan’s Cottage”.  SAI has made significant contributions to the large print scores collection at the Library of Congress.

Since 1960, the MacDowell Medal has been awarded each year to writers, composers, visual artists, and film makers.  Robert Frost, Walter Piston, Steve Reich, Stephen Sondheim, and David Lynch have all been recipients.  The medal day ceremony is the only day of the year that the MacDowell Colony is open to the public.

The NLS Music Section has a number of Edward MacDowell’s works in various accessible formats at the National Library Service.  His most well-known work, Woodland Sketches, op. 51, is available in both large print (LPM 00089) and braille (BRM 09484) formats.  Here at the Library of Congress, there are a number of MacDowell’s manuscripts in our holdings, many of which were acquired as a result of a friendship between the composer and Oscar Sonneck—former Music Division Chief at the library.  In 2007, the Library of Congress held a special exhibit celebrating the centennial of the MacDowell Colony, and the online component holds some valuable information.

Want to learn more about the works referenced in this post?  Ballet for Martha: Making Appalachian Spring is available on BARD (DBC 10097).  Also, Copland: Since 1943 by Aaron Copland and Vivian Perlis is available in braille (BR 09226) and in Talking Book format (DB 36096).  For even further Copland perusal, the Copland Collection is ideal.

“Gloria tibi” from Bernstein’s Mass is available in braille format (BRM 30150).

Here are a few of MacDowell’s works, (other than Woodland Sketches, referenced above), that are included in our NLS holdings:

Alla Tarantella for piano (BRM 18207)

An Old Trysting Place for piano (BRM 12808)

To a Wild Rose, transcribed for violin and piano (BRM 00861)

Six Selected Songs for low voice and piano (BRM 00600)

Barcarolle for piano (BRM 13460)

Etude de concert, op. 36 for piano (BRM 00308)

To the Sea for piano (BRM 12787)

Without question, the legacy of Edward MacDowell has extended far beyond the concert hall, spanning more than a century and inspiring generations of creative minds.

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