US Romantic composer. While his music is essentially European-Romantic, he also flirted with American nationalistic materials in works such as the Indian Suite (1895). He was at his best with short, lyrical piano pieces, such as ‘To a Wild Rose’ from Woodland Sketches (1896). The most popular US composer of his era, he succeeded both in ambitious works, such as the Piano Concerto No. 2 (1889), and in parlour pieces for piano.
MacDowell was born in New York, New York. After learning the piano at home, he went to the Paris Conservatory, Paris, France, in 1876, where he studied piano under Marmontel and theory under Savard. Afterwards he worked with Louis Ehlert at Wiesbaden in 1878, and the following year entered the Frankfurt Conservatory, where Raff taught him composition. In 1881 he became piano professor at the Darmstadt Conservatory, and in 1882 was invited by Liszt to play his first piano concerto at Zürich. Returning to the USA for good in 1888, he lived and worked in Boston, Massachusetts, and then headed Columbia University's new department of music (1896–1904), and was awarded an honorary doctorate in music by Princeton University. In 1904 he began to suffer from mental illness which afflicted him until his death. His widow established the MacDowell Colony at their farm in Peterborough, New Hampshire, to serve as a summer residence for artists in various fields.
WorksOrchestral symphonic poems Hamlet and Ophelia (after Shakespeare, 1885), Lancelot and Elaine, Lamia (after Keats, 1889); two suites (no. 2 Indian) for orchestra; two piano concertos (1882, 1889); six orchestral works.
Piano 26 Op. nos. of piano solos, including four sonatas, two Modern Suites, 24 studies, Woodland Sketches, Sea Pieces, Fireside Tales, New England Idylls, also two books of technical exercises; two sets of pieces for piano duet.
Other 42 songs; 26 part songs.