This week’s music begins a new series on American composers. To kick things off, we will be starting with Edward MacDowell’s Piano Concerto No. 2, performed by Andre Watts with the Detroit Symphony Orchestra. (My apologies for the short excerpt video, it’s the only tolerably decent video I could find. Hopefully this piques your interest and inspires you to go listen to the concerto in full :).
MacDowell is one of the most celebrated composers in American history. A Renaissance man, he was also a talented poet, painter, forester, and architect. His compositions quickly gained international acclaim. He was one of the first seven people to be inducted into the American Academy of Arts and Letters.
His second piano concerto is by far his most well-known work. MacDowell himself played the premiere of the concerto in 1894, and the performance was so successful that he was immediately hired to start the music department at Columbia University. However, university life was not for him, and he resigned soon after starting the program and returned to his farm in Peterborough, New Hampshire. There is now a world famous artist colony called the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough.
The second concerto begins with the dazzling runs and thundering chords you will hear in the video above. I had a chance to play in an orchestra during a performance of this concerto, and the adrenaline rush of these opening bars is like nothing else. Watts does a phenomenal job of creating two voices – one soft and hesitant, the other powerful and aggressive.