Edward MacDowell was the first American composer of classical music to be acclaimed by both Europeans and Americans. Born in 1861 and raised in New York City, Edward began his piano lessons at the age of eight. He learned quickly and showed great promise. For any gifted young musician with adequate funds, proper training could only be found in Europe. Edward finished his five years of studies at the Frankfurt Conservatory at the age of twenty. He supported himself in Germany teaching private piano lessons and was introduced to a promising young student, Marian Griswold Nevins, from Waterford, Connecticut. She studied with Edward for three years and they developed a warm friendship. They married in 1884, and eventually settled in Boston. Edward's teaching and performing schedule left him little time for his own creative work. Marian rented a vacation house in Peterborough where Edward found success composing. In 1896, they bought a house called "Hillcrest" in Peterborough. Edward's finest music was composed in Peterborough--music that exhibits less European influence and incorporates many American traditions in music such as Indian chants, Negro spirituals, and American folk songs. Edward was offered the first professorship of the department of music at Columbia University. He used his platform to advocate that artists are enriched by association with artists in other disciplines. While Edward was on sabbatical in 1902-1903, the President of the University replaced him, in part because of his integrated art philosophy. This devastated Edward. His health deteriorated and he died at the early age of forty-six in January, 1908.
Students viewing the Edward & Marian MacDowell episode will be introduced to Edward MacDowell and his development as a composer and artist, along with his philosophy of interdisciplinary integration of the arts.
Have students develop a timeline from 1861-1908 for New Hampshire, the United States, and Europe, focusing on major events and artistic works created during that period.
Direct students to the issue of Edward and Marian MacDowell's education. How did they receive their education? Does every successful artist need formal education? What was the conflict that caused Edward to lose his job at Columbia University?
Hold a class discussion or have students write an essay on the pros and cons of "affiliation of the arts." The MacDowell Colony was founded on this philosophy, which is also the reason that Edward lost his professorship. MacDowell was applauded for his philosophy, however, and various MacDowell clubs started just before the turn of the century and continue today.
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