Music at Columbia: The First 100 Years

Beginnings > Edward MacDowell

Edward Alexander MacDowell (1860-1908)

Autographed photograph, 1902

Edward MacDowell Papers, Rare Book and Manuscript Library

Columbia soon announced the appointment of the man widely considered to be America’s premier composer, Edward Alexander MacDowell. A search committee chaired by the eminent professor of political science, John W. Burgess, had considered many candidates, but MacDowell’s reputation and the strong recommendations of others, including the pianist Paderewski, brought the committee to a unanimous and enthusiastic decision.

The 36-year-old Edward A. MacDowell seems at first blush an improbable candidate to bring music instruction into an academic setting. His own formal education ended when he was no more than fifteen, and in 1876 his mother took this native-born New Yorker to Europe to embark on the traditional 19th century route for the training of young musicians. He first enrolled at the Paris Conservatoire, but it was not a happy match. After a year he went to Germany, settling at length in Frankfurt, where he studied at the Hoch Conservatory and eventually took on piano students of his own. One of these was a young American woman, Marian Griswold Nevins, whom MacDowell married in 1884. In 1888, MacDowell returned permanently to his homeland, settling in Boston where he established a notable career as pianist and composer. MacDowell’s reputation grew steadily, and by the time Columbia approached him he was a significant figure in the world of music.

Although MacDowell’s birthdate is generally given as 1861, recent research has produced evidence that supports 1860 as the actual year of his birth. The reasons for the conflicting records are unknown.


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