Yes, that is Spock in the headphones. The year was 1979. These are some of my LPs, themed compilations, and the like.


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Wednesday, May 25, 2011

Edward MacDowell - Indian Suite

MacDowell was an American composer of the 19th century.  Here is a review of this album from the March, 1975 edition of Gramophone:

         MACDOWELL. Suite No. 2, Op. 48, "Indian Suite". Piano Concerto No. 2 in D minor, Op. 29*. Westphalian Symphony Orchestra conducted by Siegfried Landau, with Eugene List (piano) on Concerto). Turnabout TV34535S (f1.29).
         MacDowell’s Second Piano Concerto has clung tenuously to a place in the catalogue.  The new version is played with plenty of dash by Eugene List who has himself already made a coupling of Nos. 1 and 2, though this new recording is not kind to the extremes of the piano register, nor to MacDowell’s skilled orchestration. List rattles off the scherzo exuberantly, though it is a movement of potentially more delicacy: comparisons with Mendelssohn would be invidious, but MacDowell is not the inferior of Litolff both in other aspects of the concerto and particularly in this deft little scherzo, a piece from the same stable as Litolff’s most famous movement. Elsewhere, there is a somewhat strenuous note in music that for all its Brahmsian apparatus is usually in spirit closer to Grieg.
The Indian Suite has also been popular, and has turned up before on records. The tunes are genuine, taken from a collection made by Theodore Baker, a pioneer of American musicology who gained a Leipzig D. Phil. for the first serious study of the music of the American Indians (he was later also the author of the exceedingly useful Biographical Dictionary of Musicians which has gone through five editions and remains in print). However, MacDowell felt obliged to make amendments to the tunes, in the words of his pupil Henry Gilbert (quoted in the sleeve-note) "in the direction of musical beauty, [but) enough of the original tune has been retained to leave no doubt as to its barbaric flavour." And there is the nub of it. These were still days when native melodies were prized for their glimpse of an exotic world — be it Indian, African, Central Asian, Japanese or whatever — but regarded as incompatible with Western music until tidied into shapes that could suit European harmony and compositional techniques. As Tchaikovsky was obliged to point out to Tolstoy, who sent him a set of corruptly arranged Russian tunes, the essence is thereby lost. In the present rapid growth of ethnomusicology, music’s accompanying discipline to the turn back towards a respect for primitive cultures, we set a better value upon genuine folk tunes, and thus MacDowell’s smooth settings can seem insipid; but it would be a mistake to dismiss them. They did help to arouse a real interest in indigenous American music; they did, through MacDowell’s excellent technique, encourage a greater respect for national composers at a time when America had few to offer; and by no means all of the settings are worthless. There is, especially in the fine Dirge, a poetic understanding of what is (whether part MacDowell or not) a fine melody of an original and moving kind. No expert on either MacDowell or American Indian music, I cannot say more; but listening in a purely amateur way, I felt strongly that even the more conventional war dance and festival reflected a proper sympathy with Indian music and culture, even if there is a long way to go before we reach the bitter, guilty understanding of that moving book Bury My Heart at Wounded Knee. In the light of all that is felt now, it is easy to wave MacDowell’s amiable platitudes aside; but it would be a mistake to do so when there is in the music an impressive measure of skill, warmth and understanding. J. W.

Here are the tracks on the record:


And here is the link:

(apologies for some surface noise from the LP)

Now, I like the Suite more than  the Concerto.  I think it's kind of patronizing to the work that MacDowell did, to decry its lack of "purity" in regards to the Indian themes presented here.

Works like this suite by MacDowell, or Dvorak's Slavonic Dances, don't cheapen or trivialize the originals by changing them to attract a new audience.  A re-presentation honors the originals and brings new appreciation to the sources.

It's a fact that this music, while claiming inspiration from American Indian melodies, still sounds like Western Classical music.  Does that make it less pure or worthwhile, AS MUSIC?  No offense to the dozens of people now cranking out "Indian" music nowadays, but I would argue that MacDowell's work is just as valid as the stuff cranked out nowadays by folks with synthesizers and sampled drums (and sampled "Indian" chants!) who cater to New Age types.
Indian Suite (Suite No. 2), Op. 48

 01 - Legend        
02 - Love Song            
03 - In War-Time         
04 - Dirge          
05 - Village Festival      

Piano Concerto No. 2 In D Minor, Op. 23
Siegfried Landau

06 - 1 - Larghetto Calmato
07 - 2 - Presto Giocoso
08 - 3 - Largo - Molto Allegro

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