Amy Beach doesn’t strike me as particularly American, or not American. She sounds very steeped in the European tradition, borrowing occasionally from more exotic locales. Her Balkan folk tune doesn’t sound particularly exotic (that might not be her fault!), but then neither do her variations. Sometimes she’ll throw in a splash of augmented seconds for some Hungarian flavor, or some gypsy rhythms, but then it’s back to something more traditional. These Balkan variations remind me of Schumann. They’re a bit all over the map, not necessarily connecting one to the next, each one really well-written in her (and its) own style, whatever that happens to be for the variation.
These pieces, if they are not folk tunes, sound like they could be. They are simple, having one idea, or maybe two, and doing them well. MacDowell has a knack for drawing a really clear picture of the subjects of his pieces. He draws from all kinds of folklore the same as Beach, but he doesn’t seem to mess with it as much – he just leaves it be, within the piano idiom.
Between them both, some of these pieces are pretty formidable. They were serious pianists – it takes some serious chops to pull some of these movements off. I’ve heard nods to Schumann, Chopin, Liszt.