Amy Marcy Cheney Beach

(1867-1944)

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(music: Four Sketches Op. 15 I. In Autumn. Amy Beach: Fire Flies, Joanne Polk, piano, Arabesque Records (www.arabesquerecords.com) iTunes: Music-classical-JoannePolk)

The first significant female composer in America, Amy Marcy Cheney was born in Henniker, New Hampshire in 1867. Recognized as a child prodigy within a year of her birth, she could sing forty tunes at age one, and, a year later, harmonize to anything her mother sang. At age four, she dreamed up her first pieces and then sat down and played them on the piano. Amy Cheney began serious piano lessons with her mother at age six. Moving to Boston in 1875, she became a student of two German-born pianists and composers, Ernst Perabo and Carl Baermann. At 14, Amy studied harmony and counterpoint at Wellesley College, the only formal composition training she ever had.

(music: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra Op. 45 - IV Allegro Con Scioltezza The Romantic Piano Concerto, Mary Louise Boehm, piano, Westphalian Symphony Orchestra, Siegrfried Landau, conductor, Vox Records (www.voxcd.com/) iTunes: Music-classical-Westphalian Symphony Orchestra)

Amy Cheney began appearing in recitals in Boston in 1883 and audiences applauded her outstanding pianism. For the next two years, she performed in and around Boston, and by the time she made her concert debut in 1885 with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, playing Chopin’s Second Piano Concerto, critics were calling her a master musician.

(music: Sonata in A minor for Piano and Violin, op. 34: II Scherzo. Amy Beach Morning Glories (Vol 5) Chamber Music, Joanne Polk & the Lark Quartet, Arabesque Recordings (www.arabesquerecords.com) iTunes: Music-classical-JoannePolk & The Lark Quartet)

Here, the cultural mores of the times took hold. Her family had already limited her public appearances, following the dictates of society’s hidebound views of women and decorum. When Amy married Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach in 1885, at the age of 18, he replaced her parents as an authority figure. Twenty-five years her senior, Dr. Beach persuaded Amy to limit public performances to one annual recital. An amateur musician himself, he did, however, encourage her to devote herself to composition, allowing her to publish her works under her new name, Mrs. H.H.A. Beach.

(music: Chanson D’Amour. Emma Kirby & Romantic Chamber Group of London, Bis Records (www.bis.se/) iTunes: Music-classical-Emma Kirby & Romantic Chamber Group of London)

Over the next twenty-five years, Amy Beach composed dozens of art songs, piano, chamber and choral works, and several major compositions for orchestra, including her Mass in E flat major, Symphony in E minor (“Gaelic”) and Piano Concerto, op. 45, in 1901.

(music: Concerto for Piano and Orchestra Op. 45 - II Scherzo_ Vivace. The Romantic Piano Concerto, Mary Louise Boehm, piano, Westphalian Symphony Orchestra, Siegrfried Landau, conductor, Vox Records (www.voxcd.com/) iTunes: Music-classical-Westphalian Symphony Orchestra)

Following the death of her husband in 1910 and that of her mother in 1911, Amy Beach resumed her concert career, traveling to Europe to introduce and perform her own works.

(music: Symphony in E Minor, Op. 32, Gaelic IV. Allegro di molto. Amy Beach: Gaelic Symphony, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Karl Krueger, conductor, Bridge Records (www.bridgerecords.com/) iTunes: Music-classical-Karl Krueger & Royal Philharmonic Orchestra)`

Returning in triumph to Boston in 1914, she devoted the rest of her life to concert tours and composition. Her status as the top American women composer enabled her to further the careers of young musicians and serve as leader of several organizations, including the Society of American Women Composers.

(music: Air and Variations (1877). Piano Music by Amy Beach: Vol. 1 The Early Work, Kirsten Johnson, piano. Guild Music (www.guildmusic.com/) iTunes: Music-classical-Kirsten Johnson)

Amy Beach died of heart disease in New York City in 1944, at the age of 77. In July 2000, the Boston Pops added Amy Beach’s name to the granite wall of the famous “Hatch Shell” that comprises the orchestral stage. Here she joined 86 other composers for posterity, but hers is the only woman’s name among them.

(music: Symphony in E Minor, Op. 32, Gaelic II. Alla Siciliana; Allegro vivace. Amy Beach: Gaelic Symphony, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Karl Krueger, conductor, Bridge Records (www.bridgerecords.com/) iTunes: Music-classical-Karl Krueger & Royal Philharmonic Orchestra)`

 

References:

Pendle, Karin, Editor, Women & Music: A History, Indiana University Press, 1991
Wilipedia online site
Block, Adirenne Fried, Beach, Amy Biography, Naxos Records online site
Essentials of Music – Composers, online site

Music:

Joanne Polk recording courtesy of Arabesque Recordings (www.arabesquerecords.com)
Amy Beach: Fire Flies, Joanne Polk, piano, Arabesque Recordings 2006:
Four Sketches Op. 15: 1. In Autumn (61 seconds)

Joanne Polk & the Lark Quartet recording courtesy of Arabesque Recordings
(www.arabesquerecords.com)
Amy Beach Morning Glories (Vol 5) Chamber Music, Joanne Polk & the Lark Quartet,Arabesque Recordings 2006
Sonata in A minor for Piano and Violin, op. 34: II Scherzo (47 seconds)

Emma Kirby recording courtesy of Bis Records (www.bis.se/)
Emma Kirby & Romantic Chamber Group of London, Bis 2000
Chanson D’Amour (22 seconds)

Kirsten Johnson recording courtesy of Guild Music (www.guildmusic.com/)
Piano Music by Amy Beach: Vol. 1 The Early Work, Kirsten Johnson, piano. Guild Music courtesy of BFM Digital, 2007:
Airs and Variations (1877) (27 seconds)

Westphalian Symphony recording courtesy of Vox Records (www.voxcd.com/) The Romantic Piano Concerto, Mary Louise Boehm, piano, Westphalian Symphony Orchestra,
Siegrfried Landau, conductor, Vox Records, 2008
Piano Concerto, C sharp minor, Op. 45:
Scherzo Vivaco (Perpetuum mobile)
(31 seconds); Allegro con scioltezza (33 seconds).

The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra recording courtesy of Bridge Records (www.bridgerecords.com/)
Amy Beach: Gaelic Symphony, The Royal Philharmonic Orchestra, Karl Krueger, conductor, Bridge Records, 1999
Symphony in E minor (Gaelic), op. 32:
Alla siciliana – Allegro vivace – Andante
(29 seconds); Allegro di molto (42 seconds)