Amy Marcy Beach,
Mrs. H. H. A. Beach,
Are one and the same.
A child prodigy,
A talented composer,
Her music constrained
By society’s standards;
Yet she persevered.
Once gone, her music
Languished for many a year.
Times changed; she’s now hailed.
In recent years, Amy Beach (1867-1944) has again begun to receive recognition for her great talent. In her lifetime she was lauded by audiences, her peers of the Second New England School of composers (the “Boston Six”), and by critics, although sometimes grudgingly so. She brought a thoroughly American voice to music.
It must have been frustrating for her sometimes though. She was allowed to perform in public for the first time only when she was nearly an adult, although she had been playing and composing since her childhood. Her musical activities were circumscribed by her mother, then by her husband. Her performances were limited (a concession to her husband), so she concentrated on composition. But she did not have access to professional instruction, so she taught herself what she did not know and immersed herself in the study of music theory, translating for herself texts by Berlioz and Gevaert.1
After the death of her mother and husband, her performances resumed, and her composition activity again flourished.
The BBC has an hour-long podcast on Amy Beach’s life and music. A blog has been established to coalesce information about Beach and her work, and can be found at amybeach.org. Scores of her music may be found in the Petrucci Music Library.
Despite the obstacles, Beach created a phenomenally rich body of music. Here you can find videos of some of her key works, the Piano Concerto in C Sharp Minor, Grand Mass in E Flat Major (Kyrie), and Symphony in E Minor Op 32 “Gaelic”. The Piano Quintet (Op. 67) reflects Beach’s incorporation of distinctly modern elements. The Quartet for Strings (Op. 89) uses Alaskan Inuit melodies as themes.
- Block, Adrienne Fried, Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998 p 55.
Image attribution: Photograph of Amy Beach from the George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress) [Public domain], via Wikimedia Commons https://commons.wikimedia.org/wiki/File%3AAmy_Beach_01.jpg and http://loc.gov/pictures/resource/cph.3b12657/