December 28, 2009

Amy Beach~ Composer

Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (1867-1944) was born in West Henniker, New Hampshire. Musically precocious, she sang improvised harmony parts at age two, composed at age four, and began piano studies with her mother, Clara Imogene Marcy Cheney, at age six, giving her first public recitals at seven.
At the age of thirteen, she wrote “The Rainy Day” following a visit with Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, the poem’s author. It was her first published song. In 1875 the Cheney family moved to Boston, where Amy studied piano, harmony, counterpoint, and composition with Ernst Perabo and Carl Baermann and formal training in composition with Junius W. Hill, with whom she studied harmony and counterpoint for a year. In 1885 she made her piano debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

In 1885 she married Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach (1813-1910,) a socially prominent surgeon, Harvard professor, and musical amateur. In accordance with his wishes, she limited her public appearances and concentrated on composition until after his death in 1910. In 1911 she traveled to Germany, where she toured as a virtuoso pianist, playing and accompanying her own works to critical acclaim. In 1914 she returned to the United States, where she maintained an active schedule of winter touring and summer composing for many years and she spent time at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire. In 1915, she wrote Ten Commandments for Young Composers, which expressed many of her self-teaching principles.

Mrs. Beach compsed works in many genres, including a Mass, a symphony, a piano concerto, and works for chamber ensembles, piano, mixed chorus, and solo voice as well as the first composition by a woman ever performed by the Handel and Haydn Society. Her thirty works for women's chorus, including several cantatas, are well-crafted in a romantic idiom, always with intelligent text setting.
Mrs. Beach's Three Shakespeare Songs, Op.44, all use verses in which fairies' beguiling and alarming magic makes nonsense of the human lovers' nuptial arrangements and the artisans' clumsy plans to put on a play, moving the action to the enchanted wood outside Athens and introducing Puck. "Come unto these yellow sands" (The Tempest 1.2) is the song the invisible Ariel sings to the shipwrecked, bewildered (and presumably still dripping) Ferdinand: an invitation to the dance that tells him he's not in Naples any more. "Through the house give glimmering light" (A Midsummer Night's Dream 5.1) is Oberon and Titiania's epilogue to the closing marriage banquet, proof that the fairies' happy influence now extends to the city, the banquet hall, and even to the marriage bed.
In 2000 at Boston's famous Hatch Shell on the Esplanade, the Boston Pops paid tribute to Beach. Her name was added to the granite wall on "The Shell". It joins 86 other composers such as Bach, Handel, Chopin and Beethoven. Amy Beach is the only woman composer on the granite wall. The Beaches are buried at Forest Hills Cemetery in a lot on Dahlia Path off Catalpa Avenue.
Beach once said that “no other life than that of a musician could ever have been possible for me.”

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