Amy Beach

Amy Beach


• 1867 1944


Composer Amy Beach began her musical training early, singing over 40 tunes accurately at the age of 1, improvising harmonic lines before age 2, and composing at 4. A child prodigy on the piano, Amy began lessons at age 6 and gave her first public recitals at age 7, including works by Handel, Beethoven, and Chopin. Enrolled in a private school in Boston, Amy studied piano, theory, and composition, and taught herself orchestration and fugue. Her earlier development was admired by several, including Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Mason, and Henry Harris Aubrey Beach (her future husband).

Embarking on her professional performing career in 1883, Beach debuted in a concerto performance with an orchestra conducted by Adolf Neuendorff. She performed with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in March 1885 in the first of several performances. After marrying Dr. Beach, Amy lessened the number of public performances, out of respect for her husband's wishes, and turned her concentration to composition. Her first published work, The Rainy Day (1880), was a setting of a Longfellow poem. Beach's compositional style was that of the late Romantics, rich in lyricism, chromaticism, thick textures, and frequent modulation. She was disciplined in her composition, often producing massive amounts of music in a matter of days. The works written during the period of her marriage (1885-1910) include the Mass in E flat, Op. 5; Eilende Wolken, Op. 18; Symphony, Op. 32; and Piano Concerto, Op. 45, all of which were premiered by the important performing groups of Boston. The significance of this honor lies in the fact that seldom did orchestras perform works of "local" composers, and even less often did they perform works composed by a woman.

Several of Beach's compositions were commissioned for significant events and organizations, including the dedication of the Women's Building of the World's Columbian Exposition in Chicago (Festival Jubilate, Op. 17, 1893), the Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha (Song of Welcome, Op. 42, 1898), the International Exposition in San Francisco (Panama Hymn, Op. 74, 1915), and the San Francisco Chamber Music Society (Theme and Variations for Flute and String Quartet, Op. 80). The range of commissions indicates that interest in Beach's music was not limited to the Boston area. In fact, many consider her to be the most successful American woman composer.

After the death of her husband in 1910, Beach traveled to Europe to establish her performing career, to spread her recognition as a composer, and to promote the sale of her published works. She received favorable reviews of both her compositional and performance ability. Beach returned to the United States at the beginning of World War I to a busy touring schedule. She continued to perform and compose, working to promote young musicians, and serving as leader of several organizations. She served in the Music Teachers National Association and the Music Educators National Conference, and was president and co-founder of the Association of American Women Composers. Her recognition did not wane, and honors included two retrospective concerts in 1942, in honor of Beach's 75th birthday. She died in 1944 of heart disease.