Prelude and Fugue

Amy Beach

Prelude and Fugue

B72, Op. 81

Recorded versions of this work

About this work

When Amy Marcy Cheney (1867 - 1944) married Dr. H.H.A. Beach at the age of 18, this highly promising pianist and composer agreed to take on the role of a Boston society matron. This made it impossible for her to play more than a couple of public recitals a year, but gave her much time and freedom for composition. After Dr. Beach died in 1910, she decided to establish a concert career. Her first stop was Europe, where she armed herself with glowing reviews of her piano playing and German judgments of the high quality of her compositions, one of which even proclaimed her a genius.

When she returned to Boston she gave the premiere of this composition, which she had begun under the inspiration of a magnificent view from her hotel room in the Austrian Tyrol. The prelude and the fugue are built on the same subject, which is derived from her exceptionally musical name, "A-B-E-A-C-H" (the German system's lettering for A, B flat, E, A, C, B). This, fortuitously, resembles the widely used "B-A-C-H" motive, with two extra notes added. The prelude is in the character of an improvisation on the six-note theme. The fugue is an exuberant display piece along the lines of Liszt's Fantasia and Fugue on the Theme B-A-C-H. It is a double fugue, built on the ABEACH theme and a transformation of it. The ending of the fugue is exceptionally difficult for the pianist, with both subjects presented in augmentation against a third theme in octaves.