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One of the things I already love about is that being here is like being in a room of people talking about things they love, their hobbies, their jobs, themselves. It’s a very different world from what I’m used to on social media.

If it’s ok, I’m going to do the same. I’m a professor of music (specifically piano) and am going to talk a little about one of my favorite topics: American composers.

Today’s composer is one of the most amazing personalities in American classical music, ever: Amy Beach (1867-1944). She was the first American woman to succeed as a composer of large-scale music and was celebrated during her lifetime as the foremost female composer of the USA (partially because we made those distinctions back then and partially because music composition was considered strictly a man’s activity, because patriarchy).

Listen to some of these crazy things about her:

-At the age of one she could sing 40 songs accurately, always in the same key.
-Before she turned two she could improvise harmony (alto) lines against her mother's soprano melodies.
-At three she taught herself to read
-By the time she turned 4, she had mentally composed her first piano pieces and later played them, and could play on the piano by ear whatever music she heard, including hymns in four-part harmony.

Amy's mother finally agreed to teach her the piano when she was six. At seven she gave her first public recitals, playing works by Handel, Beethoven and Chopin, and her own compositions. After this, she enjoyed the start of a promising career as a concert pianist; however....

In 1885, when she was 18, she married Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach, age 43, a physician who lectured at Harvard. Dr. Beach did not enjoy the idea of his wife being a performing musician, because patriarchy.

After their marriage, in respect of his wishes, Amy cut down her performances and gave only annual recitals, with proceeds donated to charity. Because she essentially gave up public performing, her focus changed to composition, in which she was essentially self-taught.

Now, Amy’s husband didn’t like that either, because patriarchy. He just wanted her to stay home and be a good little wife. However, he decided it was okay for her to compose and publish music, but with one stipulation: she had to always call herself “Mrs. H. H. A. Beach,” just so there would be no question who was in charge. So she did. She did this for the rest of her life, even after he died (although she did resume her performing career once he was no longer in the picture).

If this seems shitty, it’s because it is shitty. If we’re trying to find a silver lining, then we could say that it’s partially because of this that she became the most famous American composer of her time. She was the first female composer ever to have works performed by the New York Philharmonic: her Mass in E-flat (1892).

And after her shitty husband died, Amy went to Europe and gave recitals in German cities (playing largely her own pieces) and was described in reviews as a virtuoso pianist and the leading American composer who had “a musical nature tinged with genius.”

This is her only piano concerto: a muscular, memorable, exhilerating piece—the first piano concerto composed by a woman in America. She composed it in 1898 and 1899 and performed it multiple times with multiple orchestras. youtu.be/SKYBhHK5Zh4

Dreaming (from Sketches, Op. 15) is probably her most well-known piece. youtu.be/Vy1N9O7AmgM

My personal favorite is La fée de La fontaine (The Fairy in the Fountain), a beautiful piece of music that builds to a stunning climax. youtu.be/nqINC77Y6wA

And here ends my first discussion of something that I love. Maybe I’ll do this again sometime (or maybe not).

@davscomur Thank you for writing about Amy Beach, and in such detail, so we might learn about her life as well as her work. I can only imagine how tough being a girl prodigy was in her day.

I'm so glad she had opportunities to flourish and wasn't imprisoned or burned at the stake as she might have been in an earlier era.

@skry Thank you for your kind words. She truly was an amazing person. Last October I had my students perform a group recital of pieces by female composers and did some research into each one so that I could talk about them to the audience before the music was played. It’s astonishing to me what they had to go through simply to be allowed to write notes down on paper.

@davscomur that was a lovely thread to read. Thank you for the education. X

@SoSMMGMaggie Thank you for reading it! I’m very happy you enjoyed it. She’s a wonderful composer.

@davscomur

Personally, I hope you will, though appreciate how much of your time it takes.

Grateful to you for this thread and for your introduction to Amy Beach. Loved all of the pieces you included here. Thank you so much for your presentation. Thoroughly enjoyed it.

@Kizzy I’m so pleased! I have gotten a very nice response to this and am planning on repeating the experiment.

I would never have bothered with something like this on the bird site but here felt like it was something people might actually enjoy (and not just tell me why I’m wrong about everything!).

@davscomur

Well, I for one loved it and will eagerly await to see if your time and/or energy permits you to repeat the exercise.

Thank you again for providing this interesting and entertaining thread.

@Kizzy You are very welcome. Thank you for your kind comments!

@davscomur

Began reading your thread last evening. Have just now had a chance to listen to this PC without any disturbances.

Really enjoyable listening and such a shame it's so neglected. It doesn't deserve to be. All the more remarkable in that she was self-taught in composition. Talented and gifted lady. Such a shame that she was so repressed in her marriage.

Definitely going to seek out a recording.

Thank you for sharing. Now to resume your thread!

@Kizzy I really appreciate that and am glad you enjoyed the music. She was a fantastic composer and should be heard so much more frequently than she is.

@davscomur I love Amy Beach! Especially her Gaelic Symphony and her piano concerto - it's amazing music 🎵🎶

@evameitner Those works should be programmed so much more than they are!

@davscomur yes, so true! They should definitely be standard repertoire - along with so many more works by other female composers! (Thinking especially of Ethel Smyth, Florence Price, Grazyna Bacewicz, Lili Boulanger, Augusta Holmes, Émilie Mayer, Louise Farrenc and Cécile Chaminade)

@evameitner They are all so wonderful. I have performed Bacewicz’s second piano sonata many times and it has always gotten a fantastic response!

@davscomur wow, amazing! 🤩 I love Bacewicz's Concerto for strings and also her symphonies. What incredibly good music!!

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