Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (1867-1944) made her concert debut at the age of 16, by which time she was already active as a composer. When she married Dr H H A Beach at the age of 18, though, she gave up performing in public and devoted herself to composing, supported by her husband who helped publish and market her work. She achieved considerable success in her lifetime, and after her husband’s death in 1910, she returned to performing, playing her own compositions at concerts across Europe and America.Read more…
Like Clara Schumann, she was considered something of a curiosity – a woman who composed, and composed well – and the recognition she achieved was unusual for a woman at that time. Her Gaelic Symphony was the first symphony composed by an American woman to be published, and was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1896. The lone female composer in the Second New England School (of which Edward MacDowell and George Chadwick were also members), Beach drew influences from the American Transcendentalists (including Ralph Waldo Emerson, Henry David Thoreau and Margaret Fuller). She composed in the romantic style throughout her life, largely eschewing the early 20th-century trend towards atonality, though some of her later works do reveal the influence of French Impressionist music with the use of whole-tone scales and more exotic harmonies.
Otherwise her carefully crafted music shares the same lush textures, complex development of themes and rich colouring of Brahms, Wagner and Rachmaninoff, and is striking for its emotional subtlety, restless modulations, and lyrical beauty. Her piano music displays considerable virtuosic elements, redolent of Chopin and Liszt, with many decorative devices (trills and fioriture). Her writing in the large-scale works such as the Gaelic Symphony, Mass in E flat, and Piano Concerto is strikingly bold, inventive and ambitious – to the extent that some contemporary critics asserted that it could not possibly have been written by a woman.