Born In: Henniker, New Hampshire, United States
Amy Beach was an American composer and pianist known as the first American woman to compose and publish a symphony. Born into an esteemed family, Amy inherited the love for music from her mother Clara. She was a musical prodigy and began learning the piano very early in her life, at the age of 3. She grew up to be a fast learner and at the age of 16, she performed for the first time in public, in Boston. However, she was constantly pushed back by her mother and husband. Despite that, she managed to compose some great symphonies such as Mass in E-Flat and Gaelic Symphony. By publishing the latter, she became the first American female musician to ever publish a symphony. Following her husband’s death in 1910, she moved to Europe and organized many concerts, becoming a famed musician in Europe as well. She moved back to the United States and composed many songs, piano solos and chorals and established herself as one of the most prominent composers in the country. She also gave music lessons and co-founded the Society of American Woman Composers.
Also Known As: Amy Marcy Cheney Beach
Died At Age: 77
Spouse/Ex-: Henry Harris Aubrey Beach
father: Charles Abbott Cheney
mother: Clara Imogene Marcy Cheney
Born Country: United States
place of death: New York, New York, United States
U.S. State: New Hampshire
Amy Beach was born Amy Marcy Cheney, on September 5, 1867, in Henniker, New Hampshire, the USA into a prestigious family. Her father Charles Cheney was the nephew of Oren B. Cheney, the man known as the co-founder of Bates College. However, it was her mother Clara Imogene Cheney that Amy was inspired by. Clara was a reputed pianist and a singer. As a result, Amy had an early exposure to music, which led her to start practising music by the time she was 4 years old.
She began composing piano melodies on her mother’s keyboard when she was 4 and began her professional training at the age of 6 from her mother. Even before that, Amy had exhibited the signs of being a true prodigy since she memorized many songs at the age of 1 and within the first three years of her life, she also learned to read.
Furthermore, she visited her grandfather’s farm at the age of 4 and in the absence of a piano, she composed the melodies in her head and executed three waltzes when she returned home. Despite her mother playing and singing for Amy constantly, she was doubtful of letting her play on the family piano, due to the fear of losing the parental authority.
By the age of 7, Amy had begun performing sets on piano. She performed in the first public recital of her life at that age, playing sets by Beethoven and Lupin etc. Along with such classics, she also happened to play some melodies of her own. One year later, the family moved to Boston, where Amy finally began receiving piano training from well-established professionals.
While her training was going good, her mother was constantly unsupportive of her daughter’s ambitions. Women did fit into the ‘travelling musician’ mould at that time and hence, she always wanted Amy to be a work-at-home woman.
In spite of everything, Amy made her stage debut at the age of 16 at the Boston Music Hall. The response was ecstatic to her rendition of Chopin’s Rondo in E-Flat. Seeing the appreciation for her talent, her parents knew that she had to further her piano studies. A prominent conductor was consulted by the parents about her future. While the male musician usually went to Europe to further their training, women were considered more intuitive creators that were not capable of intense training.
Amy wanted to carry on with her musical education and due to a lack of option to move to Europe for further studies, she immersed herself in self-studies. She read multiple books on music history and compositions. She even memorized long compositions by the greats and compared them in her head to better analyze her own works.
After her first performance in 1883, she delivered many more performances in the coming years. However, in 1885, she got married and one of the conditions her husband put forth was that she should stop working as a piano teacher and limit her public performances to two per year.
Amy began working on a composition titled Mass in E-Flat in 1886 and the piece was completed by 1892. In the same year, the performance for the piece was organized by Handel and Haydn in Boston and it became a unanimous success. The performance was reviewed in 27 newspapers and received great reviews. The piece defied the stereotypes as one critic appreciated Amy for having a deep knowledge of musical science which was not easy to associate with a woman’s hand.
However, despite these few and faraway hiccups, Amy still managed to succeed in becoming popular among the prominent Boston Musician circles. Following this initial success, she began working on the symphony that would create history.
It took her two years to compose the Gaelic Symphony, which premiered in 1896. It is widely considered to be one of the biggest milestones of her musical career. It was also special in the way that it was the first symphony published by an American woman ever.
The piece took inspiration from Irish folk melodies and exhibited Amy’s similarity with the works of Brahms and Saint-Saens. She had also extensively studied the works of these two pianists, hence the inspiration was obvious. Gaelic Symphony was overwhelmingly praised by many composers and music critics comparing it with the works of ‘one of the boys’, a group of all-male esteemed Boston composers.
Following this thrilling success, Amy began composing her Piano Concerto in the late 1890s and performed it at the Boston Symphony in 1900. It was assumed that the piece symbolised her anger towards her husband and mother who wanted to control her musical life.
For many years after that, she was not seen in many stage performances as she indulged herself mostly in the household chores. However, following her mother and husband’s deaths, she moved to Europe. It was assumed that she had gone there to fulfil her lifelong dream of training with the best composers in the world. But her first year there was complete rest.
She eventually began performing in Europe and organized her first concert in 1912 in Dresden, and later in Munich. The demand for her sheet music arose in Germany. Her publisher Arthur P. Schmidt later acknowledged that the demand was so high that his company could not keep up with the demand.
Following the outbreak of World War I, she returned back to America. There, she kept performing in concerts and composed several piano solos, chorals and secular chorals.
While she did not agree to give private piano lessons while she was married, she utilized her talents as one of the top American musicians to educate many aspirants. She also served in the New England Conservatory of Music as President of the Board of Councillors.
She was also invited to lecture and perform at many prestigious educational institutions such as the University of New Hampshire. From the same university, she also received an honorary master’s degree in 1928.
In Winter 1928, she travelled to Rome where she performed her song The Year’s at the Spring, which was widely admired. It was played for a charity and as per records a large sum of money was raised.
She was also known for working towards the cause of helping female American composers. She served as a co-founder and the first president of the Society of American Woman Composers.
Amy Beach married Dr Henry Harris Aubrey Beach in 1885. She was 18 at that time while her husband was 24 years older than her. Her husband passed away in 1910. The couple did not have any children.
Amy passed away on December 27, 1944, in New York City. She was 77 years old at the time of her death.
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