Today, as you likely know, is the 150th birthday of Amy Beach.
Amy Beach. You know, the best-known, most-performed and most-respected American composer of the earliest 20th century.
You don’t know? Well don’t blame yourself. Blame history, changing tastes, and good old fashioned sexism.
We posted about Amy Beach here on the PhLog last summer and since then we’ve become more surprised and dismayed about how quickly her fame has evaporated. Beach’s work is decidedly Victorian, and as a musical conservative, she doesn’t stand out as an innovator. But her work still ranks among the best of her era. A prodigy and exceptional pianist as well as composer, Beach rose to the top of the Second New England School of composers, accepted as “one of the boys” due to her remarkable talent. In a time when a woman having a career outside of the home was frowned upon, Beach toured Europe, performing to adoring crowds. Her “Gaelic” symphony (1894) was the first symphony written and published by an American woman, composed before she was 30. As an American composer, Beach made a point to integrate Native American and African American songs into her work. Besides her symphonic work, Beach was known for her songs, chamber music, and work for piano.
But time hasn’t been kind to Amy Beach. It was always going to be an uphill battle to get major orchestras to program music by a woman, and after Beach’s death, performances dropped off.
But Beach is slowly becoming more recognized. The New York Times covered her birthday and perhaps there may be some more performances sometime soon? Are any music programmers out there listening?
So take a moment today and listen to some Amy Beach. You can find several selections at amybeach.org.