Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian: The Life and Work of an American Composer, 1867-1944

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Oxford University Press, Dec 17, 1998 - Music - 448 pages
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Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (1867-1944), the most widely performed composer of her generation, was the first American woman to succeed as a creator of large-scale art music. Her "Gaelic" Symphony, given its premiere by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1896, was the first work of its kind by an American woman to be performed by an American orchestra. Almost all of her more than 300 works were published soon after they were composed and performed, and today her music is finding new advocates and audiences for its energy, intensity, and sheer beauty. Yet, until now, no full-length critical biography of Beach's life or comprehensive critical overview of her music existed. This biography admirably fills that gap, fully examining the connections between Beach's life and work in light of social currents and dominant ideologies. Born into a musical family in Victorian times, Amy Beach started composing as a child of four and was equally gifted as a pianist. Her talent was recognized early by Boston's leading musicians, who gave her unqualified support. Although Beach believed that the life of a professional musician was the only life for her, her parents had raised her for marriage and a career of amateur music-making. Her response to this parental (and later spousal) opposition was to find creative ways of reaching her goal without direct confrontation. Discouraged from a full-scale concert career, she instead found her m?tier in composition. Success as a composer of art songs came early for Beach: indeed, her songs outsold those of her contemporaries. Nevertheless, she was determined to separate her work from the genteel parlor music women were writing in her day by creating large-scale works--a Mass, a symphony, and chamber music--that challenged the accepted notion that women were incapable of creating high art. She won the respect of colleagues and the allegiance of audiences. Many who praised her work, however, considered her an exception among women. Beach's reaction to this was to join with other women composers of serious music by promoting their works along with her own. Adrienne Fried Block has written a biography that takes full account of issues of gender and musical modernism, considering Beach in the contexts of her time and of her composer contemporaries, both male and female. Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian will be of great interest to students and scholars of American music, and to music lovers in general.
 

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Amy Beach, passionate Victorian: the life and work of an American composer, 1867-1944

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Beach (1867-1944), who published her works under the name Mrs. H.H.A. Beach, was the most widely performed composer of her generation and the first major American woman composer. A musicologist and ... Read full review

Contents

1 A Prodigys New England Upbringing
3
2 The Cheneys and the Marcys
14
3 A Prodigy Despite Her Mother
21
I
34
5 Two Ways of Looking at a Marriage
42
II
54
7 Becoming Mistress of Her Craft
63
8 Reaching Out to the World
77
17 Lion of the Hour
198
18 My Old New Hampshire Home
213
Solitude in Silence
221
20 Caring
243
21 A Fascinating New York Life
255
22 Beach the Modernist?
264
23 Reckonings
282
24 Harvest Time
291

9 One of the Boys
86
10 Amy Beachs Boston
104
Beach Plays Beach
112
Photos
121
The Piano Concerto
131
13 The Composers Workshop
146
14 Choral Music
159
15 The Chambered Nautilus
173
16 Europe and a New Life
180
Postlude The Legacy
296
Catalog of Works
300
Musics Ten Commandments as Given for Young Composers
310
Abbreviations
311
Notes
313
Selected Bibliography
383
Index
395
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About the author (1998)

Adrienne Fried Block has long been active as a speaker and writer on women and music. Women in American Music: A Bibliography of Music and Literature (1979), which she co-edited and compiled, remains a standard reference for the topic. She holds a Ph.D. in Musicology from City University of New York, in which she has taught and where she is currently Co-Director of the Project for the Study of Women in Music.

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