Amy Beach (1867-1944): Songs
Born Amy Marcy Cheney in Henniker, New Hampshire, Beach wasone of America's most prolific and successful composers. She was also one ofthe first women whose musical compositions were as highly regarded as thoseproduced by men. While she composed works in almost every genre, she was bestknown during her lifetime for her well-crafted songs and short piano pieces,many of which were an important part of the standard recital repertoire of thetime. After beginning a concert career as a pianist at the age of sixteen, shetemporarily ended her performing aspirations at eighteen when she married theBoston surgeon Dr Henry Harris Aubrey Beach (1843-1910). Her married years wereher most prolific period of compositional activity.
Following the deaths of her husband and mother in 1910 and1911, Beach sailed to Europe, where she expanded her reputation as a performerand composer. She gave concertsthroughout Germany, performing many of her instrumental works and introducingsome of her songs to German audiences.
Beach returned to the United States in 1914, making New YorkCity her home. She spent each concert season performing and promoting her worksthroughout North America. Beginning in 1921, she did most of her composing inthe summer as a Fellow at the MacDowell Colony, an artists' retreat inPeterborough, New Hampshire. Her active membership at Saint Bartholomew'sEpiscopal Church in New York City inspired her to compose sacred music.
Highly intelligent, Beach incorporated her varied interestsand experiences into her compositions. Largely self-taught in composition, shewas the first American woman musician to receive all of her training in theUnited States and to write in the larger forms. Her work has always beenevaluated by critics on the basis of its merit and her intellect, while hertalent for composition has consistently been acknowledged. She is atransitional figure between the composers of the Second New England School,which includes Horatio Parker and Edward MacDowell, and later American songcomposers such as Charles Ives. In contrast to other American composers of thetime, Beach achieved recognition in both the United States and abroad.
Beach's 117 art songs show skillful craftsmanship andprofound understanding of text. She composed in a late-Romantic idiomthroughout her life, often patterning her songs after works by Europeancomposers. She also experimented with musical styles as diverse as Scottishfolk-songs and African-American spirituals. Her songs are of a very hightechnical and musical merit, intended to be sung by trained musicians. Many ofthem were dedicated to prominent singers, who performed them and used them inteaching. She believed that a good song is an inspired, creative, musicalresponse to a text, which incorporates both intellect and emotion. The poetrythat she set to music reflected the dominant artistic current of the time, inwhich art was seen as an expression of the highest idealism. Her eclectic tastein poetry can be seen in the wide range of authors whose texts she set. Thepianist's r??le in Beach's songs is as important as that of the singer. Theaccompaniments are technically demanding. Beach had absolute pitch andexperienced synaesthesia (seeing colours when hearing musical pitches), factorswhich contributed to her selection of keys for her songs.
Even at the age of twelve Beach borrowed ideas fromestablished composers and used them as models for her own works. The firsttheme of the third movement of Beethoven's Pathetique Piano Sonata appears inThe Rainy Day.
Ariette, dedicated to Dr Beach, was one her first songs toachieve popularity. The texts for When far from Her and Empress of Night comefrom a collection of poems published by Dr Beach. Amy Beach later used themelody of Empress of Night, in her piano concerto. She incorporated Le Secretinto another piano work, Les r?¬ves de Colombine.
Ecstasy proved so popular that the poem was included in ThePoetry Digest: Annual Anthology of Verse for 1939. Beach earned enough from theroyalties of Ecstasy to buy a lot on Cape Cod for a summer home. The poem forWithin thy Heart is also by Beach. The poem, Sleep, Little Darling, originallyappeared in Harper's Bazaar magazine.
Nacht is representative of Beach's songs in French andGerman, which show her mastery of text setting in these languages and herunderstanding of trends in contemporary European music.
The young poet of Forgotten, Cora Randall Fabbri, wasconsidered one of the most remarkable literary talents of her day. She sufferedan untimely death at the age of twenty.
The Scottish texts of Dearie and Far Awa', are set withmusical devices commonly found in folk-music, dotted rhythms, simple chordalaccompaniments, and frequent changes from major to minor mode.
The Three Browning Songs, Op.44, commissioned by theBrowning Society of Boston, have proven to be Beach's most popular and enduringsongs. The Year's at the Spring was a staple of vocal recital repertoire in theearly twentieth century. Often, the audiences' enthusiastic response caused it tobe repeated several times.
Come, ah Come is part of Four Songs for Mezzo-Soprano orBaritone, the first group of songs that Beach composed for lower voices.
Canzonetta, Ich sagte nicht, Wir drei, Juni, and Je demande?á l'oiseau were modelled after songs by Richard Strauss and Jules Massenet.Beach found the poems for several of these songs in magazines, as she did withGo not too far, which originally appeared in The Atlantic Monthly.
ShenaVan resembles a Scottish folk-song. The accompaniment mimics the sound of abagpipe. The text comes from William Black's novel, Yolande.
As her friends became mothers, Beach was inspired to composelullabies. The song Baby was composed for Woman's Home Companion magazine.Hush, Baby Dear was dedicated to its poet and her husband, in honour of theirchild, Beach's godson.
A Prelude shares similarities with her other settings of DrBeach's poems. The refrain of O Sweet Content, is Beach's vocal writing at itsmost melismatic.
Ein altes Gebet is patterned after a song by Hugo Wolf. Thepiano accompaniment introduces a motive that foreshadows figures of animpressionistic character that Beach used in her piano accompaniments in lateryears.
The Opus 73 songs, including Der Totenkranz, are settings oftexts dealing with aspects of motherhood, dedicated to the contralto ErnestineSchumann-Heink.
Beach's most uncharacteristic and humorous compositions, TheCandy Lion and A Thanksgiving Fable, were composed for the American singer andactress Kitty Cheatham, known for her concerts of folk-music and children'ssongs.
In the Twilight was composed for the mezzo-soprano EmmaRoberts to sing at the Buffalo Festival in 1921. The poem's descriptive textallowed Beach to include colourful word-painting. This song's dramatic endingis unique among Beach's ceuvre.
The Host shows Beach's tendency in later years towardshorter, more compact compositions. The Mississippi author Muna Lee was aFellow at the MacDowell Colony with Beach in 1924.
May Flowers was composed at the request of themezzo-soprano, Lillian Buxbaum. I Sought the Lord and Though I