Tuesday, June 18, 2013

Amy Beach

If you have been a fan of Classical music for any length of time, it can be difficult to discover something new. For most people, even musicians, Amy Beach is not a recognizable name. Considering she was the first female American composer of any stature back in the late 1800's, one would think her name would have made the rounds by now. It's quite surprising since she was well respected in a male-dominated field during her life, yet history has somewhat forgotten her.

Beach was a child prodigy as a pianist, and later composed a piano concerto, a violin sonata, chamber music and many pieces for solo piano ... all with minimal formal education. I will admit I do not know her entire catalogue well, but for me the one that stands out is her "Symphony in E Minor", also known as "The Gaelic Symphony". It's a wonderful piece with a wide range of moods, from pastoral to very intense. Like Dvorak and Stravinsky, Beach draws on folk music for her themes, in this case music from Ireland. Although the themes are Irish, her music doesn't come across as a Lucky Charms commercial.  It has something of an American sound and feel to it. Beach not only excels as a composer, but also as an orchestrator.  The string and woodwind writing are of particular note. She creates beautiful color combinations both within those sections, and with some interplay between them.    

It is a bit of a time investment, about 40 minutes, but I hope you will take the time to explore this piece and perhaps some of her other works. This slice of American musical history would be a great accompaniment to your Sunday morning coffee.

I'm afraid Youtube did not have any good options for listening, but I have included a Spotify playlist for you. This recording is also available at Amazon but not itunes. For those of you looking for a study score, can find it here.

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