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American Composers and Musicians from A to Z: B (Part 1 – Beach, Amy)

Have you ever noticed that there are many composers whose last names start with the letter B? Let’s choose one who has an anniversary. This year the music world celebrates Amy Beach’s 150th birthday.

Picture of Amy Beach, head and shoulders, facing slightly left.

Amy Marcy (Cheney) Beach, 1867-1944. Library of Congress Prints and Photographs Division Washington, D.C. 20540 USA. No known restrictions on publication.

Amy Marcy Cheney Beach was born in Henniker, New Hampshire, on September 5, 1867. From her earliest childhood, she showed extraordinary musical talent. She sang various tunes at age one, started to compose at age four, and picked up the piano easily at age six. So easily in fact, that she already gave a recital one year later to perform pieces by Handel, Chopin, Beethoven, and some of her own compositions. She became very proficient in piano playing and performed, at age 17, Chopin’s F minor piano concerto with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

After getting married in 1885, she shifted her career from being a pianist to become a composer. However, she occasionally performed for charities. In 1886, as noted by biographer Adrienne Fried Block, Amy Beach played to benefit the Perkins Institute for the Blind by playing pieces by Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Liszt.

Amy Beach received much attention for being the first American woman to compose and publish a large scale musical work, her Gaelic Symphony, written between 1894 and 1896 and premiered in 1896 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. When her husband died in 1910, Amy Beach spent time in Europe and returned to the United States in 1914, where she lived in New York City until her death on December 27, 1944.

Amy Beach wrote over 150 works and is best known for her chamber music. Many of her works are inspired by aspects of nature and landscapes. Among her songs are The Year’s at the Spring and Fairy Lullaby.


Check out our holdings in braille

Ah, Love, but a day, op. 40, no. 2, from “Lyric fancies,” a collection of songs by American composers for low voice and piano with lyrics by R. Browning (BRM10287)

Children’s album (Minuet — Gavotte — Waltz — March – Polka) for piano (BRM34647)

Ecstasy for high voice with piano accompaniment (BRM20571)

Fairy lullaby, op. 37, no. 3, for low voice with piano accompaniment, with words from Shakespeare  (BRM20560)

Four sketches, op. 15 (In Autumn, no. 1; Phantoms, No. 2; Dreaming, No. 3; Fireflies, No. 4) for piano (BRM35285)

The greenwood, op. 110, for SATB (BRM03806)

Nocturne, op. 107, for piano (BRM03272)

The year’s at the spring, from “Pippa passes,” op. 44, no. 1, with words by Robert Browning: for mezzo-soprano or baritone (BRM27067); for high voice with piano accompaniment (BRM20558); and for voice (d flat) and piano (BRM00544)

Book about Amy Beach

Amy Beach, passionate Victorian: the life and work of an American composer, 1867-1944, by Adrienne Fried Block (DB 50332)

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