first came across Amy Beach’s music some 15 years ago when
I bought a box set with the intriguing title of Chamber
Works by Women Composers
. It included Amy Beach’s trio
for piano, violin and cello, op.150 (Vox Box 11 58452)
together with music by Clara Schumann, Germaine Tailleferre,
Lili Boulanger, Fanny Mendelssohn Hensel, Teresa Carreño
and Cecile Chaminade. Since then I’ve added Amy Beach’s
Symphony in E Minor, Op.32 (Gaelic
) (Chandos CHAN
8958) and have reviewed her Quartet in One Movement for
MusicWeb International on a disc that included chamber
music by Ethel Smyth and the fascinatingly named Susan
Spain-Dunk (Lorelt LNT114). I have found all her music
to be highly inventive and deeply affecting.
disc is the first of a series to include all Beach’s piano
works and I look forward to hearing the rest. The works
on this first offering are all early ones - Mamma’s
was composed in her head away from the piano
at the tender age of just 4 and one of 4 waltzes she composed
that same summer of 1872! - and the latest works were composed
when she was 27.
Marcey Cheney was born on 5 September 1867 in New Hampshire,
USA and began showing exceptional musical promise at a
very early age and had a blossoming career as a concert
pianist which was curtailed by her mother who didn’t want
her tour and later on by her husband who would not allow
her to accept payment for playing but did allow her to
play at charity concerts. This kind of behaviour on the
part of parents and husbands is an oft-repeated scenario
in respect of women in the arts but who can blame Amy Beach’s
mother for not wanting her young daughter to tour, despite
offers from several concert managers, at the age of 8!
However, this attitude did not prevent her mother allowing
her to study piano first with Ernst Perabo, a teacher at
the New England Conservatory of Music and later with Carl
Baermann, a Liszt pupil. Her mother also permitted her
to make her debut at 16 playing Ignaz Moscheles’ Concerto
No.2 in G Minor. Her marriage in 1885 to H.H.A. Beach,
a respected Boston physician 24 years her senior, meant
any hope of a professional career as a pianist was permanently
ended but Dr. Beach did encourage her to compose as had
her own father. Though Amy considered herself first and
foremost a pianist her musical energy was channelled into
composing and she left a considerable legacy of compositions
including many songs and choral works, a good deal of chamber
music, piano works and an opera.
works on this disc show a highly inventive mind which,
at a very young age, was capable of producing charming
miniatures which showed a good deal of promise of greater
things to come. I found the pieces on this record delightful
and, while they could hardly be described as great music
constitute an interesting musical record of a lesser known
composer whose development continued throughout her life.
Her works are programmed to this day and should become
better known by music-lovers everywhere. On this disc they
are played by American pianist Kirsten Johnson who, I presume
will be recording the rest of Beach’s oeuvre for piano.
She plays the pieces with conviction and obviously enjoys
bringing unknown works before the public. Her other discs
include works by Hermann Goetz and Heinrich Schulz-Beuthen
and two discs of Albanian Piano music.
is a disc for those who want to hear how a pianist-composer
developed from the earliest years. I await the ensuing
discs with interest and anticipation.
see also review by Jonathan Woolf