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Amy BEACH (1867-1944)
Piano Music Vol.1: The Early Works
Sketches, op.15: In Autumn [2:14] Phantoms [2:04] Dreaming [5:00] Fire-flies [3:20]
Mamma’s Waltz (1872) [2:01]
Menuetto (1877) [1:28]
Romanza (1877) [1:33]
Petite Valse (1878) [1:36]
Air and Variations (1877) [3:47]
Valse Caprice, op.4 [5:09]
Ballade, op.6 [9:21]
Bal Masqué, op.22 [3:37]
Children’s Carnival
, op. 25: Promenade [2:23] Columbine [1:58] Pantalon [1:11] Pierrot et Pierrette [1:38] Secrets [1:43] Harlequin [1:25]
Trois morceaux caractéristiques, op.28: Barcarolle [6:06] Menuet italien [2:57] Danse des fleurs [3:51]
Kirsten Johnson (piano)
rec. St. George’s, Bristol, 24-25 April 2007. DDD
GUILD GMCD7317 [65:32]
Experience Classicsonline

I 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.
This 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 Waltz 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.
Amy 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.
The 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.
This 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.
Steve Arloff

see also review by Jonathan Woolf



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