Amy Beach

American Composer

Amy Cheney Beach
Amy Cheney Beach. Apic / Hulton Archive / Getty Images

Amy Beach Facts

Known for: classical composer, whose success was unusual for her sex, one of few American composers recognized internationally at the time
Occupation: pianist, composer
Dates: September 5, 1867 - December 27, 1944
Also known as: Amy Marcy Cheney, Amy Marcy Cheney Beach, Amy Cheney Beach, Mrs. H. H. A. Beach

Amy Beach Biography:

Amy Cheney began to sing at the age of two and play piano at the age of four.

She began her formal study of piano at age six, taught first by her mother. When she performed in her first public recital at age seven, she included some pieces of her own composition.

Her parents had her study music in Boston, although it was more common for musicians of her talent to study in Europe. She attended a private school in Boston and studied with musical teachers and coaches Ernst Perabo, Junius Hill and Carl Baermann.

At the age of sixteen, Amy Cheney had her professional debut, and in March, 1885, appeared with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, performing Chopin's F minor concerto.

In December of 1885, when she was eighteen, Amy married a much-older man. Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach was a surgeon in Boston who was also an amateur musician. Amy Beach used the professional name Mrs. H. H. A. Beach from that time on, though more recently, she has been credited as Amy Beach or Amy Cheney Beach.

Dr. Beach encouraged his wife to compose and publish her compositions, rather than perform publicly, after their marriage, bowing to a Victorian custom of wives avoiding the public sphere. Her Mass was performed by the Boston Symphony in 1982. She had achieved enough recognition to be asked to compose a choral piece for the 1893 World's Fair in Chicago.

Her Gaelic Symphony, based on folk tunes of Ireland, by that same orchestra in 1896. She composed a piano concerto, and in a rare public appearance, soloed with the Boston Symphony in April of 1900 to debut that piece. A 1904 work, Variations on Balkan Themes, also used folk tunes as inspiration.

In 1910, Dr. Beach died; the marriage had been happy but childless. Amy Beach continued composing and returned to performing. She toured Europe, playing her own compositions. Europeans were not used to either American composers or female composers meeting their high standards for classical music, and she gained considerable attention for her work there.

Amy Beach began using that name when in Europe, but returned to using Mrs. H. H. A. Beach when she discovered that she already had some recognition for her compositions published under that name. She was once asked in Europe, when still using the name Amy Beach, whether she was the daughter of Mrs. H. H. A. Beach.

When Amy Beach returned to America in 1914, she lived in New York and continued composing and performing. She played at two other World's Fairs: in 1915 in San Francisco and in 1939 in New York. She performed at the White House for Franklin and Eleanor Roosevelt.

The women's suffrage movement used her career as an example of a woman's success. That it was unusual for a woman to achieve her level of recognition is reflected in the comment by George Witefield Chadwick, another Boston composer, who called her "one of the boys" for her excellence.

Her style, influenced by the New England composers and romantics, and influenced by the American Transcendentalists, was considered during her own lifetime to be somewhat out of date.

In the 1970s, with the rise of feminism and attention to women's history, Amy Beach's music was rediscovered and performed more often than it had been. No known recordings of her own performances exist.

Key Works

Amy Beach wrote more than 150 works, and published almost all of those. These are some of the best-known:

  • 1889: Valse-Caprice
  • 1892: Fireflies
  • 1892: Mass in E-flat major
  • 1892: aria "Eilende Wolken"
  • 1893: Festival Jubilate
  • 1893: Ecstasy
  • 1894: Ballad
  • 1896: Gaelic Symphony
  • 1900: Three Browning Songs
  • 1903: June
  • 1904: Shena Van
  • 1907: The Chambered Nautilus
  • 1915: Panama Hymn
  • 1922: The Hermit Thrush at Eve and The Hermit Thrush at Morn
  • 1928: The Canticle of the Sun