102 Western Ave, Henniker, NH 03242
28 Commonwealth Avenue, Boston, MA 02116
MacDowell Colony, 100 High St, Peterborough, NH 03458
St Bartholomew's Church, 325 Park Ave, New York, NY 10022
Forest Hills Cemetery, 95 Forest Hills Ave, Jamaica Plain, MA 02130
Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (September 5, 1867 – December 27, 1944) was an American composer and pianist. Her private life did include a Platonic friendship with gay New York organist David McKinley Williams, as well as close intimate relationships with various sopranos - notably the versatile Marcella Craft, who could both sing and dance the title role in Strauss's Salome.
She was the first successful American female composer of large-scale art music. Her "Gaelic" Symphony, premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1896, was the first symphony composed and published by an American woman. She was one of the first American composers to succeed without the benefit of European training, and one of the most respected and acclaimed American composers of her era. As a pianist, she was acclaimed for concerts she gave featuring her own music in the United States and in Germany.
Amy Marcy Cheney was born in Henniker, New Hampshire to Charles Abbott Cheney (nephew of Oren B. Cheney, who founded Bates College) and Clara Imogene Marcy Cheney. Artistic ability appears to have run in the family: Clara was reputedly an "excellent pianist and singer,", and had a sister named Emma Francis "Franc" Marcy, who taught voice and piano in Boston. Emma's daughter Ethel, who "displayed a talent for art," went "to study in New York, Boston, and twice to Paris" during the 1890s.
AAmy showed every sign of a child prodigy. She was able to sing forty songs accurately by age one, she was capable of improvising counter-melody by age two, and she taught herself to read at age three. At four, she composed three waltzes for piano during a summer at her grandfather's farm in West Henniker, NH, despite the absence of a piano; instead, she composed the pieces mentally and played them when she returned home. She could also play music by ear, including four-part hymns. The family struggled to keep up with her musical interests and demands. Her mother sang and played for her, but attempted to prevent young Amy from playing the family piano herself, believing that to indulge the child's wishes in this respect would damage parental authority. Amy often commanded what music was played in the home and how, becoming enraged if it did not meet her standards.
AAmy began formal piano lessons with her mother at age six, and soon gave public recitals of works by Handel, Beethoven, and Chopin, as well as her own pieces. One such recital was reviewed in arts journal The Folio, and multiple agents proposed concert tours for the young pianist, which her parents declined – a decision for which Amy was later grateful.
IIn 1875, the Cheney family moved to Chelsea, a suburb just across the Mystic River from Boston. They were advised there to enroll Amy in a European conservatory, but opted instead for local training, hiring Ernst Perabo and later Carl Baermann (himself a student of Franz Liszt) as piano teachers. In 1881–82, fourteen-year-old Amy also studied harmony and counterpoint with Junius W. Hill. This would be her only formal instruction as a composer, but "[s]he collected every book she could find on theory, composition, and orchestration ... she taught herself ... counterpoint, harmony, fugue," even translating Gevaert's and Berlioz's French treatises on orchestration, considered "most composers' bibles," into English for herself.
AAmy Cheney made her concert debut at age sixteen on October 18, 1883 in a "Promenade Concert" conducted by Adolph Neuendorff at Boston's Music Hall, where she played Chopin's Rondo in E-flat and was piano soloist in Moscheles's piano concerto No. 3 in G minor, to general acclaim: as biographer Fried Block comments, "[i]t is hard to imagine a more positive critical reaction to a debut," and her audience was "enthusiastic in the extreme." The next two years of her career included performances in Chickering Hall, and she starred in the final performance of the Boston Symphony's 1884–85 season.
AAmy would later recall one rehearsal for a Mendelssohn concerto in 1885, when the conductor slowed the orchestra during the last movement, attempting to go easy on the teenage soloist. When Amy began the piano part, however, she played at full prescribed tempo: "I did not know that he was sparing me, but I did know that the tempo dragged, and I swung the orchestra into time".
Amy was married the same year (1885) to Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach, a Boston surgeon twenty-four years her senior (she was eighteen at the time). Her name would subsequently be listed on concert programs and published compositions as "Mrs. H. H. A. Beach." The marriage was conditioned upon her willingness "to live according to his status, that is, function as a society matron and patron of the arts. She agreed never to teach piano, an activity widely associated with women" and regarded as providing "pin money." She further agreed to limit performances to two public recitals per year, with profits donated to charity, and to devote herself more to composition than to performance (although, as she wrote, "I thought I was a pianist first and foremost.")) Her self-guided education in composition was also necessitated by Dr. Beach, who disapproved of his wife studying with a tutor. Restrictions like these were typical for middle- and upper-class women of the time: as it was explained to a European counterpart, Fanny Mendelssohn, "Music will perhaps become his [Fanny's brother Felix Mendelssohn's] profession, while for you it can and must be only an ornament.".
Her husband died in June 1910 (the couple had been childless) and her mother 7 months later. Her father, Charles Cheney, had died in 1895. Beach felt unable to work for a while. She went to Europe in hopes of recovering there. In Europe she changed her name to "Amy Beach". She travelled together with Marcella (Marcia) Craft, an American soprano who was "prima donna of the Berlin Royal Opera." Beach's first year in Europe "was of almost entire rest." In 1912 she gradually resumed giving concerts, Her European debut was in Dresden, October 1912, playing her violin and piano sonata with violinist "Dr. Bülau," to favorable reviews. In Munich in January 1913, she gave a concert, again with her violin sonata, but now with three sets of songs, two of her own and one by Brahms, and solo piano music by Bach, Beethoven, and Brahms. Two critics were rather unfavorable, one calling Beach's songs "kitschy." She was unfazed, saying the audience was "large and very enthusiastic." Demand arose for sheet music of Beach's songs and solo piano pieces, beyond the supply that Beach's publisher Arthur P. Schmidt had available for German music stores. Later In January, still in Munich, she performed in her Piano Quintet; a critic praised her composing, which he did not like all that well, more than her playing. In a further concert in Breslau, only three of Beach's songs were on the program, fewer than in Munich.
IIn November–December 1913 she played the solo part in her Piano Concerto with orchestras in Leipzig, Hamburg, and Berlin. Her Gaelic Symphony was also performed in Hamburg and Leipzig. A Hamburg critic wrote "we have before us undeniably a possessor of musical gifts of the highest kind; a musical nature touched with genius." She was greeted as the first American woman "able to compose music of a European quality of excellence."
She returned to America in 1914, not long after the beginning of World War I. Beach and Craft made pro-German statements to the American press, but Beach said her allegiance was to "the musical, not the militaristic Germany." She gave some manuscripts of music she had written in Europe to Craft, who brought them back to the U.S. Beach delayed her own departure until September 1914 and so had a further trunkful of manuscripts confiscated at the Belgian border. Beach eventually recovered the trunk and contents in 1929.
In 1915, the Panama Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco commemorated the opening of the Panama Canal and the city's recovery from the 1906 earthquake and fire. Amy Beach was honored often by concerts of her music and receptions during 1915, and her Panama Hymn was commissioned for the occasion. In 1915 and again in 1916 Amy in San Francisco visited her aunt Franc and cousin Ethel, who by then were her closest living relatives. About August 6, 1916, Amy, Franc, and Ethel left San Francisco together, leaving Franc's husband Lyman behind, a "fifty-year-old marriage broken apart", for unknown reasons. The three women took up residence in Hillsborough, New Hampshire, where Franc and Amy's mother had been born. Lyman "was settled" in a Veterans' Home in California from 1917 until his death in 1922. After 1916, "Hillsborough was Beach's official residence: there she voted in presidential elections." In 1918, Amy's cousin Ethel "developed a terminal illness," and Amy spent time taking care of her, as Franc, at age 75, "could hardly" do so by herself.
Aside from concert tours and the time of Ethel's illness until her death in 1920, Beach also spent part of her time in New York. Someone had asked her if she were the daughter of Mrs. H. H. A. Beach. She resumed using that married name, but used "Amy Beach" on bookplates and stationery. For a few summers she composed at her cottage in Centerville, Massachusetts on Cape Cod.
While continuing to get income from her compositions published by Arthur P. Schmidt, during 1914–1921 she had new compositions published by G. Schirmer. The Centerville cottage had been built on a five-acre property Amy had bought with royalties from one song, Ecstasy, 1892, her most successful up until then.
From 1921 on she spent part of each summer as a Fellow at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where she composed several works and encountered other women composers and/or musicians, including Emilie Frances Bauer, Marion Bauer, Mabel Wheeler Daniels, Fannie Charles Dillon, and Ethel Glenn Hier, who "were or became long-time friends" of Beach. But there were "generational and gender divisions" among the Fellows in music, with some feeling that Beach's music was "no longer fashionable".
St Bartholomew's Church, 325 Park Ave, New York, NY 10022
In 1924 Beach sold the house in Boston she had inherited from her husband. Her aunt Franc had become "feeble" around 1920, developed dementia in 1924, and died in November 1925 in Hillsborough, after which Beach had no surviving relatives as close as Ethel and Franc had been. In the fall of 1930 Beach rented a studio apartment in New York. There she became the virtual composer-in-residence at St. Bartholomew's Episcopal Church. Her music had been used during the previous 20 years in services at the church, attributed to "H. H. A. Beach", with "Mrs." added only from 1931 on.
SShe used her status as the top female American composer to further the careers of young musicians. While she had agreed not to give private music lessons while married, Beach was able to work as a music educator during the early 20th century. She served as President of the Board of Councillors of the New England Conservatory of Music. She worked to coach and give feedback to various young composers, musicians, and students. Given her status and advocacy for music education, she was in high demand as a speaker and performer for various educational institutions and clubs, such as the University of New Hampshire, where she received an honorary master's degree in 1928. She also worked to create "Beach Clubs," which helped teach and educate children in music. She served as leader of some organizations focused on music education and women, including the Society of American Women Composers as its first president.
Beach spent the winter and spring of 1928–29 in Rome. She went to concerts "almost daily" and found Respighi's Feste Romane, just written in 1928, to be "superbly brilliant," but disliked a piece by Paul Hindemith. In March 1929 she gave a concert to benefit the American Hospital in Rome, in which her song "The Year's at the Spring" was encored and a "large sum of money" was raised. Beach, like her friends in Rome, briefly became an admirer of the Italian dictator Mussolini. She returned to the United States with a two-week stopover in Leipzig, where she met her old friend, the singer Marcella Craft.
SShe was a member of Chapter R (New York City) of the P.E.O. Sisterhood. Late in her life, she colloborated on the "Ballad of P.E.O." with the words written by Ruth Comfort Mitchell, Chapter BZ/California. Heart disease led to Beach's retirement in 1940 and her death in New York City in 1944. Amy Beach is buried with her husband in the Forest Hills Cemetery in the Jamaica Plain neighborhood of Boston, Massachusetts.
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