Amy Beach was born to a distinguished New England family. A child prodigy, she could sing over 40 songs at the age of one and improvise alto lines at two. She began performing small piano recitals in the Boston area at the age of 6 and she gave her concert debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1883. She considered going to Europe to train at a conservatory but decided to remain in the United States.
After her marriage in 1885 to Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach (a physician and lecturer at Harvard), she stopped most of her public performances. She would, however, give one public recital a year, where she would collect money from her friends and family to donate to charity. It was after she stopped performing that she turned her musical energy to composition.
A member of the Second New England School, her music was extremely influential in the development of the American classical music style. She was highly disciplined in her work, able to churn out a large-scale composition in just a few days. Her most popular (and profitable) compositions were her art songs, though she goes down in history as the first American woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra. Much of her music reflects her Anglo-American heritage and the Irish population in New England.
Aside from composition and performance, she was active in musical organizations, serving as the leader of the Music Educators National Conference and was the co-founder and first president of the Society of American Women Composers. —Trevor Nelson
Adrienne Fried Block. “A ‘Veritable Autobiography’?: Amy Beach’s Piano Concerto in C-Sharp Minor, op. 45.” Musical Quarterly 78, no. 2 (1994): 394-416.
Adrienne Fried Block. Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian: The Life and Work of an American Composer, 1867-1944. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
Jeanell Wise Brown. Amy Beach and Her Chamber Music: Biography, Documents, Style. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1994.
Sarah Gerk. “‘Common Joys, Sorrows, Adventures, and Struggles’: Transnational Encounters in Amy Beach’s ‘Gaelic’ Symphony.” Journal of the Society for American Music 10, no. 2 (May 2016): 149-80.
Check out this timeline that includes a selective arrangement of significant events throughout the life of Amy Beach. Such events include birth/death, early musical and educational training, performances, new composition premieres, honors, national/international events, etc. Explore her amazing life here.
As this year marks Amy Beach’s 150th birthday, much is being done in celebration about this remarkable woman’s life and work! Among the many events, recordings and scholarship concerning her life and work is an article entitled “Amy Beach, a Pioneering American Composer, Turns 150” by musicologist William Robin featured in the NYTimes!! You can read the article here.
At the end of the nineteenth century, Amy Beach (1867–1944) and Teresa Carreño (1853–1917) stood at the vanguard of a growing number of American women pianist-composers who cut new paths in the art music world as they navigated expectations placed on Victorian women. In the process, they became role models for a generation of “new women” who were coming of age in a time of social struggle and emerging opportunity. Beach and Carreño traversed more than invisible gender barriers. As they traveled between such locales as the United States and Europe, and in Carreño’s case, South America, Africa, and Australia, their careers both reflected and shaped a web of transnational connections at the height of European colonialism.
In the year that marks Beach’s 150th birthday and the centennial of Carreño’s death, the University of New Hampshire Special Collections will host a conference to celebrate the lives and worlds of these two women. Find more information about this conference at the conference website.