Amy Cheney Beach

As I sit here with Vinícius practicing Arctic Night in the other room, I can only marvel at the sounds coming out of his instrument. I am just beginning to learn about this composer. 


Amy Cheney Beach was a composer of immense talent, proficiency, taste, and curiosity. And yet, when one reads some examples of her reviews in major publications at the time, it reminds the reader of the commentary Hilary Rodham Clinton was subjected to in 2016. In reference to Beach's Gaelic Symphony one commentator referred to her handling of orchestration and melody as "shrill" and "noisy". And in the instance of a more "feminine" movement such as the lento, she is suddenly guilty of writing simpering sweet affected melodies that aren't worthy of major symphonic writing. But all the noise aside, it won the 28 year old Beach the respect of her peers and, according to my reading so far, the title of first American woman to publish and premier a major symphonic work. 


There is of course a possibility of making use of Indian airs... but we are all Europeans by descent, and therefore these Indian airs can never really become a part of us. - A. Beach (The Outlook for the Young American Composer)


In addition to being the first woman to compose such major works in the US, she was also joining a trend to use folk material in her compositions. Joining Dvorak, Stravinsky, MacDowell and others in the nativist and indianist movements in utilizing this material, but as this quote would suggest, she had no emotional or moral attachment to using this material beyond the aesthetic appeal. In fact, she would go on to utilize folk melodies from 8 wildly different countries from the Balkans to Cuba. 


I can ascribe no particular reason for my choice of Gaelic subjects for the symphony other than having been attracted by some of the wonderful old tunes in a collection of Gaelic folk music. - A. Beach, Program Notes 


I am opposed to all restrictions of this sort, and I believe that the American composer must have the world as his field of work. - A. Beach (The Outlook of the Young American Composer)


These two quotes illustrate my point that Amy Beach would go to be a distinctly American Composer. Something about the isolation and mixing of cultures in the states weakens the hold of tradition and convention that European Composers were constantly grappling with. For the mentality of taking the best of a thing, like Inuit folksongs, and making it better with the best of some completely unrelated thing, like romantic harmony, is something that I have yet to encounter outside of the Americas, specifically Brasil and the US.