Beach, Mrs. H.H.A. (née Amy Marcy Cheney)

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Beach, Mrs. H.H.A. (née Amy Marcy Cheney)

Beach, Mrs. H.H.A. (née Amy Marcy Cheney), important American composer; b. Henniker, N.H., Sept. 5, 1867; d. N.Y., Dec. 27, 1944. She was descended of early New England colonists, and was a scion of a cultural family. She was educated at a private school in Boston. She studied piano with Ernest Perabo and Carl Baermann, and received instruction in harmony and counterpoint from Junius W. Hill. She made her debut as a pianist in Boston on Oct. 24, 1883, playing Chopin’s Rondo in E-flat major and Moscheles’s G minor concerto under Neuendorff. On March 28, 1885, she made her first appearance with the Boston Sym. Orch. in Chopin’s F minor concerto under Gericke. On Dec. 3, 1885, at the age of 18, she married Dr. H.H.A. Beach, a Boston surgeon, a quarter of a century older than she. The marriage was a happy one, and as a token of her loyalty to her husband, she used as her professional name Mrs. H.H.A. Beach. She began to compose modestly, mostly for piano, but soon embarked on an ambitious Mass, which was performed by the Handel and Haydn Soc. in Boston on Feb. 18, 1892, becoming the first woman to have a composition performed by that organization. On Oct. 30, 1896, her Gaelic Symphony, based on Irish folk tunes, was performed by the Boston Sym. Orch. with exceptional success. On April 6, 1900, she appeared as soloist with the Boston Sym. Orch. in the first performance of her Piano Concerto. She also wrote a great many songs in an endearing Romantic manner. When her husband died in 1910, she went to Europe. She played her works in Berlin, Leipzig, and Hamburg, attracting considerable attention as the first of her gender and national origin to be able to compose music of a European quality of excellence. She returned to the U.S. in 1914 and lived in N.Y. Her music, unpretentious in its idiom and epigonic in its historical aspect, retained its importance as the work of a pioneer woman composer in America.


DRAMATIC: Opera: Cabildo (1932; Athens, Ga., Feb. 27, 1947). ORCH.: Eilende Wolken, Segler die Lüfte for Alto and Orch. (N.Y., Dec. 2, 1892); Bal masque (N.Y., Dec. 12, 1893); Gaelic Symphony (1894; Boston, Oct. 30, 1896); Piano Concerto (1899; Boston, April 6, 1900); Jephthah’s Daughter for Soprano and Orch. (1903). CHAMBER: Violin Sonata (1896; Boston, March 14, 1899); Piano Quintet (1907; Boston, Feb. 27, 1908); Theme and Variations for Flute and String Quartet (1916); String Quartet (1929); Piano Trio (1938). Piano: Many pieces, including the popular Valse- Caprice (1889), Fireflies (1892), Ballad (1894), The Hermit Thrush at Eve (1922), and The Hermit Thrust at Morn (1922). vocal: choral: Mass (1890; Boston, Feb. 7, 1892); Festival Jubilate for Chorus and Orch. (1891; Chicago, May 1, 1893); The Chambered Nautilus (1907); The Canticle of the Sun (1928); numerous other choral works, both sacred and secular; many songs, including the favorites Ecstasy (1893), 3 Browning Songs (1900), June (1903), and Shena Van (1904).


P. Goetschius, Mrs. H.H.A. B. (Boston, 1906); E. Merrill, Mrs. H.H.A. B.: Her Life and Music (diss., Univ. of Rochester, 1963); M. Eden, Energy and Individuality in the Art ofAnna Huntington, Sculptor, and A. B., Composer (Metuchen, N.J., 1987); J. Brown, A. B. and her Chamber Music: Biography, Documents, Style (Metuchen, N.J., 1994); W. Jenkins, The Remarkable Mrs. B., American Composer: A Biographical Account Based on Her Diaries, Letters, Newspaper Clippings, and Personal Reminiscences (Warren, Mich., 1994); A. Block, A. B., Passionate Victorian: The Life and Work of an American Composer, 1867-1944 (N.Y., 1998).

—Nicolas Slonimsky/Laura Kuhn/Dennis McIntire