Amy Beach (1867-1944)

Episodes

SeriesEpisodeTitleFirst
Broadcast
RepeatedComments
20100120100802Not just a "woman composer" but one of the most original, distinctive and gifted American musicians of the early 20th century. Donald Macleod explores the music of Amy Beach (1867-1944).

More than a generation after her death at the venerable age of 77, Amy March Beach (n退e Cheney) is still dogged by a single phrase: "female composer".

Once upon a time, it was used by male critics as to criticise her supposedly 'inferior' music - now, in a postmodern, post-feminist age, Beach's life and output is endlessly reappraised for its symbolism - the achievement of a pioneering woman in a world of men - rather than for her remarkable musical abilities.

In truth, Amy Beach's life and work are extraordinary, regardless of her gender: arguably the first truly "American" voice to emerge from a continent still struggling to break free from the shackles of the European classical tradition.

Donald Macleod explores her journey from the tranquil meadows of New England to her headline-grabbing early successes as a virtuoso piano prodigy in Boston - and her burning childhood desire to compose. We'll hear complete performances and extended excerpts from her collection of large-scale symphonic works, including her "Grand Mass" in E Flat, and "Gaelic" Symphony, as well as a rare performance of Beach's chamber opera, "Cabildo".

We'll also hear a number of works composed at the Macdowell Colony - a remarkable artists' retreat amidst the woodlands of New Hampshire where the middle-aged Mrs Beach, remarkably, assimilated a host of modern musical techniques into her expressive late-Romantic style.

Also spanning across the week are a number of Amy Beach's songs, from opus 1 to 152 - perhaps her finest and most lasting achievement, full of examples of her gift for intense, lyrical melody.

In the first episode of this week's series, Donald Macleod examines Beach's gargantuan "Grand Mass" in E Flat - the first to be composed by an American woman - and charts the composer's journey from piano prodigy to respected composer (and 'respectable wife').

Amy Beach's journey from piano prodigy to respected composer and 'respectable wife'.

20100220100803Possessing American ancestry going back several generations, and having never studied in Europe, Amy Beach is often considered the first truly American composer. In today's episode, Donald Macleod introduces her "Gaelic" symphony of 1897, written shortly after Antonin Dvorak had called on American composers to forge a new national identity in music. He also introduces three songs on texts by Robert Browning, and a charming North Atlantic cousin of Elgar's 'Salut d'Amour'.

Donald Macleod on Amy Beach's Gaelic symphony - arguably the first real American symphony.

20100320100804In less than a year, Amy Beach tragically lost the two most important figures in her life: her husband and mother. Between them, they'd carefully guided her musical career - both encouraging her talents and clamping down on activity that they saw as 'unladylike'.

Suddenly, at the age of 43, Amy Beach was about to embark on a remarkable new chapter in her life: one with the freedom to compose and perform as she wished. Donald Macleod introduces a complete performance of Beach's Piano Quintet, as well as a quartet of the composer's most playful and enchanting songs.

Donald Macleod explores the aftermath of the deaths of Amy Beach's husband and mother.

20100420100805By the early 1920s, Amy Beach was an American musical institution - albeit somewhat steeped in the Victorian era. Who would have expected, then, that aged 54, the composer would begin a remarkable new direction in her musical life, centred upon the idyllic Macdowell Colony - an artists' retreat deep in the New Hampshire woods.

There, Amy Beach composed an outpouring of evocative chamber works, fusing her own lyrical expression with more modern elements to create a uniquely personal musical style. Donald Macleod introduces a pair of pieces evoking the Hermit Thrush's morning and evening calls, as well as major pieces for string quartet and one of the composer's most passionate songs.

Donald Macleod focuses on Amy Beach's experiences at the idyllic Macdowell Colony.

201005 LAST20100806Now well into her sixties, by the mid-1930s Amy Beach was finally beginning to feel her age. Moving to Manhattan, she embarked on a remarkable final chapter in her musical life, producing some of her most distinctive songs and piano works, as well as a Creole-infused chamber opera, "Cabildo".

Donald Macleod explores the music of Amy Beach's last decade.

Donald Macleod focuses on the last decade of Amy Beach's life.

201901Finding Her Voice2019042920210111 (R3)Donald Macleod follows Beach's quest to create a uniquely American sound for her music.

Amy Beach was born in the 19th century and, like all women composers of her generation, she found her path to greatness strewn with obstacles. This week, Donald Macleod charts her struggle to take control of her own destiny and become one of America's most cherished cultural figures; a composer who helped lead her nation into the mainstream of classical music. Famed conductor, Leopold Stokowski noted that her symphony was “full of real music, without any pretence or effects but just real, sincere, simple and deep music.”

In today's programme, Donald follows Beach's search to develop her individual voice as a composer. She responds to Dvorak's call for Americans to establish their own classical music tradition but chastises him for his presumption that only men could lead the way.

Pastorale, Op 151
The Reykjavik Wind Quintet

Romance, Op 23
Tasmin Little, piano
John Lenehan, piano

Symphony in E minor, Op 32 (Gaelic) (Alla sicilana and Lento)
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Neeme Jarvi, conductor

Evening Hymn, Op 125 No 2
Harvard University Choir
Kate Nyhan, soprano
Navaz Karanjia, alto
Erica Johnson, organ
Murray Forbes Somerville, conductor

From Grandmother's Garden, Op 97
Kirsten Johnson, piano

Produced by Luke Whitlock for BBC Wales

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

Symphony in E minor, Op 32 (Gaelic) (Alla sicilana & Lento)
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Neeme Jarvi, conductor

201902Sacred Works2019043020210112 (R3)Donald Macleod explores the influence of religion upon the music of Amy Beach.

Amy Beach was born in the 19th century and, like all women composers of her generation, she found her path to greatness strewn with obstacles. This week, Donald Macleod charts her struggle to take control of her own destiny and become one of America's most cherished cultural figures; a composer who helped lead her nation into the mainstream of classical music. Famed conductor, Leopold Stokowski noted that her symphony was “full of real music, without any pretence or effects but just real, sincere, simple and deep music.”

Today's programme looks at how Beach's religious beliefs impacted upon her life and work. From her upbringing by devout parents, to her own beliefs and involvement with the church, Beach composed many sacred works during her lifetime, including the large-scale Canticle of the Sun.

The Year's at the Spring, Op 44 No 1
Robert White, tenor
Samuel Sanders, piano

Mamma's Waltz
Kirsten Johnson, piano

Valse Caprice, Op 4
Kirsten Johnson, piano

Canticle of the Sun, Op 123
Susan Bender, soprano
Elizabeth McLean, mezzo soprano
Richard Turner, tenor
James Shaffran, bass
Capitol Hill Choral Society and Orchestra
Betty Buchanan, director

Though I take the wings of morning, Op 152
Katherine Kelton, mezzo-soprano
Catherine Bringerud, piano

Trio for violin, cello and piano, Op 150
The Ambache
Elizabeth Layton, violin
Martin Outram, viola
Diana Ambache, piano

Produced by Luke Whitlock, for BBC Wales

Donald Macleod delves into Amy Beach's sacred works.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

Today's programme looks at how Beach's religious beliefs impacted her life and work. From her upbringing by devout parents, to her own beliefs and involvement with the church, Beach composed many sacred works during her lifetime, including the large-scale Canticle of the Sun.

201903Marriage2019050120210113 (R3)Donald Macleod traces the impact of Beach's marriage upon her career as a composer and pianist.

Amy Beach was born in the 19th century and, like all women composers of her generation, she found her path to greatness strewn with obstacles. This week, Donald Macleod charts her struggle to take control of her own destiny and become one of America's most cherished cultural figures; a composer who helped lead her nation into the mainstream of classical music. Famed conductor Leopold Stokowski noted that her symphony was “full of real music, without any pretence or effects but just real, sincere, simple and deep music.”

Today's programme traces the impact marriage had upon Beach both as a composer and a pianist. Although her husband encouraged her composition, she had to curtail her career as a concert pianist, performing in public only once a year. But the financial security of her marriage did allow for Beach to compose some of her most enduring works, including her famed Violin Sonata.

Ah, love, but a day, Op 44 No 2
Kate Royal, soprano
Malcolm Martineau, piano

A Prelude, Op 71 No 1
Katherine Kelton, mezzo-soprano
Catherine Bringerud, piano

When far from her, Op 2 No 2
Katherine Kelton, mezzo-soprano
Catherine Bringerud, piano

Come, ah come, Op 48 No 1
Katherine Kelton, mezzo-soprano
Catherine Bringerud, piano

Nunc Dimittis, Op 8 No 1
Harvard University Choir
Murray Forbes Somerville, conductor

Peace I leave with you, Op 8 No 3
Harvard University Choir
Murray Forbes Somerville, conductor

Violin Sonata in A minor, Op 34
Tasmin Little, violin
John Lenehan, piano

Symphony in E minor, Op 32 (Gaelic) (Allegro di molto)
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Neeme Jarvi, conductor

Produced by Luke Whitlock, for BBC Wales

Donald Macleod looks at the impact of Beach's marriage on her career.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

201904Europe2019050220210114 (R3)Donald Macleod follows Amy Beach as she travels beyond the borders of her homeland, America, for the first time.

Amy Beach was born in the 19th century and, like all women composers of her generation, she found her path to greatness strewn with obstacles. This week, Donald Macleod charts her struggle to take control of her own destiny and become one of America's most cherished cultural figures; a composer who helped lead her nation into the mainstream of classical music. Famed conductor, Leopold Stokowski noted that her symphony was “full of real music, without any pretence or effects but just real, sincere, simple and deep music.”

Today's programme sees Amy Beach liberated by her husband's death and embarking on her first tour of Europe. Beach sought to rejuvenate her career as both a composer and concert pianist with this tour, performing her own highly acclaimed piano concerto.

Autumn Song, Op 56 No 1
Kyle Bielfield, tenor
Lachlan Glen, piano

Prelude Op 81
Kirsten Johnson, piano

Der Totenkranz, Op 73 No 2
Katherine Kelton, mezzo-soprano
Catherine Bringerud, piano

The Candy Lion, Op 75 No 1
Katherine Kelton, mezzo-soprano
Catherine Bringerud, piano

Piano Concerto in C sharp minor, Op 45
Danny Driver, piano
BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra
Rebecca Miller, conductor

On a Hill
Guadalupe Kreysa, soprano
Paul Hardy, piano

Produced by Luke Whitlock, for BBC Wales

Donald Macleod follows Beach as she travels beyond America's borders for the first time.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.

201905 LASTSanctuary2019050320210115 (R3)Donald Macleod focuses on a special place that became central to Beach and her work as a composer.

Amy Beach was born in the 19th century and, like all women composers of her generation, she found her path to greatness strewn with obstacles. This week, Donald Macleod charts her struggle to take control of her own destiny and become one of America's most cherished cultural figures; a composer who helped lead her nation into the mainstream of classical music. Famed conductor, Leopold Stokowski noted that her symphony was “full of real music, without any pretence or effects but just real, sincere, simple and deep music.”

Today, Donald follows Beach to the MacDowell Colony, a unique artist's retreat in New Hampshire. The colony became an important sanctuary for her and is where she composed most of her later works.

Je demande à l'oiseau, Op 51 No 4
Hélène Guilmette, soprano
Martin Dubé, piano

A Hermit Thrush at Eve, Op 92 No 1
Kirsten Johnson, piano

A Hermit Thrush at Morn, Op 92 No 2
Kirsten Johnson, piano

Quartet for Strings, Op 89
Ambache

Symphony in E minor, Op 32 (Gaelic) (Allegro confuoco)
Detroit Symphony Orchestra
Neeme Jarvi, conductor

Trois morceaux caractéristiques, Op 28
Kirsten Johnson, piano

Produced by Luke Whitlock, for BBC Wales

Donald Macleod focuses on a special place that became central to Beach's work.

Donald Macleod offers a weekly guide to composers and their music.