LaBudde Special Collections | Amy Cheney Beach Collection
SCOPE AND CONTENT OF COLLECTION
The manuscript scores include dated (1872-1933) and undated works. Many of them have dedicatory notes and autographs by Beach. Notable works include the one-act opera Cabildo, Op. 149; The Chambered Nautilus, Op. 66, a cantata for women's voices and orchestra; and The Rainy Day, a setting of the Henry Wadsworth Longfellow poem. Also in manuscript form are several works for solo piano written during the composer's childhood: Mamma’s Waltz (1872), Air and Variations (1877); Menuetto (1877); and Petite Valse (1878).
The published scores date from 1892 to 1943, and include several notable works such as Three Browning Songs, Op. 44, no. 1-3, settings of Robert Browning poems; and A Hermit Thrush at Eve and A Hermit Thrush at Morn (Op. 92, no. 1 and 2, respectively). Eskimos: Four Characteristic Pieces for the Pianoforte, Op. 64, represents the latest published work in the collection (1943).
Other UMKC resources pertaining to the life and compositions of Amy Beach can be found through a UMKC Library Catalog subject search: Beach H H A Mrs. In addition, a full listing of Beach compositions can be found in the International Encyclopedia of Women Composers, 2nd Edition, by Aaron I. Cohen. New York: Books & Music (USA), Inc., 1987, pp.83-85.
Non-UMKC resources include the Mrs. H.H.A. Beach / Amy Cheney Beach Collection, at the Milne Special Collections and Archives, University of New Hampshire; and the MacDowell Colony, which retains copyright control of all of Beach's works and where Beach was a member from 1921-1941.
Her parents were unable financially to send her abroad to study, and instead turned to the music community in Boston (where they had moved in 1871). Beach studied piano with Ernest Perabo and Carl Baermann, and harmony and counterpoint with Junius W. Hill. These lessons were to be her only formal training. She learned orchestration and fugue by translating the treatises of Louis Hector Berlioz and François-Auguste Gevaert. Beach's first published work was The Rainy Day (1880), a setting of a poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. In 1883, at age 16, she made her professional debut as a pianist, and shortly thereafter became a soloist with the Boston Symphony Orchestra.
Her development was watched closely by a circle in Boston society which included Longfellow, Oliver Wendell Holmes, William Mason and Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach. Dr. Beach was a socially prominent physician, a lecturer on anatomy at Harvard, and a well-schooled amateur singer and pianist. Amy Cheney and Dr. H.H.A. Beach were married in 1885, at which point Amy Cheney began using the name Mrs. H.H.A. Beach professionally. Following the expectations of Victorian society, Beach curtailed her touring and spent her days at home composing.
Many of Beach's works were granted premières by major orchestras, such as Mass in Eb, Op. 5, performed by the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston in 1892; the concert aria Eilende Wolken, Op. 18, performed by the New York Philharmonic Society also in 1892; and Symphony in E-Minor, Op. 32, performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1896. Other works were the result of commissions, such as Festival Jubilate, Op. 17, composed for the dedication (May 1, 1893) of the Women’s Building for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago; Song of Welcome, Op. 42, for the Trans-Mississippi Exposition (1898); and Panama Hymn, Op. 74, for the International Exposition in San Francisco (1915). These were the first occasions on which many musical organizations performed music by a female composer. Beach's Symphony in E-Minor (also known as Gaelic Symphony) is acknowledged as the first symphony composed by an American woman.
Dr. Beach died June 28, 1910, and on September 5, 1911, Amy Beach sailed for Europe to begin three years of touring as a performer in Paris, Rome, Hamburg, Leipzig, Berlin, and many other major European cities. At the outbreak of the First World War in Europe, Beach returned to the United States, eventually settling in New York City. A triumph for the American musical environment, Beach was already scheduled for 30 tour dates on both coasts prior to her arrival stateside. As was her routine, she would perform concerts throughout winter and spend summers composing at her home in Centerville on Cape Cod, a home purchased solely with the proceeds from her song Ecstasy.
In 1921, Beach became a fellow at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where she developed friendships with other artists there, among them playwright Thornton Wilder. Over the next twenty years she composed many of her later works at the artist colony, including the piano pieces The Hermit Thrush at Eve and The Hermit Thrush at Morn, and the one-act opera Cabildo. In 1928, Beach received an honorary Master of Arts degree from the University of New Hampshire. Hailed as one of America’s most prominent composers and performers, she was granted two retrospective concerts of her songs and orchestral music on her 75th birthday.
Beach's legacy created remarkable breakthroughs for others, particularly women, in music. Many of her works show the influence of late Romantic American composers such as Horatio Parker, Edward MacDowell, Arthur Foote and George Chadwick; but she also reflected the ideas of Brahms and Debussy. These influences are not absolutely direct, but subtle, for the majority of her compositions consist of her own idiomatic style (both delicate and elaborate) and her natural gift for melody. She is best known for her songs, symphony, and the opera Cabildo; and was recognized for her early contribution to the preservation, documentation and transcription of American birdsongs.
Amy Cheney Beach died December 27, 1944, of heart failure.
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