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Amy Beach

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Are you able to harmonize when someone sings a melody?  If so, do you remember how old you were when the harmony bug hit you?  I know a few people, like my wife and her sister, who have the harmonizing singing gift. But I never met anyone who could do it at the age of two. Enter Amy Marcy Cheney, born in New Hampshire in 1867, she lived 77 years. Today we know her as Amy Beach having married Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach.  

If harmonizing at age two isn’t impressive enough, check out this list of Amy Beach’s amazing accomplishments as a youth.

  • By four years old she had written her first waltzes.
  • By seven she was playing the music of Handel, Beethoven, and Chopin along with her own compositions.
  • She could also play music by ear, including four-part hymns.
  • She made her concert debut at age sixteen at Boston's Music Hall, where she played Chopin's Rondo in E-flat and was the piano soloist in Moscheles's Piano Concerto No. 3 to which her audience was "enthusiastic in the extreme”. 

Amy Beach lived in an age where making a career as a composer was an uphill battle for women.  “Careers for women outside the home were hardly the accepted practice,” wrote Adrienne Fried Block in her 1998 biography “Amy Beach: Passionate Victorian”.  But Amy did make a career of music because of her incredible talent and drive to succeed.  Her composition of the Mass in E-flat major began her rise to prominence as Newspaper critics declared her one of America's foremost composers. 

She went on to write her Gaelic Symphony, the first symphony composed and published by an American woman.  And perhaps the icing on the cake was when Composer George Whitefield Chadwick heard it and he invited her to join “The Boston Six”.  The other members were all prominent composers (and all men), Horatio Parker, John Knowles Paine, Arthur Foote and Edward MacDowell. Amy Beach was the youngest of the group. 

During March for Women's History Month, we remember the contributions women have made to events in history and contemporary society. And we must include Amy Marcy Cheney Beach and enjoy her music and the music of other great women composers highlighted all month long on WNED Classical.