Amy Beach was born to a distinguished New England family. A child prodigy, she could sing over 40 songs at the age of one and improvise alto lines at two. She began performing small piano recitals in the Boston area at the age of 6 and she gave her concert debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1883. She considered going to Europe to train at a conservatory but decided to remain in the United States.
After her marriage in 1885 to Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach (a physician and lecturer at Harvard), she stopped most of her public performances. She would, however, give one public recital a year, where she would collect money from her friends and family to donate to charity. It was after she stopped performing that she turned her musical energy to composition.
A member of the Second New England School, her music was extremely influential in the development of the American classical music style. She was highly disciplined in her work, able to churn out a large-scale composition in just a few days. Her most popular (and profitable) compositions were her art songs, though she goes down in history as the first American woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra. Much of her music reflects her Anglo-American heritage and the Irish population in New England.
Aside from composition and performance, she was active in musical organizations, serving as the leader of the Music Educators National Conference and was the co-founder and first president of the Society of American Women Composers.
- Adrienne Fried Block. “A ‘Veritable Autobiography’?: Amy Beach’s Piano Concerto in C-Sharp Minor, op. 45.” Musical Quarterly 78, no. 2 (1994): 394-416.
- Adrienne Fried Block. Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian: The Life and Work of an American Composer, 1867-1944. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1998.
- Jeanell Wise Brown. Amy Beach and Her Chamber Music: Biography, Documents, Style. Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1994.
- Sarah Gerk. “‘Common Joys, Sorrows, Adventures, and Struggles’: Transnational Encounters in Amy Beach’s ‘Gaelic’ Symphony.” Journal of the Society for American Music 10, no. 2 (May 2016): 149-80.
A playlist of music composed by Amy Beach.
Listen on this page, or click the button below to open the playlist in Spotify.