Amy Beach

Portrait of Amy Beach

Amy Beach was an American composer and pianist and the first successful American female composer of large-scale art music. She was born on 5th September 1867 in Henniker, New Hampshire, USA and died in New York, USA on 27th December 1944 aged 77.

Major Works

“The Little Brown Bee” (1916)
“Dusk in June” (1917)
“May Eve” (1933)
“Three School Songs” (1933)

Biography Timeline

Amy Marcy Cheney was born on 5th September 1867 in Henniker, New Hampshire, USA.  Her father was Charles Abbott Cheney and her mother was Clara Imogene Cheney (nee Marcy) a talented amateur singer and pianist. 

1868: She memorises songs at the age of one.

1870: She teaches herself to read at the age of three.

1871: She composes simple waltzes at the age of four and although there is no piano at her grandfather’s farm that summer, she composes them in her head.

1873: She begins studying the piano in earnest with her mother. 

1874: She performs her first public recitals playing works by Handel, Ludwig van Beethoven, Frederic Chopin and some of her own pieces. 

1875: The Cheney family move to the Boston suburb of Chelsea. Although advised to enrol Amy in a European conservatory, the family decide instead for local training and hire Ernst Perabo and Carl Baermann (a student of Franz Liszt) as her piano teachers. 

1881: She studies harmony and counterpoint with Junius W. Hill and this is her only formal training in composition although she does study further by translating Gevaert and Hector Berlioz’s French treatises on orchestration.

1883: She makes her Boston debut aged sixteen on 18th October in a Promenade Concert conducted by Adolph Neuendorff at Boston’s Music Hall. She plays Frederic Chopin’s Rondo in E Flat and Moscheles’s Piano Concerto No. 3 to great acclaim.

1885: She marries Henry Harris Aubrey Beach, a Boston surgeon, Harvard lecturer, and amateur singer who is twenty-four years older than her. Her husband asks that she limits her public performances to two per year with profits given to charity because of his professional status and she mainly concentrates on composition. The couple do not have any children.

1886: She begins working her “Mass in E-Flat”.

1892: “Mass in E-Flat” is a success at its first performance by Boston’s Handel and Haydn Society. Afterwards she receives other commissions for vocal and choral works and her national reputation begins to grow. The Symphony Society of New York premieres her concert aria, “Eilende Wolken”, opus 18 and her song “Ecstasy” earns her royalties for the rest of her life.

1893: “Festival Jubilate” opus. 17 is composed for the World’s Columbian Exposition in Chicago.

1895: Death of her father.

1896: The “Gaelic Symphony” is premiered on 30th October by the Boston Symphony Orchestra and is a great success. The composer George Whitefield Chadwick writes that he and a colleague enjoyed it and that she “should be one of the boys”. The “boys” being unofficially known as the Second New England School or later the Boston Six composers.

1898: The Trans-Mississippi Exposition in Omaha commission her “Song of Welcome,” opus 42. 

1900: The Boston Symphony premiere her Piano Concerto with Amy as the soloist.

1904: Beach starts to publish numerous articles on programming and studying techniques for pianists over the next thirty years.

1910: Her husband Henry dies in June. Her mother also dies. She now feels able to go on concert tours again and arranges to sail to Europe. 

1912: Her European debut is in Dresden in October where she plays her violin and piano sonata with violinist Dr. Bülau. Normally known as Mrs. H. H. A. Beach on programmes she uses her first name Amy in Germany to avoid confusion.

1913: In January she gives a concert in Munich of her violin sonata as well as three sets of songs including one by Johannes Brahms. She also plays music by Bach and Ludwig van Beethoven. In November and December she plays the solo in her Piano Concerto in Leipzig, Hamburg and Berlin. 

1914: She returns to the U.S.A in September due to unrest at the beginning of the First World War and gives concerts in the winter and continues to compose in the summer.

1915: She performs the premiere of the “Panama Hymn” at the Panama-Pacific International Exposition in San Francisco which commemorates the opening of the Panama Canal and the recovery from the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. 

1916: She visits her aunt Franc and cousin Ethel in San Francisco. They all leave together in August with Franc leaving her husband. They move to Hillsborough, New Hampshire, where Franc and Beach’s mother had been born. 

1918: Ethel becomes terminally ill and Amy looks after her.

1920: Ethel dies.

1921: She is made a fellow at the MacDowell Colony in Peterborough, New Hampshire, where she composes most of her works from now on. 

1924: She sells the house in Boston she had inherited from her husband. Franc begins to suffer dementia.

1925: She becomes a founding member and first president of the Society of American Women Composers. Her aunt Franc dies in November in Hillsborough.

1928: An honorary Master degree is conferred in her by the University of New Hampshire. In the winter she travels to Rome. 

1929: In March she gives a concert to benefit the American Hospital in Rome, in which her song “The Year’s at the Spring” was encored several times and a large sum of money was raised for the charity. She finally recovers a trunkful of manuscripts which were confiscated at the Belgium border in 1914 during her escape.

1930: She rents a studio apartment in New York in the Autumn. She became active as a composer for St Bartholomew’s Episcopal Church.

1940: She retires from performing due to heart problems.

Amy Beach dies on 27th December 1944, in New York City and is buried next to her husband in the Forest Hills Cemetery in Jamaica Plain, Boston, Massachusetts. In her will she stipulates that future royalties should go to the MacDowell Colony.

Further Information

List of works by Beach.

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