Amy Beach – Musical Prodigy

Amy Beach, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress (source)

Amy Beach, George Grantham Bain Collection, Library of Congress (source)

Amy Beach, born on Sept 5, 1867 in New Hampshire, was a child prodigy, composer and pianist. She could accurately remember tunes by the age of one, improvise melodies with her mother by two, and was composing waltzes by the age of five. By the age of seven she was giving recitals playing works by Handel, Beethoven and Chopin. Rather than send her to Europe for formal training her parents hired local well-known teachers for more extensive training on the piano and when she was 14 she received her only formal training in composition for one year. From the standpoint of composition she was largely self-taught and later wrote “Ten Commandments for Young Composers” explaining her self-teaching practices.

Her debut at fourteen led to solo performances with the Boston Symphony Orchestra, but when she married in 1885 she limited her public performances to one a year at the request of her husband. During this time she devoted herself to composition and had her first major success, “Mass in E-flat major,” in 1892. She composed a wide range of music including works for piano, but also a violin sonata, choral and chamber music, sacred choral works and one opera.

After Beach’s husband died in 1910, she toured Europe for several years playing her own piano compositions. She promoted the careers of young musicians and lead several organizations including the Society of American Women Composers. Heart disease forced her to retire in 1940 and she died in New York City on Dec, 27 1944.

In 1999, Beach was inducted into the American Classical Music Hall of Fame and Museum, and on July 9, 2000, she was honored by having her name added to the granite wall at Hatch Shell in Boston, so far the only woman to receive the honor.

Find out what else happened on December 27 in Women’s History.

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