Kaitlin Hair, Contributing Writer |
Amy Beach was born on September 5, 1867 and died in 1944 leaving behind a legacy as a well recognized composer; one that broke boundaries, smashed gender roles, and proved to be a true prodigy. Most known for being the first American woman to attain extensive recognition as a composer, Beach also achieved other important firsts for female musicians at the time, including being the first female composer whose work was performed in America and also one of the first women to be invited to compose in Europe.
Beach was a prodigy very early in her life. At the age of one, Beach memorized roughly 40 songs. Shortly thereafter, she began to show ability in composition and performance. By the age of six, Beach was able to complete a public recital with the help of her mother. If that did not demonstrate talent enough, Beach’s later career proved her unequivocally matched to the greats. Her first distinguished piece was written by the time she had turned 25. This piece was known as Mass in E- flat. Mass proved to be the necessary uplift in her public career to give her both recognition and respect from her peers.
Beach’s forge towards progress set the stage for many women composers. She participated in numerous clubs and organizations such as the Music Educators National Conference and Music Teachers National Association as well as serving as president of the Society of American Women Composers. Aside from composing, Beach was also a performer. Numerous critics and peers praised her technical and musical ability. Even the media could not deny that her skill was equivalent to that of men.
It is unknown whether or not she foresaw her accomplishments as a feminist act or playing an important role for female musicians to come. During the early 1870s, music teaching was seen as an acceptable role for females. Significantly more women began to take music more seriously and some began to try to make it into the professional realm. This could be linked to the fact that women were starting to be allowed to pursue higher education. By the time Beach started pushing her musical career more into the public’s view, the question of women’s role in music had changed even more so. Some believed that women should not take interest in composing and questioned whether or not they were capable of being able to compose “higher forms” of music.
Beach exceeded expectations for women of her time and began to put an end to the notion that women cannot write complex pieces. Her work to this day deserves the respect that composers such as Bach and others like him have received. Some works to take note of are found on her Gaelic album. This album is both dramatic and bombastic. It takes a traditional look on culture and brought it to the mainstream of America in that time. Meanwhile, Violin Sonata in A minor is more calm and traditional. Any work of hers can be seen as cacophonous; that which echoes the elegance of the masters before her, yet stand alone as a strong composition. Although not as well-known as the great male composers, Beach’s legacy still holds value to all.
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