Obscure Music Monday: Beach's Ballade
Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (Sept. 5, 1867 - December 27, 1944) was an American composer and pianist. Extremely gifted from a young age, Beach's talents seemed to run in the family, with various members playing instruments or singing, and showing great aptitude for music.
Beach was exceptionally talented, having learned 40 songs around the age of one, and at two she was able to sing counter melodies. She taught herself to read at three, and composed some piano waltzes at age four. She began formal lessons with her mother at six, and was soon giving public recitals and performing her own music. In 1875, her family moved from New Hampshire to Chelsea, Massachusetts, and instead of enrolling their talented daughter in a European conservatory, they chose to keep her training local. She studied piano along with harmony and counterpoint, but her thirst for knowledge was formidable. She did additional work on her own time outside of her studies.
Beach's compositional output was significant, and her first initial success came with her Mass in E flat major in 1892. Her Gaelic Symphony was an important moment in music history, as it was the first symphony composed and published by an American woman, and it's premiere in 1896 by the Boston Symphony was a success for the most part; there was some scrutiny that critics tied back to her gender, sadly, but not surprising given that era. Composers thought highly of her; George Whitefield Chadwick was in a group of composers unofficially known as the "Second New England School", along with John Knowles Pain, Arthur Foote, Horatio Parker, and Edward MacDowell, and with the addition of Beach, they became known as the Boston Six. She didn't teach while she was married, but when her husband, Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach passed away in 1910, she coached and taught young musicians, and served on boards at various schools and musical organizations. She eventually retired in 1940 due to heart issues, and passed away in 1944.
There's been a resurgence of interest in her music as of late, we're happy to say. From orchestral to choral to works for solo instruments, more of her works are making it to the concert stage than ever before. One of her many delightful works for piano is Ballade. This passionate work was actually a treatment of a song she had written called My Love is Like a Red, Red, Rose. She was able to flesh out sections that she couldn't in its song form, and the result is a passionate work. The harmonies she chooses are powerful in their impact, and in their ability to color the work so vibrantly–it's lush and Romantic. The melodies and themes all flow effortlessly in to each other and in to the next ones, ever blossoming and blooming.
Thankfully there's a recording of this wonderful for you to enjoy!