Obscure Music Monday: Beach's By the Still Waters
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, and her thirst for knowledge was formidable. She did additional work in her own time outside of her studies.
Beach wrote for many genres, including works for solo piano, such as By the Still Waters. This peaceful and calming work was inspired by Psalm 23, particularly the section referring to "He leads me beside the still waters." There are two simple lines in this composition: one of constant arpeggios, and then a slow, more simple line next to it, starting with whole notes. The arpeggios give a sense of the water shining and twinkling, while the slower rhythm conveys that the water is moving slowly and calmly. Through these two lines you'll hear hints of Impressionism, a departure from much of her music that is rooted in Romanticism. That departure created a work that radiates peace and tranquility.
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