Obscure Music Monday: Beach's Four Sketches
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.
Four Sketches, written in 1892, is one of her many works for solo piano. Each of the four movements have a title: Autumn, Phantoms, Dreaming, and Fireflies. In the first movement, the words "yellowing foliage on scattered lawns" appears, which is a line from Alphonse de Lamartine's poem Autumn. Starting in f# minor, the works toggles to A Major at times, and eventually ends in that key. The music has plenty of room for rubato, so the the notes can fall more quickly or slowly, like falling leaves off of a tree. In the second movement, Phantoms, Beach quotes a line from Victor Hugo's poem: "Such fragile flowers, dead as soon as they are born." For as sad as that line is, the movement is not so. It's a light 3/8, labeled as Allegretto Scherzando. Beach once again uses a line from a Hugo poem for the third movement, Dreaming: "You speak to me from the bottom of a dream." This movement has triplet eighths notes movement throughout the piece, with a melody moving above it. In the final movement, she uses another line from Lamartine: "To be born with spring, to die with roses." The lines in this movement go by quickly, like the life of fireflies. The melody moves quickly, flitting about here and there, before coming to a quiet end.
Here's a recording of this lovely work for you to enjoy!*
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