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  • Writer's pictureMatilda Butler

Why Should You Know About a Girl Who Could Sing 40 Songs by the Time She Was Just One??



Her Name is Amy Beach...


...and I am willing to bet you have never heard of her. Well, today I want to share with you the story of this amazing woman -- her contribution to American music, and why she is a source of inspiration for women today.


Let's Start at the Beginning

And I really mean the beginning. Amy Beach was able to sing 40 (yes, you read that correctly) songs accurately by age one; she was capable of improvising counter-melody by age two; and she taught herself to read at age three. And her story continues...At age four, she composed three waltzes for piano during one summer at her grandfather's farm in West Henniker, New Hampshire.

While that sounds rather amazing, you need to know that she created the compositions without a piano. She composed the pieces mentally and played them when she returned home. She could also play music by ear, including four-part hymns.


Why My Interest in Amy Beach?


How in the world did I get interested in Amy Beach? In a way, it was accidental. I attended a concert as a wonderful post-pandemic treat. (I know, Covid hasn't really gone away, but we have better ways to deal with and treat it now. So we're finally going to concerts.)


The concert Featured Dvořák...


...and Richard Wagner, Gustav Mahler, and Richard Strauss. It even opened with Paul Dukas' Fanfare from La Péri. That short piece is for Brass instruments alone -- an amazing, loud, and upbeat way to begin a concert!


The Most Outstanding Female Composers of Classical Music

Once I returned home from the afternoon concert, I started wondering about female composers. I found a great list of the top eight women in chronological order:

  • Hildegard of Bingen (1098 – 1179)

  • Barbara Strozzi (1619-1677)

  • Marianna Martines (1744 – 1812)

  • Fanny Mendelssohn (1805 – 1847)

  • Clara Wieck Schumann (1819-1896)

  • Guadalupe Olmedo (1853 – 1889)

  • Ethel Smyth (1858-1944)

  • Amy Beach (1867-1944)

Amy Beach is considered the first American woman to gain recognition as a composer. In contrast to other musicians, she studied with an American teacher only briefly. Primarily, she was self-taught. This was notable at a time when composers of any nationality typically went to Europe to learn their craft.


Not persuaded? Consider this: Her composition -- the 1896 Mass in E flat Major -- has been favorably compared to the great works of Bach. One of her most well-known songs is “The Year’s at the Spring.” If you'd like to listen, play the recording below performed by soprano Deborah Voigt.


More About Amy


Amy Beach was a highly accomplished American composer, pianist, and conductor who lived from 1867 to 1944. She made an enormous contribution to American music, producing a significant body of work that is still performed today, and inspiring countless other musicians, particularly women, to follow in her footsteps.


Beach was born in Henniker, New Hampshire in 1867. Beach's family recognized her potential and encouraged her to pursue a career in music, which was highly unusual for a woman in the late 19th century.


In 1883, Beach made her debut as a pianist, performing a selection of her own compositions in Boston. She was only 16 at the time, and her performance was a huge success. After this, Beach began to gain recognition as a composer and pianist, and she continued to perform and compose throughout her life.


Original and Innovative Musical Compositions


Beach's music is notable for its originality and innovation. She was influenced by a wide range of musical styles, including European classical music, American folk music, and African American spirituals. Her compositions are characterized by their lyrical melodies, complex harmonies, and intricate rhythms. She also incorporated elements of program music into her work, using music to tell a story or evoke a particular emotion or mood.



Amy as Pioneer

One of Beach's most significant contributions to American music was her role as a pioneer in the field of orchestral composition. In 1896, she became the first woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra in the United States. Her "Gaelic" Symphony, which was inspired by her Irish heritage, was performed by the Boston Symphony Orchestra to critical acclaim. Beach continued to compose orchestral works throughout her career, including several other symphonies, as well as concertos and other pieces for various instruments.



Another important aspect of Beach's work was her commitment to promoting the music of other women composers. She founded the Beach Club, a group of female musicians who met regularly to perform and discuss music, and she also founded the Women's Symphony Orchestra, which was the first orchestra in the United States to be made up entirely of women. Through these organizations, Beach provided a platform for women composers to showcase their work and gain recognition in a field that was dominated by men.


Beach's legacy as a composer and musician is still felt today. Many of her compositions, particularly her piano music, are still performed and recorded, and her influence on American music can be seen in the work of many contemporary composers. She also continues to inspire women in music, particularly those who are working to break down barriers and make a name for themselves in a field that is still largely male-dominated.


Amy Beach for Inspiration


One of the reasons why Beach is such a source of inspiration for women today is that she refused to let societal norms and expectations hold her back. Despite living in a time when women were expected to prioritize domestic duties over pursuing a career, Beach pursued her passion for music with incredible determination and talent. She faced countless obstacles along the way, including sexism and discrimination, but she refused to give up. Her success as a composer and pianist paved the way for other women to follow in her footsteps, and her commitment to promoting the work of other women composers helped to create a more inclusive and supportive community in the field of music.


Amy Beach as Advocate for Social Justice and Human Rights


In addition to her groundbreaking contributions to American music, Amy Beach was also a passionate advocate for social justice and human rights. Throughout her life, she worked tirelessly to promote equality and fairness for all people, using her platform as a musician and public figure to raise awareness about issues such as racism, poverty, and discrimination.


One of the ways that Beach demonstrated her commitment to social justice was through her music. She often used her compositions to address issues of social and political importance, drawing on her own experiences as a woman and a member of a marginalized community. For example, her "Black Folk Songs" collection, which was published in 1894, featured arrangements of traditional African American spirituals, highlighting the beauty and richness of this important musical tradition. By sharing these songs with a wider audience, Beach helped to raise awareness about the cultural contributions of African Americans and to challenge the stereotypes and prejudices that were prevalent in American society at the time.


Beach also used her platform as a public figure to advocate for social justice causes. She was a vocal supporter of women's suffrage, and she frequently spoke out against the many barriers and challenges that women faced in the music industry and in society more broadly. She worked to create opportunities for women in music, founding organizations like the Women's Symphony Orchestra and the Beach Club, which provided a space for female musicians to showcase their talents and connect with one another.


In addition to her work on behalf of women, Beach also championed the rights of other marginalized communities. She was an active supporter of the National Association for the Advancement of Colored People (NAACP), and she worked to raise awareness about the many injustices and inequalities faced by people of color in the United States. She used her music to speak out against racism and discrimination, and she often performed benefit concerts to raise money for civil rights causes.



Another important aspect of Beach's advocacy work was her commitment to education and outreach. She believed that music had the power to bring people together and to promote understanding and empathy, and she worked tirelessly to create opportunities for people of all backgrounds to engage with music and to learn about its history and cultural significance. She gave countless lectures and presentations on topics such as music theory and composition, and she worked to create educational materials and resources that could be used by students and educators across the country.


In addition to her public advocacy work, Beach was also a generous philanthropist, supporting a wide range of causes and organizations throughout her life. She donated significant sums of money to institutions like the Boston Children's Hospital and the New England Conservatory of Music, and she also created scholarship funds to support aspiring musicians from underprivileged backgrounds. She believed that everyone should have access to music education and opportunities, regardless of their financial or social status, and she worked tirelessly to create a more equitable and just society.


Amy Beach -- Working for a Just Society

Her dedication to social justice causes serves as a powerful reminder of the importance of speaking out against injustice and working to create a more equitable and just society for all people.


Find Your Mission

Think about Amy Beach's life. True she had a talent that was incredible. But I think what's more important is how she chose to use the talent -- to live her life. She worked hard to create a space for herself and then used that space to promote worthwhile causes.

  • What space are you creating?

  • How will you use that space to make the world a better place?

 

Want More Stories and History about Amazing Women? More Inspiration for Your Own Life? More Ideas for Gratitude?


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