Main content
Sorry, this episode is not currently available

Episode 1

Donald Macleod explores Amy Beach's Grand Mass in E flat, and charts the composer's journey from piano prodigy to respected composer and 'respectable wife'.

Not just a "woman composer" but one of the most original, distinctive and gifted American musicians of the early 20th century. Donald Macleod explores the music of Amy Beach (1867-1944).

More than a generation after her death at the venerable age of 77, Amy March Beach (née Cheney) is still dogged by a single phrase: "female composer".

Once upon a time, it was used by male critics as to criticise her supposedly 'inferior' music - now, in a postmodern, post-feminist age, Beach's life and output is endlessly reappraised for its symbolism - the achievement of a pioneering woman in a world of men - rather than for her remarkable musical abilities.

In truth, Amy Beach's life and work are extraordinary, regardless of her gender: arguably the first truly "American" voice to emerge from a continent still struggling to break free from the shackles of the European classical tradition.

Donald Macleod explores her journey from the tranquil meadows of New England to her headline-grabbing early successes as a virtuoso piano prodigy in Boston - and her burning childhood desire to compose. We'll hear complete performances and extended excerpts from her collection of large-scale symphonic works, including her "Grand Mass" in E Flat, and "Gaelic" Symphony, as well as a rare performance of Beach's chamber opera, "Cabildo".

We'll also hear a number of works composed at the Macdowell Colony - a remarkable artists' retreat amidst the woodlands of New Hampshire where the middle-aged Mrs Beach, remarkably, assimilated a host of modern musical techniques into her expressive late-Romantic style.

Also spanning across the week are a number of Amy Beach's songs, from opus 1 to 152 - perhaps her finest and most lasting achievement, full of examples of her gift for intense, lyrical melody.

In the first episode of this week's series, Donald Macleod examines Beach's gargantuan "Grand Mass" in E Flat - the first to be composed by an American woman - and charts the composer's journey from piano prodigy to respected composer (and 'respectable wife').

1 hour

Last on

Mon 2 Aug 2010 12:00

More episodes

Previous

You are at the first episode

See all episodes from Composer of the Week

Music Played

  • Amy Beach

    Mamma's Waltz

    Performer: Kirsten Johnson (piano)

    • GUILD 7317.
    • 5.
  • Amy Beach

    Three Early Songs (1880-9) 1: The Rainy Day (1880)

    Performers: Katherine Kelton (mezzo), Catherine Bringerud (piano)

    • NAXOS 8559191.
    • 1.
  • Amy Beach

    Three Early Songs (1880-9) 2: Ariette. Op.1 no.4 (1886)

    Performers: Katherine Kelton (mezzo), Catherine Bringerud (piano)

    • NAXOS 8559191.
    • 2.
  • Amy Beach

    Three Early Songs (1880-9) 3: When Far From Her, Op.2 no.2 (1889)

    Performers: Katherine Kelton (mezzo), Catherine Bringerud (piano)

    • NAXOS 8559191.
    • 3.
  • Amy Beach

    Grand Mass in E Flat, op.3 (excerpt) (1890), Graduale

    Performers: Margot Law (soprano), Martha Remington (mezzo), Ray Bauwens (tenor), Joel Schneider (baritone), Stow Festival Chorus and Orchestra / Barbara Jones

    • ALBANY TROY179.
    • 6.
  • Amy Beach

    Grand Mass in E Flat, op.3 (excerpt) (1890), Credo

    Performers: Margot Law (soprano), Martha Remington (mezzo), Ray Bauwens (tenor), Joel Schneider (baritone), Stow Festival Chorus and Orchestra / Barbara Jones

    • ALBANY TROY179.
    • 7.
  • Amy Beach

    Op.19 no.2, Ecstasy

    Performers: Emma Kirkby (soprano), The Romantic Chamber Group Of London: Paul Barritt (violin), Charles Medlam (cello), James Lisney (piano)

    • BIS CD 1245.
    • 1.
  • Amy Beach

    Op.21 no.3 (1893), Elle Et Moi

    Performers: Emma Kirkby (soprano), The Romantic Chamber Group Of London: Paul Barritt (violin), Charles Medlam (cello), James Lisney (piano)

    • BIS CD 1245.
    • 21.
  • Amy Beach

    Violin Sonata, Op.34 (excerpt) (1896), I. Allegro Moderato

    Performers: Sarah Johnson (violin), Peter Kairoff (piano)

    • ALBANY ALB150.
    • 6.
  • Amy Beach

    Three Shakespeare Songs, Op.37 (1897), O Mistress Mine

    Performers: Emma Kirkby (soprano) The Romantic Chamber Group Of London: Paul Barritt (violin), Charles Medlam (cello), James Lisney (piano)

    • BIS CD 1245.
    • 10.
  • Amy Beach

    Three Shakespeare Songs, Op.37 (1897) 5.58, Take, O Take Those Lips Away

    Performer: Emma Kirkby (soprano) The Romantic Chamber Group Of London: Paul Barritt (violin), Charles Medlam (cello), James Lisney (piano)

    • BIS CD 1245.
    • 11.
  • Amy Beach

    Three Shakespeare Songs, Op.37 (1897) 5.58, Fairy Lullaby

    Performer: Emma Kirkby (soprano), The Romantic Chamber Group Of London: Paul Barritt (violin), Charles Medlam (cello), James Lisney (piano)

    • BIS CD 1245.
    • 12.

Broadcast

Composers A to Z

Composers A to Z

Visit the extensive audio archive of Radio 3 programmes about Composers and their works.

Who knew? Five eye-opening stories from Composer of the Week

Who knew? Five eye-opening stories from Composer of the Week

The production team reflects on 5 of Donald Macleod’s best stories from the last 20 years

A man out of time – why Parry's music and ideas were at odds with his image...

A man out of time – why Parry's music and ideas were at odds with his image...

The composer of Jerusalem was very far from the conservative figure his image suggests.

Five reasons why we love Parry's Jerusalem

Five reasons why we love Parry's Jerusalem

What is the strange power of Jerusalem which makes strong men weep?

Composer Help Page

Composer Help Page

Find resources and contacts for composers from within the classical music industry.