Exploring the Music and Legacy of N.H.’s Amy Beach, A ‘Trailblazing’ Composer

Sep 15, 2017

American composer and pianist Amy Beach (1867-1944)
Credit George Grantham Bain Collection/Library of Congress

This weekend, the music of composer Amy Beach will echo throughout UNH’s campus during a two-day event timed to celebrate her 150th birthday.

Beach, who was born in Henniker in 1867, is often referred to as ‘the Dean of American Women Composers.’ At a time when women were often limited to writing parlor songs and other light fare, UNH Professor Peggy Vagts says Beach was a trailblazer, composing complicated, bold music.

“She took on really major works. She wrote a mass, wrote a symphony. She was the first American woman to do that,” says Vagts.

Beach was a child prodigy, though her parents, according to Vagts, attempted to shield her from exploitation or novelty status. After writing her well received mass in 1892, she produced what remains one of her best known works, the Gaelic Symphony.

After her death in 1944, Beach’s music was only sporadically performed. Vagts says her Brahms-influenced style had fallen out of fashion, though there was a renewed flurry of attention on Beach during the 1970s.

This weekend, scholars will shine fresh light on the composer, as well as Teresa Carreño, a Venezuelan composer and pianist, during two days of talks and recitals.

Next month, Symphony New Hampshire will also pay tribute to Beach, performing her Gaelic Symphony during shows in Concord, Nashua and Durham.