Classical Music Playlist, September 5, 2022

American composer Amy Beach’s only piano concerto is somewhat autobiographical of her past and presages her future. A child prodigy who knew early on that “no other life but that of a musician could ever have been possible for me” was allowed to study the piano, but her parents prevented her from pursuing a full career in music. music, especially as a performer. She married at 18 with a doctor who perpetuated this ban on representation but allowed her to compose. She therefore studied composition and orchestration as an autodidact and composed prodigiously, almost all of her works being published and performed during her lifetime. Her “Gaelic” Symphony of 1894 was an instant hit in America and abroad and was the first symphony composed and published by an American, as was her unique Piano Concerto of 1899.

Her physician husband was also an amateur singer who wrote poetry which Amy set to music as songs whose themes she used in three movements of her Piano Concerto. The second movement can be imagined to be autobiographical, a commentary on her husband’s banning of her activities and a harbinger of things to come. She gives the vocal line of her song (her text; dedicated to Amy’s mother) “Empress of the Night” to the strings which is nearly drowned out and canceled out by the perpetual mobile solo piano playing insistently at the top. Less than ten years after the premiere of her Piano Concerto (with the Boston Symphony Orchestra), her husband and mother died, freeing her from the restrictions they imposed on her. She then used this freedom to pursue her lifelong desire as a concert pianist with successful tours of Europe and America to great acclaim, including numerous performances of her Piano Concerto. For Amy Beach’s birthday today, it’s our noon masterpiece today at 2:00 p.m.