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Celebrating
two hundred and fifty years
of music by women
Amy Beach (1867-1944)

Amy Beach Amy Beach was the first American woman to succeed as a composer of large scale art music and was celebrated during her lifetime as the foremost woman composer of the USA. Amy's early feats included improvising duets before the age of two, playing by ear in full harmony at four, and giving public recitals at seven. She taught herself composition by studying the great masters, and as an outstanding pianist, her solo and concerto debuts in Boston were rapturously received. Aged eighteen she married Dr H.H.A.Beach, a distinguished Boston surgeon, slightly older than her father. He restricted her concert appearances, but encouraged her composing. Partly thanks to him, she left over 300 works, including the Gaelic Symphony, a Piano Concerto, a large scale Mass, and numerous songs and choral works. Her song Ecstasy sold so well that she bought her summer house on Cape Cod with the royalties. She gathered numerous honours and was twice received at the White House. Although considered old fashioned before she died, her music is now being greatly appreciated for its passion and sensuality.

To hear Diana Ambache talk about Amy Beach, click here.

Click on these works for more details below: Both of the Ambache recordings of Beach's chamber music were awarded a Rosette in the Penguin Guide to CDs. You can download and hear several sound clips on the CD shop and Sound Clips page of www.ambache.co.uk. You get the first minute of the Piano Quintet by clicking here. For general information about playing our sound clips, click here and return via your browser's Back button.

If you want more information on Amy Beach from the web, try this link.

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Quintet for Piano & Strings in F sharp minor, Op 67, 1907
1. Adagio - Allegro moderato, F sharp minor. 2. Adagio expressivo, D flat major. 3. Allegro agitato, F sharp major. 23 mins
An eloquent and expansive piece, the Quintet shows the power and prowess of her technique. It is a fine example of the passion and sheer energy that her music expresses within a solidly wrought structure. The Boston Transcript's review of the first performance described it as "rhapsodic ... substantial ... variously imagined and restlessly expressive." The opening Allegro runs with great flexibility, while the intensely prepared (and postponed) climaxes of the slow movement contain a devastating sensual charge. Beach's fresh ear for sound colour leads her several times to use the strings in unison (rather than the more usual octaves). Subtle links among the themes culminate in an explicit recall of the Quintet's opening during the finale.
We, the Ambache, gave the London premiere in 1997 and then recorded it for Chandos Records (Chan 9752). For details see www.ambache.co.uk. A click here will take you to the appropriate page; return via your browser's Back Button. The BBC Music Magazine commented "Her Piano Quintet is a fine piece by any standards, distinguished by some memorable melodic writing, especially in the deeply felt slow movement. The members of The Ambache meet its demands with technical command and passionate fervour."
Published by Hildegard (Nr 09724), POBox 332, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010, USA


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Theme & Variations for Flute & String Quartet, Op 80, 1916
Theme: Lento di molto, sempre espressivo. 1: L'istesso tempo. 2: Allegro giusto. 3. Andantino con morbidezza. 4: Presto leggiero. 5: Largo di molto, con grand'espressione - Presto leggiero. 6: Allegro giocoso. Tempo del Thema. 21 mins
This quintet was commissioned by the San Francisco Chamber Music Society and premiered in 1916. It has been much admired for its classical restraint. The theme comes from Beach's partsong An Indian Lullaby, and is anounced by the strings alone. The flute makes a dramatic entrance opening Variation 1 with a brilliantly contrasting and animated cadenza. The strings enter with the theme as before, ignoring the flute, which then provides an obbligato to the strings. Gradually the flute's melodic exoticism and animated rhythmic patterns penetrate the strings, and become increasingly important in the working out of the successive variations. By the last variation, flute and strings have made a total exchange of material, thus unifying the composition, which is rounded off by a recapitulation of both the theme and the flute cadenza.
We, the Ambache, gave the UK premiere in 1998 and then recorded it for Chandos Records (Chan 9752). For details see www.ambache.co.uk. A click here will take you to the appropriate page; return via your browser's Back Button.
Published by Hildegard (Nr 09631), POBox 332, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010, USA


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Quartet for Strings in One Movement, Op 89, 1921
Grave - Piu animato; Allegro molto; Grave. 2 vns, va, vc. 15 mins
The quartet is another of Beach's powerful works, featuring her interest in Inuit melodies. It was one of few of her works not to be published in her lifetime, and was finally made avaialble by the American Musicological Society in 1994. The overall form is of a modified arch (ABCBA). There is strong atmosphere of grief in the freely composed and dissonant introduction. Beach's use of dissonance shows her at her most progressive in her treatment of dissonance, only resolved at the very end. The central portion of the quartet has themes based on three Inuit melodies. Beach found the tunes in the same Alaskan Inuit monograph from which she had previously borrowed tunes for her Eskimos suite. After the opening Grave, there is a recitative-like statement of "Summer Song", followed by a long passage based on the lyrical first strain of "Playing at Ball", with an ostinato accompaniment on the cello. A fragment of "Ititaujang's Song" is combined with the second strain of "Playing at Ball" with considerable development of both.The climax of the work is a fugue based on rhythmically transformed melodic fragments of "Ititaujang's Song". The melodies seem quite stark, even bleak. All four string parts have musical lines derived entirely from motives found in the three Inuit tunes. The Inuit melodies are the basis for the contrapuntal lines, and saturate the texture. Through her use of unresolved dissonance, Beach's music suggests the frozen north of the Inuit.
Our recording on Chandos Records (Chan 10162) was issued in 2003, and Classic fm Magazine commented "Bravo to the Ambache for resuscitating these pieces; the String Quartet is particularly worth hearing in this sympathetic performance".
We give the UK premiere in February 2004.
Published by A-R Editions, 801 Deming Way, Madison, W53717, USA; e-mail: orders@areditions.com


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Pastorale for Wind Quintet, Op 151, 1941
Lento Tranquillo, G major. fl, ob, cl, hn, bn. 4 mins
This is a flowing sicilienne, with attractive writing for all five parts.
This is on our Chandos recording Chan 10162.
Published by Hildegard (Nr 09722), POBox 332, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010, USA


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Trio for piano, violin & cello in A minor, Op 150, 1938
1. Allegro, A minor. 2. Lento espressivo, F sharp minor. 3. Allegro con brio, A major. 15 mins
Though a late work, Beach here enjoyed developing her own earlier material. She wrote it in 15 days at the MacDowell Colony, and it is distinctly tonal. The piano opens with a Debussian rippling arpeggiated figure, over which the cello plays a beautiful sustained theme. In the second movement Beach returns to the form she created in the Gaelic Symphony, presenting a scherzo section in duple meter embedded between lyrical outer sections. The perky scherzo stands in complete contrast to the sensual, Brahmsian thirds and sixths of the Lento. The finale has a more immediately American quality, with catchy string syncopations over the piano's tremolandi.
We, the Ambache, recorded it for Chandos Records in 1999 (Chan 9752). For details see www.ambache.co.uk. A click here will take you to the appropriate page; return via your browser's Back Button.
Published by Hildegard (Nr 09723), POBox 332, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010, USA


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Sonata for Violin & Piano in A minor, Op 34. 32 mins, 1896
1. Allegro moderato, A minor. 2. Scherzo: Molto vivace, G major. 3. Largo con dolore, E minor. 4. Allegro con fuoco,
The Sonata is written on a grand scale, and based on traditional classical sonata form, using a rich harmonic vocabulary typical of late German romanticism. Long expansive melodic lines often overlap as do the harmonies, creating a complex and interesting texture. The piano part is thickly written and attention to balance is needed. Both parts require virtuoso performers and the violin writing includes some beautiful cantabile writing. The lighter style of the Scherzo contrasts well with the intense tragedy of the slow movement and stiring energy of the outer movements.
Gabrielle Lester and I have recorded it for Chandos Records (Chan 10162).
For details see www.ambache.co.uk. A click here will take you to the appropriate page; return via your browser's Back Button.
Published by Hildegard (Nr 09413), POBox 332, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010, USA


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Dreaming, Op 15, No 3, 1892
Molto lento e tranquillo, vc, pn. 6 mins
This glorious miniature is an arrangement by the composer of an early piano piece.
It is on our Chandos recording (Chan 10162), and the BBC Music Magazine said it is "ravishingly played by Judith Herbert".
Published by Hildegard, POBox 332, Bryn Mawr, PA 19010, USA


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Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian by Adrienne Fried Block, 1998
This is a richly written biography, beautifully illustrating Beach as an important composer. With a substantial account of Beach's life and music, this is a major contribution to both American musical understanding and an appreciation of life as a woman composer.
It is published by Oxford University Press, 198 Maddison Avenue, New York, NY 10016, USA.

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