Working Powerfully – Across the Arts and Time Divide

. . . [c1897] New York music critic Richard Aldrich [credited] Amy Beach with a command of technique, a real talent for composition, and a number of consequential works that commanded respect. Even so, he criticized the reminiscences of other composers and lack of originality and distinction in her music . . . . Her response to the criticism was that men could not forgive her for being a woman (Tawa 209).

In his 2001 history of the music of New England, From Psalm to Symphony, University of Massachusetts musicologist Nocholas E. Tawa did not cite a source for this Beach response to Richard Aldrich’s criticism. It seemed to be an important comment to source. If it were true, I had another bread crumb in my investigation as to whether Amy Beach was aware of sexism as impacting the reactions to her music, and thus her career as a composer, during her lifetime. Another piece in the puzzle leading to her curious deathbed denial that sexism had any impact on her career as a musician and composer.

Could I address my own reactions to her music? My aversion to her “power” passages? Could I talk about her originality or lack thereof? Who was I to analyze the compositions of the noted first American woman composer of the 19th century? A lover of classical music, but certainly no classical music theory expert. A singer and semi-professional musician, but no musicologist.

Like Beach, I did not have a formal music education. I had listened to classical music all my life, but the music I played had been folk music and jazz. Although Beach had no formal training in classical composition, she studied it on her own throughout her lifetime. As a girl she sat in a Boston symphony halls holding the scores in her lap as she followed along with the orchestral performances. As a child, I only listened to records and eavesdropped on my sister’s piano lessons. continues on page 6, Working Powerfully