Amy Marcey Cheney was born in Henniker, New Hampshire, in 1867. As far as we know about her childhood, it seems quite clear that she likely was a child prodigy; let me tell you, for instance, this anecdote: when Amy was four years old she went back home after spending a few days at her grandparents’ place and told her mother: "I did three waltzes." Mrs. Cheney was an excellent singer and pianist and was teaching her daughter, but she thought her comment was excessive as there wasn't a piano at her grandparents’ place. The girl replied that she did them "in her head"; then she sat at the piano and played. Maybe the mother overstated it, but even so, the abstract aptitude of the little girl is still amazing.
When Amy was eight years old, his music teachers suggested her parents to send her to Europe to study because she had a great future as a performer; she would get the best training in Germany or France. It's easy to understand that her parents didn't allow her to go, she was too young but, perhaps if she had been a boy, they would have allowed him, at that moment or some years later. Although Amy's parents didn’t send her to Europe, they were very much aware of their daughter's potential. They provided the best teachers so the girl could continue her training, which was focused on interpretation. She received composition classes for just one year (why a girl should learn composition?) and then she studied on her own.
And Amy composed, quite a lot. Her first work was a song, The Rainy Day, written when she was fifteen; that same year, she made her professional debut as a pianist. Three years later she married Henry Harris Aubrey Beach, a doctor twenty-four years older than her, and stopped playing in public; as we have already said many times, a married lady didn’t work, much less on public stage. To be honest, Dr. Beach occasionally allowed his wife to perform in public, as long as the concert had some charitable purpose, and always encouraged her to compose; Some of Amy's songs are written with Dr. Beach's poems.
In 1910, when Amy was 43, her husband died. Then, she made her outstanding trip to Europe, this time as a soloist, with great success. When she returned home three years later, she devoted herself entirely to music, both composition and performing, and became the most relevant American female composer; she retired in 1940 and died in 1944. She wrote a symphony, a piano concerto, an opera, many sacred works, solo piano and chamber music, and what interests us the most, about one hundred fifty songs.
In her songs, like those of her contemporaries, European composers were very highly influential although some characteristics also identify them as American, so Amy Beach is usually included in the group of composers who initiated American Art Song. She wrote from poems by Goethe, Heine, Hugo or Silvestre but mostly from poems written in English; I'm sharing one song that I find particularly beautiful, Twilight, written in 1887 from her husband’s poem. There are not many recordings of songs by Amy Beach that they aren't now as popular as they used to be during her lifetime; I chose the version played by Patrick Mason and Joanne Polk. Hope you like it!
No sun to warm
The darkening cloud of mist,
The steamy earth sends up
A veil of gray and damp
To kiss the green and tender leaves
And leave its cool imprint
In limpid pearls of dew.
The blackened trunks and boughs
In ghostly silhouette
Mark grimly in the coming eve
The shadows of the past. All sounds are stilled,
The birds have hushed themselves to rest
And night comes fast, to drop her pall
Till morn brings life to all.