The classical music universe quietly celebrated Amy Beach’s 150th birthday last month. September 5th came and went and there was barely a peep about the lone female member of the Boston Six. This is odd, given the centennial of Leonard Bernstein is still 10 months away and orchestras have already devoted concerts to the American icon.
I’m certainly not arguing against ardent celebrations of Bernstein’s 100th birthday; quite the opposite. Now is precisely the time to break out the streamers and confetti for our culture and our music. Amy Beach should be at the top of that list, however, right alongside Bernstein. She not only shattered the proverbial glass ceiling for female composers, but she blazed a trail for American composers to come, regardless of gender.
On October 30th, 1896, Beach became the first American female composer to mount a large-scale symphony to be performed by a major American Orchestra. That Symphony was her Opus 32 better known as the “Gaelic” Symphony and the orchestra that performed the work was the Boston Symphony Orchestra. The performance was an enormous success and Beach was lauded by critics.
So, without further ado, I give you the “Gaelic” Symphony by Amy Beach on this, the 121st anniversary of its premiere. Why? Because it’s an incredibly powerful piece and it’s about time someone gives a little credence where credence is due.
For a great read on Beach at 150, please check out the New York Times article by University of Maryland professor and musicologist, William Robin: Amy Beach, A Pioneering American Composer, Turns 150