Ah, love, but a day (late)...
In all the hubbub over the John Cage centennial yesterday, we missed the 145th birth anniversary of a pianist who may never have stuck nuts and bolts into her strings, a composer who may never have scored for radios, bicycles or rubber duckies, but nonetheless an American pioneer. Not to mention, a New England treasure.
Born Amy Marcy Cheney in Henniker, New Hampshire, she was known during her adult career and for decades thereafter (not without derision, I have to admit) as "Mrs. H.H.A. Beach." Along with her contemporaries in the "Boston School," such as Arthur Foote, George Whitefield Chadwick and Edward MacDowell, Amy Beach may have composed in a language more European (mostly German, with an increasingly French harmonic accent later in her life, and a bit o' the Irish brogue in her melodies) than in the American vernacular. Indeed, she was among those who questioned the appropriateness of the "Negro" melodies evoked by Antonín Dvořák in his "New World" Symphony. But, by their seriousness of purpose and high artistic achievement, she and they helped lay the foundation for our current American classical culture. And, as heard especially in her many songs and piano pieces, Amy Beach had a voice — lyric and expressive, tinged with nostalgia and melancholy, as if the windows of the salon were opened to allow in the crisp, fragrant autumn air. Oooh...I think Mrs. Beach (as I would politely have called her) might have enjoyed that analogy!
We'll have a few fine works by Amy Beach in WFCR's classical music on Thursday, capped off by the great Swedish tenor Jussi Björling singing her well-known Browning setting, "Ah love, but a day." But why wait until Thursday afternoon when you can enjoy it now?