She Persisted

by Rachel Segal

Amy Marcy Cheney Beach was one of America’s foremost female composers, and the first American woman ever to have her music performed by the Boston Symphony. Her Gaelic Symphony was performed by them in 1896 when she was only twenty-nine years old. While it was received extremely well by her fellow male composers of the day, it is said that “whatever the merits or defects of the symphony were thought to be, critics went to extraordinary lengths in their attempts to relate them to the composer’s sex.”

Born in 1867 in Henniker, New Hampshire, her family excelled at art and encouraged their daughters to pursue careers in visual art and music. Considered a child prodigy, Amy Beach taught herself to read music at the age of three without the assistance of a piano, and began piano lessons at age six. She made her public debut at age sixteen with the Boston Symphony, performing Beethoven’s Concerto No.3, with a cadenza that she composed herself.

She married a much older man at age eighteen and was made to give up most of her public performance, since at the time it was considered unbecoming of a woman of her status, and the proceeds from what few public performances she was allowed to give were donated to charity. She did, however, maintain the freedom to compose, although she was forbidden to study with a tutor and instead had to teach herself. Her works were published under the name Mrs. H. H. A. Beach. In the words of Fanny Mendelssohn, “Music will perhaps become his [Fanny’s brother Felix’s] profession, while for you it can and must be only an ornament.” Despite these hurdles, she persisted, composing hundreds of works for solo piano, orchestra, chamber groups, songs, secular and sacred choral works, and the opera Cabildo, a sweet but tragic pirate love story in one act. She resumed her performance career after her husband’s death, appearing with the orchestras of New York, Chicago, and Berlin, and received commissions from all over the world under the name Amy Beach. She was once even asked if she was the daughter of Mrs. H. H. A. Beach, the famous composer.

The String Quartet, Op.89 in one movement, was originally sketched out in 1921 and premiered in 1930. It had a number of performances, including by the Society of Women Composers, which Beach helped found. It was inspired by Eskimo and Inuit themes, and employs a rich tonality found in Richard Wagner and Richard Strauss’s works. It is in “arch” form, beginning and ending with slow sections with a fast middle section. A proper European-style composer, it even features a short Fugue in the middle.

It is a pleasure and a privilege for us to have the opportunity to perform her music and the music of other prolific women. Composer George Whitefield Chadwick (1854–1931) wrote to Beach after the Gaelic Symphony’s premiere in Boston, saying  that he and his colleague Horatio Parker (1863–1919) had much enjoyed it. In his words, “I always feel a thrill of pride myself whenever I hear a fine work by any of us, and as such you will have to be counted in, whether you [like it] or not – one of the boys.” Despite the gendered beliefs of the day, she was the youngest member of the “Boston Six,” and perhaps the most remembered of them all.

We welcome you to join us on February 23rd at Eastern University’s Fowler Hall and on February 24th at the Presbyterian Church of Chestnut Hill, to hear this wonderful quintet. Also on the program, Brahm’s Piano Quintet in f minor, Op. 34 and Mozart’s String Quartet in Eb, K. 428.

Public Performances

September 20, 2020 – 4:00 PM

In Search of America

The Fairmount String Quartet performs:

Haydn – String Quartet, Op. 77, #2
Dvorak – String Quartet, Op. 96, “The American”
Marquez – Danzon #2

The Church of St. Martin-in-the-Fields
8000 St. Martins Lane, Phila., PA 19118
Click here for more information and tickets:

Kind Words

Friday evening’s performance…by the members of the Fairmount String Quartet was splendid…the playing was expert to the point of perfection.

Michael Caruso, Chestnut Hill Local

From more classical music to fun contemporary songs, Fairmount Strings knocked it out of the park.

Alison F., bride

We are so grateful that Fairmount Strings made our wedding day vision come to life. 

Jocelyn G., bride

The quartet was magnificent and so very professional. One guest said the setting and the quartet made the ceremony storybook!

Joanne F., Bride

Last night the audience told you so well what I am trying to put into words now. Thank you for an unbelievably beautiful concert!

Alice Nugent, Candlelight Concerts at Laurel Hill

The beautiful sound of your music will stay with me always. It was simply stunning and made our day feel like a fairy tale.

Julie & Tom B., Bride and Groom

Adding to their laurels — professionalism, intuition and timeliness, we look forward to many future musical endeavors with the Fairmount Chamber Ensemble.

Kevin O’Malia, Director of Music, First United Methodist Church of Germantown

I made a point of standing off to the side in the back of the church to listen. It was….well….perfection.

Chris C., Mother of the Bride

It is such a privilege to work with musicians of their caliber who are so genuinely committed to supporting the growth and development of our students.

Stephen Kushner, Director of Choral Music, Germantown Friends School

From the bottom of my heart, I thank you for your beautiful performance, which helped to make the vision and dream I had for my daughter’s wedding day come true.

Jeanne B., Mother of the Bride

They are wonderful musicians, easy to work with, and deliver performances of consistently high quality.

Clair Rozier, Director of Music, St. David’s Episcopal Church

Sheet music background image.