Amy Beach was the first American woman to compose and publish a symphony. Her ancestors being from the British Isles, she modeled her “Gaelic Symphony” of 1894 on Irish folk themes. The 1896 premiere in Boston was well-received.
Born in New Hampshire in 1867, Amy Marcy Cheney was a child prodigy and made her debut with the Boston Symphony at age 17. At 18 she married a Boston surgeon, Dr Henry Harris Aubrey Beach, 25 years her senior. He preferred that she limit her public performances as a pianist. But feeling that a husband should, nonetheless, support his wife, when she did perform any pay should be donated to charity. She focused on composition and became a member of what eventually was known as the “Boston Six,” a group of New England composers who were influential in developing a new American idiom distinct from the European sound. Beach was the only woman in the group.
During 25 years of marriage, Amy Beach composed not only the Gaelic Symphony, a Piano Concerto, and songs, but also chamber, choral and solo piano music. Following the death of her husband in 1910, she went to Europe to revive her career as a pianist. Her return to Boston four years later was triumphant, and she continued to tour and compose eventually some three hundred works, most published and performed.
Amy Beach died 1944 in New York City at the age of 77.