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Image of the Month

Amy M. Beach. Photograph, c.1915.  Reproduced from Harriette Brower: Piano Mastery, Second Series. New York, 1917.

Amy M. Beach. Photograph, c.1915. Reproduced from Harriette Brower: Piano Mastery, Second Series. New York, 1917.

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TWO AMERICAN ANNIVERSARIES
 

BURLEIGH, Henry Thacker (b.Erie, Pennsylvania, 2 December 1866; d.Stamford, Connecticut, 12 September 1949) and BEACH, Amy Marcy Cheney (b.Henniker, New Hampshire, 5 September 1867; d.New York, 27 December 1944)


 

(Please click the thumbnails below to view larger image)

Plantation Melodies Old and New. New York, 1901.  Inscribed by Burleigh to Mr (later Sir) George Henschel. Negro Minstrel Melodies.  A Collection of ... Songs ... by Stephen C. Foster and others. Edited by H. T. Burleigh. New York, 1909. The Celebrated Negro Spirituals, arranged for Solo Voice by H. T. Burleigh.  Album No.1. London, [1930].

Five Songs of Lawrence Hope. London, 1915. Southland Sketches for violin and piano, New York, 1916. Royal College of Music, London. Passionale. Four songs for tenor. New York, 1915.

Henry Thacker Burleigh is often remembered in music history for his role in introducing Dvorak to native American music.  During the three years the Czech composer was Director of the National Conservatory of Music in New York he repeatedly asked Burleigh (a singing student whose grandfather had been born into slavery) to sing for him the plantation songs and spirituals with which he had grown up.  The two became close friends (Burleigh being described by a classmate as 'Dvorak's pet') and Dvorak - always alert to folk influences - was to absorb this style unforgettably in late masterpieces such as the 'New World' Symphony and 'American' Quartet.  He wrote: 'In the negro melodies of America I discover all that is needed for a great and noble school of music.'

Burleigh's father, a naval veteran in the Civil War, died when he was six, so his grandfather was important in his upbringing.  (They had a family quartet.)  He studied singing during his school years and in his teens gained professional employment as soloist in churches and synagogues.  At the age of 26 he obtained a scholarship to the National Conservatory of Music and soon after became a soloist at St George's Episcopal Church - a position which he retained for 52 years.

At about the turn of the century Burleigh began to publish his own art songs, some of which became very popular.  Even more successful however were his arrangements for solo voice and piano of 'Negro Spirituals'.  It was in this form that these haunting melodies achieved universal acclaim in the rerpertoires of such great singers as Roland Hayes, Paul Robeson and Marian Anderson.  From about 1910 Burleigh was employed as an editor in the New York branch of the famous Italian publisher Ricordi.  A small handful of instrumental pieces includes Southland Sketches for violin and piano, a movement from which can be played at the bottom of this page.

Burleigh received honorary degrees from Howard and Atlanta Universities and in 1917 was awarded the Spingarn Medal for outstanding achievement by an African American.  His funeral at St George's Church was attended by more than 2000.

 

Sonate in A moll für Pianoforte und Violine, Op.34. Boston, 1899. Quintet in F sharp minor, Op.67. Boston, 1909. The Year's at the Spring. Song, Op.44, No.1.  (New Edition, 1904). London, [1904].

'She was the most prominent woman composer of her time, one of the first women composers to write in the larger forms, the first American woman to get recognition abroad, and the first American woman musician to receive all her training in the United States.  Like her distinguished colleagues of the New England School of Composers of the late 19th and early 20th centuries (Chadwick, Foote, Parker), she was a classicist in her architectonic structures and a romanticist in her melodic and harmonic content.' (David Ewen : American Composers, a Biographical Dictionary, 1982.)

Showing an early talent for music, Amy Marcy Cheney was first taught by her mother, a pianist and singer, and gave a recital at the age of seven.  In 1875 the family moved to Boston, where she studied piano with Ernst Perabo (former pupil of Moscheles and Reinecke) and for one year harmony with Junius W. Hill. A Moscheles concerto performance in 1883 was followed two years later by a successful debut with the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Chopin's F minor concerto.  In December 1885 she married the distinguished Boston surgeon Dr H.H.A. Beach, giving up public performance but (under the name 'Mrs H.H.A. Beach') concentrating seriously on composition.  In this she was impressively self-taught, translating important theoretical treatises and undertaking extensive analysis of master works of the past.  Her first major work the Mass in E flat (1886-89) was premiered by the Handel and Haydn Society of Boston in 1892, and followed by further premieres in New York and Chicago.  Her Gaelic Symphony received its first performance from the Boston Symphony Orchestra in October 1896.  Meanwhile the first of her 150-odd songs began to attract both professional and amateur attention and the Boston firm of Arthur P. Schmidt became her regular publisher.

Dr Beach's death after an accident in 1910 led to a resumption of Amy's performing career, and from 1911 to 1914 she played extensively in Europe.  The Violin Sonata, Piano Quintet and Concerto were much admired in Germany.

On return to the US she settled in New York, resuming serious composition and undertaking many concert tours.  Later works include substantial choral pieces, a second piano concerto, a string quartet and a piano trio.  After several decades of neglect following her death in 1944 a major revival of interest in her music began in the 1970s and led to performances, recordings and biographical studies.

 

Thursday, 3 August 2017 at 1.15pm

The four Southland Sketches, together with Amy Beach's Sonata, will be played in a lunch-time recital by Robert Gibbs (violin) at St Pancras Parish Church, Euston Road, London.