Just wanted to share some insights from my Amy Beach analysis class, along with a number of listening recommendations. More to experience in my forthcoming lecture at this year’s conference of the Gesellschaft für Musiktheorie, 22–24 September 2023, in Freiburg!
A core feature of Amy Beach’s creative approach is the re-working or re-cycling of vocal music in her instrumental works, such as passages or fragments from her own earlier songs, or by implementation of folk melodies. This goes well beyond similar tendencies in the oeuvres of Schubert, Mendelssohn, Brahms, or Mahler—I tend to say that a significant portion of Beach’s instrumental cantilenas are derived from vocal music, being instances of »the song writ large«, as Adrienne Fried Block put it. Take a look, for example, at the slow movements from the Piano Concerto, Op. 45 (a transformation of the song Twilight, Op. 2 No. 1) and the Piano Trio, Op. 150 (which is based on the Heine setting Allein, Op. 35 No. 2); or check out how she integrates vernacular themes in her Gaelic Symphony, Op. 32 (which three of its four movements being based on Irish songs), the Variations on Balkan Themes, Op. 60 (which make use of Serbian and Macedonian melodies), or the single-movement String Quartet, Op. 89 (which is based on Inuit tunes), in order to create a pristine atmosphere and modally-coloured harmony. These are but the most striking examples of a fascinating compositional technique that I intend to further explore in the following weeks.