Academic journal article Journal of American & Comparative Cultures

Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian: The Life and Work of an American Composer, 1867-1944

Academic journal article Journal of American & Comparative Cultures

Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian: The Life and Work of an American Composer, 1867-1944

Article excerpt

Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian: The Life and Work of an American Composer, 1867-1944. Adrienne Fried Block. New York: Oxford University Press, 1998. 448 pp. Index, illustrations, scores, appendices. $45.00 (cloth), ISBN 0-19-507408-4.

At the conclusion of her biography, Adrienne Fried Block writes that she "hopes she has neither diminished Amy Beach nor blown her up to superwoman size but rather shown her as a fallible girl and woman who exhibited courage in the face of obstacles. . ." (298). She succeeds in her task by weaving the scores of Amy Beach's (1867-1944) music with the narrative of her daily life to tell the story of this remarkable Victorian woman. Though the work is primarily about Beach's life as a composer, the book is by no means only for those interested in music. Discussions of Victorian society and gender roles make this biography of interest to a broader audience. Readers interested in music will be pleased with the detailed descriptions of Beach's compositions and the facsimile scores, while readers interested in women's lives and the changes in society between the nineteenth and twentieth century will find a fascinating study of a talented woman who refused to be limited by the time in which she lived.

Amy Beach's music is the main focus of the work and Block rightly identifies Beach as an American composer instead of just a female composer. Born Amy Marcy Cheney, the "fair-haired child with large blue-violet eyes," (4) she created music from a young age, composing by the age of four. Her musical family did not want to recognize her natural talents at first but finally had to acknowledge them. Beach's musical development and training are traced through a number of examples of her works. Expectations about Beach's life as a composer and musician are described from the perspectives of her family and from the musical society of Boston. Analysis of the politics of being a female and a composer in the Victorian era is often at the heart of the sections on Beach's adult life. At age 27, Beach began to compose a symphony, the ultimate test of skill for a composer, especially one without much formal training. She kept a fresh perspective throughout her musical career; she "claimed that song writing was recreation for her" (146). Beach performed widely and composed music until nearly the end of her life in 1944.

Descriptions of the roles Beach played as a daughter, wife, and friend add to the interest of this biography. …

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