Analysis of Amy Cheney Beach's "Gaelic Symphony", Op. 32

Date of Completion

January 2011






Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (1867-1944) was a highly gifted musical prodigy who was primarily a self-taught composer. She was known as a virtuoso pianist who had impeccable memory and was regarded as being the most talented out of all of her colleagues in the Second New England School of Composition. ^ Beach married Henry Harris Aubrey Beach in 1885. Mr. Beach required that Amy abandon her concert career and focus on composing at home. When Mr. Beach died in 1910, Beach traveled to Europe and chose the life of a touring concert artist, as well as a promoter of her compositions. ^ The premiere of the Gaelic Symphony took place on October 30, 1896, with Emil Paur conducting the Boston Symphony Orchestra in Boston. The premiere of Beach's symphony established her as a major American composer. Subsequently, this work was the most successful American symphony by any composer of Mrs. Beach's generation. Beach was the first American woman to write in the larger forms with great success, and the Gaelic Symphony is the first symphony, or any type of symphonic work, ever to be composed by an American woman. It is also the first symphony composed by an American woman to be performed anywhere in the world. Her symphony was heavily influenced by Dvořák's Symphony No. 9 and is significant because it was the first symphony by an American composer to quote folk songs as thematic material. ^ Beach received mainly positive responses to her Gaelic Symphony . Despite the fact that she was a woman in a man's profession and composing in a male-dominated genre, she proved that a woman can be just as talented and successful as any male composer. The Gaelic Symphony is a pristine example of a late-romantic symphony that is able to hold its ground next to the other symphonies written by male composer of its time. This dissertation is primarily historical in nature, with some analysis of thematic material, key areas, form, metronome markings, instrumentation, use of folk songs, and recordings of the work. ^