Lived: 1867 – 1944 Mostly in: Boston and New York Best Known For: Gaelic Symphony, Piano Concerto, Variations on Balkan themes Similar To: Chopin, Mendelssohn, Schumann, Brahms, Liszt, Wagner Amy Beach was recognised in her lifetime as the leading American woman composer of her day. This could have been faint praise at a time when women were widely considered intellectually incapable of creating anything more ambitious than piano salon pieces and songs. But although she wrote her fair share of those, Beach won success and respect with large-scale works such as a Mass, a symphony and a piano concerto. All the same, her career raises the question of whether society’s expectations and prejudices might have held her back from becoming not just a very good composer, but one of the greats. Amy Marcy Cheney was born in rural New Hampshire in September 1867, with apparently innate musical gifts. From a very early age, she took a keen interest in her mother Clara’s piano playing and singing. By the age of one, she could already hum tunes accurately, always in the key in which she had first heard them; by two, she could improvise a second part to Clara’s singing. But Clara, not wanting her
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