Amy Beach left a legacy of hugely accomplished works, but, asks Anthony Burton, did the social conventions of the era in which she was living stifle her true potential?
Lived: 1891 – 1975 Mostly in: England and America Best Known For: Morning Heroes, A Colour Symphony, Checkmate, Oboe Quintet Similar To: Britten, Walton, Lambert, Goossens By 1955 Arthur Bliss was at the height of a successful career. Now knighted and recently appointed Master of the Queen’s Music in succession to Sir Arnold Bax, he was commissioned to compose a major work for the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra. He recalled that “when the commission came, before starting to write, as always I had to await the moment when some lucky find or incident would fire my imagination”. This came almost immediately in the form of the recently published Musica Britannica, featuring the anthems of John Blow. “I was greatly struck by the beautiful tune in the verse anthem The Lord is my Shepherd. At once I felt compelled to write a set of variations on it.” Arthur Bliss The resulting Meditations on a Theme of John Blow is one of the great works of British orchestral music, and lays claim to be Bliss’s masterpiece. The composer confessed that he always found it easier to write what he called ‘dramatic’ music rather than ‘pure’ music. And that, perhaps, accounts for the variety of approaches