A forgotten woman genius

Anthony Dreaver says that We don’t often have the chance to hear the music of an almost forgotten genius.

The talent shines through despite obstacles!

Amy Beach

Rarely for a composer of her times, she was a woman!

Not so rarely, her parents and husband at first discouraged her from developing her extraordinary talent.

Amy Beach (1867–1944) was born in New Hampshire. 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 her mother’s singing. However, her parents resisted her wish to play the piano.

It was only when she was four that a visiting aunt allowed her access to the piano – she immediately picked out tunes as she had seen and heard her mother play them.

With tuition she made rapid progress

When allowed to learn from a gifted teacher she made rapid progress, playing her first piano concerto and having her first song published when she was 16.

Amy wrote a symphony, many songs and piano pieces, yet after her death her work was largely forgotten until a recent keen revival of interest.

Jennifer Scarlet, a Waikanae music teacher and performer who has accompanied Kapiti Chamber Choir for several years, has chosen an Amy Beach piece as part of their concert of American music on Sunday afternoon in Kapiti Uniting Church.

The venue is noted for its fine piano, giving a rare opportunity to hear work by a noted  – but for many years forgotten – woman composer played by an outstanding local woman pianist.

Just a coincidence? I don’t think so!

Old American Songs

The Kapiti Chamber Choir concert on Sunday (Old American Songs), is anchored by two sets of songs by Aaron Copland. They have a curious first-performance history.

Aaron Copland

Copland was born in Brooklyn (1900) to a Russian-Jewish couple. ‘The Dean of American Composers’ as he has been called, is identified with the folk-lore and landscapes of the United States – Appalachian Spring, A Lincoln Portrait and Fanfare for the Common Man.

After study in Europe he returned to USA, and composed many scores for many films (e.g. Of Mice and Men, ballet scores (Rodeo) and symphonic works. In the years of Depression and New Deal his sympathies and friendships were with left-leaning causes and people.

In 1950 he had just completed the first set of five Old American Songs when he was visited by Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears. At their request he allowed them to present the premiere performance, not in America, but on the Suffolk coast at their Aldeburgh Festival.

The second set of five was complete in 1952 and recorded. However, they did not receive a public performance for some time. What did happen in 1952 was that Copland was investigated by the FBI and summoned by Senator Joseph McCarthy’s Committee on Un-American Activities.

The early Cold War period also saw a public swing against Popular Front culture and a preference by intellectuals for more avant garde styles.

Copland continued active composition, but the second set of songs had to wait for their first performance (in Massachusetts) until 1958.

The Kapiti Chamber Concert details

  • 30 p.m. on Sunday 15 July
  • Kapiti Uniting Church
  • 10 Weka Road, Raumati Beach
  • Door sales: adults $30, students $10.


Correction needed this is the wrong person in the photo! Please delete the photo of Jennifer Scarlet

I’m Jennifer Scarlet the pianist for above concert! No idea who is Jan in the above photo but it’s not me!…


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