Piano Quintet in f sharp minor, Op.67
Amy Beach (1867-1944) née Cheney was born in Henniker, New Hampshire. She studied piano with several at the time well-known piano teachers, including Ernst Perabo and Kal Baermann, but with regard to composition she was almost entirely self-taught. She made her concert debut at the age of 16. Two years later, she married a physician 24 years her senior, Dr.Henry Harris Aubrey Beach. During her lifetime, she was known neither by her maiden name nor her own given name but my the moniker “Mrs. H.H.A. Beach.” That this was so, one must remember that this was the practice at the time and even the most celebrated actresses in Britain and America were known by their husband’s names. Hence, all of her compositions appeared under the name of Mrs. H.H.A. Beach and it is only recently in more egalitarian times that she has finally become known under her own name, Amy Beach. For social propriety’s sake, her husband, as a member of Boston’s upper crust, insisted that she limit her concert performances to one a year. It was only after his death in 1910 that she embarked on a concert tour of both Europe and America. She wrote in most genres and was the first American woman to write a symphonic work. Ultimately, she was considered one of America’s leading composers and the only female composer to be ranked alongside of Arthur Foote, George Chadwick, Edward MacDowell, and Horatio Parker. Her writing is in a late Romantic idiom, but tonally more advanced than either Foote or Chadwick.
Her Piano Quintet in f sharp minor dates from 1908. It is in three movements. It begins with a dark, brooding Adagio introduction. The main part of the movement, Allegro, (our soundbite starts here) begins with a sad melody given out by the first violin, followed by a brief Schubertian episode before the music reverts back to introductory theme. The mood remains dark and mysterious. The middle movement, Adagio espressivo, opens softly with a lovely, highly romantic melody. Though the music never rises to any huge dramatic climax and for the most part remains relatively soft dynamically, it nonetheless burns with tremendous emotional intensity. The finale, Allegro agitato, explodes out of the gate with incredible force and forward motion, sounding ever so slightly for a moment like Paul Dukas. It is only with the introduction of the second more lyrical theme that the feverish intensity is lessened. But the with the reintroduction of the main subject brings many further dramatic climaxes in its wake.
This Piano Quintet was a milestone in American chamber literature, and for its time was in the vanguard of such works wherever. Long out of print and unavailable, we are pleased to reintroduce it once again. American ensembles would do well to make sure a work like this is on their programs not only at home but when touring abroad. And experienced amateurs will be richly rewarded by making this quintet's acquaintance.