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On November 5 I had the privilege to attend an intimate recital in the Milbank Memorial Chapel on the campus of Columbia University Teachers’ College. It was called Music of the Americas for Piano and Voices and the first half of the program featured the music of the American composer Douglas Townsend.
The composer was present, and he addressed the small audience before the program began. Unfortunately, he spoke without a microphone and I could not hear a great deal of what he said. I was impressed, however, by his vitality and his intellect. Douglas Townsend was born on November 8, 1921, which makes him 89 years old. He is still composing, still teaching and still doing musicological research, and he is not showing signs of quitting.
The program included Mr. Townsend’s Mass in Miniature, sung by sopranos Felicity Graham and Emilie Storrs, accompanied by pianist Rogerio Tutti. The movements included a Kyrie, a Gloria and an Agnus Dei. Soprano Halley Gilbert sang the Wife’s Aria from the opera Lima Beans. Mr. Tutti ended the first half of the program with Mr. Townsend’s Sonatina No. 2 for Piano. The first movement of the Mass in Miniature, the Kyrie, was a beautiful piece in a minor key. The Gloria was lively and contrapuntal. It is unusual to hear an entire vocal work for two soprano voices, which also makes the Mass in Miniature very interesting.
Unlike many contemporary composers, Mr. Townsend is not afraid to write beautiful music. In the 20th Century the boundaries of harmony, melody, tonality and rhythm were stretched beyond limits, and composers who wanted to be taken seriously were expected to go along with at least some of the avant garde trends. The music of Mr. Townsend is tonal and almost Baroque in texture, including a fugue on the words Gloria in excelsis Deo in the Mass in Miniature.
To hear the first two movements of the Mass in Miniature, go here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=QnZY8F6F5PE feature;=related
To hear the Sonatina No. 2 as played by Rogerio Tutti,
Douglas Townsend’s career as a composer began in earnest when he was a17 year old student at the High School of Music and Art in New York City. He won a national contest for student composers with his “Contra Dances,” which were subsequently performed by the CBS Symphony under the baton of conductor Bernard Herrmann. Over the ensuing decades, he has composed a variety of musical works, including orchestral pieces, vocal music, instrumental works and film scores.
Another example of Mr. Townsend’s work is his Fantasies on Christmas Carols for piano four hands: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=F4BJmzrfa0M feature;=related
In addition to composing, Mr. Townsend is a respected musicologist and academic. He is currently on the faculty of the Department of Music of the University of Bridgeport in Connecticut.
It was a joy to hear the work of this amazing man. American Music Center: http://www.amc.net/DouglasTownsend  InstantEncore: http://www.instantencore.com/contributor/bio.aspx?CId=5119793. Know More
Born Amy Marcy Cheney, the composer known to most as Amy Beach was born in 1867 in New Hampshire. Her early life was spent in Boston, and the young Amy Cheney no doubt reaped the benefits of growing up among such thriving musical happenings. As a child she revealed herself to have perfect pitch. Furthermore, she exhibited signs of minor synesthesia, requesting music by the color with which she associated it.
Her compositional skills were evident from the early age of seven years, as the young Amy was often found writing and performing her own musical works. She was deemed a child prodigy early in life, and her ambition teamed with her uncanny skill resulted in an early performing career (to the behest of her parents). At 16, Amy Cheney commenced her performing career as a concert pianist with a debut in the primary concert hall in Boston.
In 1885, Amy Cheney married Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach and, at his request, focused her sights on a new career path. As her career as a recital pianist all but completely halted, her compositional career as Mrs. H.H.A. Beach (as she preferred to be known) took its place. Rather than studying the compositional arts, which her parents and husband both opposed, Beach schooled herself in composition and orchestration.
Beach’s early compositional style involved lush harmonies and long, legato lines, and she placed a lot of focus on the relationship between her music and the text she would set. Her skills with creating color and mood through harmony are evident in these early works. Though she extended her compositional body to include large-scale works, songs were her focus; she even incorporated some of her own songs’ themes into larger works. As a composer, Beach largely let audiences responses govern her compositions. Fortunately, her works were largely well received by audiences and performers alike.
In 1910, the passing of her husband led to Amy Beach’s return to the stage. At that time her preferred stage name was “Amy Beach,” but she realized that her renown had grown under the name Mrs. H.H.A. Beach and quickly defaulted to it. After a year of inactivity following her husband’s death, Beach began a three-year tour throughout Europe which was ended due to the outbreak of World War I. She toured parts of the United States upon her return and made several moves before settling in Hillsborough, New Hampshire in 1916.
Beach found, during her return to the concert hall stage, that she needed to be surrounded by nature to fuel her composition. During the years of her tour she only wrote several songs, and those she did compose had a several-year-gap between them.
In 1921, Beach discovered the MacDowell Colony that would come to transform her as a composer. Located in Peterborough, New Hampshire, the colony sought to provide a stimulating atmosphere for composers and performers. Beach’s first time partaking in colony life was meant as a trial of sorts, as she was invited by a close friend but did not expect to find it to her liking. On the contrary, she found the environment to be invigorating and immediately took to Colony life.
From that year forth, nearly all of Beach’s music was conceived or written in its entirety at the MacDowell Colony where she spent one to two months per year. Her music experienced stylistic changes at this point; though she rejected extreme modernists of the time, she embraced modern idioms in her music and made efforts to keep up-to-date with her music, though these attempts went largely unnoticed.