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.