Amy Beach (1867-1944), who wrote today’s prelude, was a child prodigy, composing her first work (several waltzes) at the age of four. She received her only formal education in composition as a teenager in Boston, supplemented by a rigorous program of self-study in music theory, composition and orchestration. She made her public debut as a concert pianist at the age of 16.
At 18, Beach married a doctor 24 years her senior. Their marriage was conditioned on her limiting her public piano performances, and concentrating on composing. In 1896, Beach’s “Gaelic Symphony” was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, marking the first performance of a symphony composed and published by an American woman. The BSO premiered her “Piano Concerto” four years later. One writer theorized that the piece reflects Beach’s conflict with efforts by her mother and husband to control her musical life.
In addition to her works for orchestra, Beach wrote sacred and secular choral works, solo piano music and chamber pieces. Today’s prelude is one of about 30 compositions inspired by folk music.