Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian: The Life and Work of an American Composer, 1867-1944 / Edition 1

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Overview


Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (1867-1944), the most widely performed composer of her generation, was the first American woman to succeed as a creator of large-scale art music. Her "Gaelic" Symphony, given its premiere by the Boston Symphony Orchestra in 1896, was the first work of its kind by an American woman to be performed by an American orchestra. Almost all of her more than 300 works were published soon after they were composed and performed, and today her music is finding new advocates and audiences for its energy, intensity, and sheer beauty. Yet, until now, no full-length critical biography of Beach's life or comprehensive critical overview of her music existed. This biography admirably fills that gap, fully examining the connections between Beach's life and work in light of social currents and dominant ideologies.

Born into a musical family in Victorian times, Amy Beach started composing as a child of four and was equally gifted as a pianist. Her talent was recognized early by Boston's leading musicians, who gave her unqualified support. Although Beach believed that the life of a professional musician was the only life for her, her parents had raised her for marriage and a career of amateur music-making. Her response to this parental (and later spousal) opposition was to find creative ways of reaching her goal without direct confrontation. Discouraged from a full-scale concert career, she instead found her métier in composition.

Success as a composer of art songs came early for Beach: indeed, her songs outsold those of her contemporaries. Nevertheless, she was determined to separate her work from the genteel parlor music women were writing in her day by creating large-scale works--a Mass, a symphony, and chamber music--that challenged the accepted notion that women were incapable of creating high art. She won the respect of colleagues and the allegiance of audiences. Many who praised her work, however, considered her an exception among women. Beach's reaction to this was to join with other women composers of serious music by promoting their works along with her own.

Adrienne Fried Block has written a biography that takes full account of issues of gender and musical modernism, considering Beach in the contexts of her time and of her composer contemporaries, both male and female. Amy Beach, Passionate Victorian will be of great interest to students and scholars of American music, and to music lovers in general.

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Editorial Reviews

From the Publisher

"A consistently interesting biography of America's first notable female composer....Fascinating."--The New York Times Book Review

"[This is a] brilliant, engaging biography....Block is the ideal voice for Amy Beach, for she writes as Beach composed: lyrically, sensitively, powerfully, passionately, and convincingly."--Joanne Polk, Professor and Director of Chamber Music and Ensembles at the Manhattan School of Music (recorded the complete solo music of Amy Beach for Arabesque Recordings)

"At last! A definitive study-in-the-round of composer Amy Beach....Confirming Beach's prodigious musical gifts, this biography, an informed and revelatory feminist study...appears fortuitously at a time when Beach's music, for long a victim of the anti-Romantic bias of American musical modernism, is coming to be recognized for its integrity and expressive range." --H. Wiley Hitchcock, Distinguished Professor of Music Emeritus, City University of New York.

"In her thoroughly researched and eminently readable study, Ms. Block presents Beach as not merely a victim of male chauvinism but also a many-sided historical figure: a dutiful daughter and wife who happened to be aflame with musical ideas and found ways to let people know it."--David Wright, The New York Times

"With meticulous documentation, musicologist Block tells Beach's story....Block carefully details Beach's musical prowess, her keen ambition, the advantages of her Boston surroundings, and a wealth of sheer luck to make a convincing case for Beach the 'pathfinder and model'"--National Women's Association Journal

David Wright
In her thoroughly researched and eminently readable study, Ms. Block presents Beach as not merely a victim of male chauvinism but also a many-sided historical figure: a dutiful daughter and wife who happened to be aflame with musical ideas and found ways to let people know it. -- The New York Times
Lawson Taitte
...Consistently interesting....a fascinating and useful book, Block has for the most part chosen wisely what to do and what not to do....If interest in Beach's music continues to grow...there will be time and opportunity to assess it, and Block's study will be a valuable aid in making a sound assessment possible. —The New York Times Book Review
Library Journal
Beach (1867-1944), who published her works under the name Mrs. H.H.A. Beach, was the most widely performed composer of her generation and the first major American woman composer. A musicologist and co-director of the Project for the Study of Women in Music, Block has done a great service by providing the first full-length critical biography of this talented, underappreciated composer. Beach's unwillingness to embrace the techniques of the European avant-garde endeared her to her fellow Boston Brahmins but, regrettably, guaranteed her only peripheral status in textbooks on 20th-century music. Block's thorough and clear-eyed account nicely places Beach's life and work in the context of turn-of-the-century New England arts and society. Her book includes 22 music examples accompanied by simple, illuminating analyses. -- Larry A. Lipkis, Moravian College, Bethlehem, Pennsylvania
— Catherine Arnott Smith, Center for Biomedical Informatics, University of Pittsburgh
Lawson Taitte
...Consistently interesting....a fascinating and useful book, Block has for the most part chosen wisely what to do and what not to do....If interest in Beach's music continues to grow...there will be time and opportunity to assess it, and Block's study will be a valuable aid in making a sound assessment possible. -- The New York Times Book Review
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Product Details

  • ISBN-13: 9780195137842
  • Publisher: Oxford University Press, USA
  • Publication date: 2/28/2000
  • Edition description: New Edition
  • Edition number: 1
  • Pages: 448
  • Product dimensions: 6.00 (w) x 9.00 (h) x 1.20 (d)

Meet the Author

Adrienne Fried Block has long been active as a speaker and writer on women and music. Women in American Music: A Bibliography of Music and Literature (1979), which she co-edited and compiled, remains a standard reference for the topic. She holds a Ph.D. in Musicology from City University of New York, in which she has taught and where she is currently Co-Director of the Project for the Study of Women in Music.

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Table of Contents

1. A Prodigy's New England Upbringing
2. The Cheneys and the Marcys
3. A Prodigy Despite Her Mother
4. The Making of a Composer: I
5. Two Ways of Looking at a Marriage
6. The Making of a Composer: II
7. Becoming Mistress of Her Craft
8. Reaching Out to the World
9. "One of the Boys"
10. Amy Beach's Boston
11. The Composer at the Keyboard: Beach Plays Beach
12. "A Veritable Autobiography"?: The Piano Concerto
13. The Composer's Workshop
14. Choral Music
15. The Chambered Nautilus
16. Europe and a New Life
17. "Lion of the Hour"
18. My Old New Hampshire House
19. At the MacDowell Colony: "Solitude in Silence"
20. Caring
21. A Fascinating New York Life
22. Beach the Modernist?
23. Reckonings
24. Harvest Time
Postlude: The Legacy
Appendix: Catalog of Works
Music's Ten Commandments as Given for Young Composers

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First Chapter

Chapter One

A PRODIGY'S
NEW ENGLAND
UPBRINGING

PRODIGIES ARE AT ONCE A JOY and a trial to parents. Watching them leap over barriers, telescope the learning process, and work with the intense concentration that is the mark of the gifted makes parents both proud and grateful for their children's gifts. However, these very gifts may make parents feel diminished in size, in authority, in competence. Even if gifted children do nothing but follow their bent and never challenge their parents' authority, their amazing displays of genius give them authority and power. If parents treat them as if they were normal, never admitting to anyone that their children are special, the children know better. If the child's musical perceptions are of great depth and intensity, prompting urgent and imperious demands for satisfaction, then the parents worry that the child may be abnormal, untamable, even monstrous. If the parents' religious beliefs place the children's salvation ahead of earthly gratifications, the problems intensify. If, in addition, the child is a female and born into a tradition that denies women freedom to develop their talents to the full, then the problems multiply--for both parent and child. Clara Imogene Cheney may have had all these thoughts and feelings when she realized that her child was a musical prodigy. The realization came early.

    Amy Marcy Cheney was born between noon and 1 p.m. on 5 September 1867 in West Henniker, New Hampshire, just nine Months after her parents were married. At that time the family included Amy; her father, Charles Abbott Cheney, age twenty-three; her mother, Clara Imogene (Marcy) Cheney, twenty-one; her widowed maternal grandmother, Amy Eliza Marcy, age forty-seven; and her paternal grandfather, Moses Cheney, forty-five. Amy's maternal aunt, Emma Francis (Marcy) Clement, age twenty-five, who married six months before Amy was born, was a frequent visitor with her husband, Lyman Hinkley Clement, age twenty-seven, probably remaining for an extended period.

    The land on which their house at 102 Western Avenue still stands now lies fallow; however, in the late nineteenth century it was a working farm. The farm did not, however, provide the family's main support. Across from their home runs the Contoocook River, and if you follow the river two miles to the west, you come to the former site of Moses and Charles Cheney's paper mill. Father and son were the third and fourth generations of Cheneys who milled paper.

    The two-story white clapboard house where the Cheney family lived may have lacked the second story at the time Amy was born. Even with the later addition of an entire floor this is a modest farm-house. There is no front porch. Rather, two or three steps lead from the outside directly into the front room, one of several small rooms and a kitchen. Upstairs are three or four small bedrooms. Behind and connected to the house are a workshop and barns.

    The house, despite its modesty, contained a piano, a weighty emblem of middle-class status. But in the Cheney household it was more than a symbol. Amy's mother was a talented pianist and singer, and her grandmother Marcy was a high soprano who sang in the church choir as well as at home. Thanks to these women, and to visits by Amy's Aunt Franc, there was constant music making at home.

    Amy, a fair-haired child with large blue-violet eyes, was small for her age. She became a participant in music making even before she could speak: by the time she was one year old, she hummed forty tunes accurately and always in the key that she first heard them. Her mother, aware of the remarkable talent this evinced, made a list of the tunes, which has not survived, although three are named in Cheney's biography of her daughter: "Old Dog Tray," "Sweet Face in the Window," and Amy's favorite hymn, "The moon shines full at His command / And all the stars obey."

    Amy soon proved strong-willed and demanding, especially of music. The toddler insisted on a constant diet of songs, which at times had to be supplied in relays: as her mother's voice tired, her grandmother would take over, or there would be tears. Any change from Amy's first hearing of the song would upset her; after she learned to speak, she would order them to "'sing it clean.'"

    Not only did the one-year-old child control how music was sung but she also determined what was sung. When Amy's mother or maternal grandmother rocked her to sleep, "if we sang a song that she didn't want to hear," Mrs. Cheney wrote, "she would show such anger that we would gladly make a change." Such willfulness poses a serious threat to parental authority.

    The child's sensitivity was not only musical but global. From infancy, sounds that suggested a lack of control--loud laughter, for example--moved her to tears, even painful sobs. Indeed, when company came, "her lip would quiver at the first signs of mirth," and she had to be carried out of the room. Rain hitting the windows also moved her to tears, as if the sight of nature "crying" was threatening; she demanded that her mother wipe away nature's tears as she did her own. Thunder was especially disturbing to Amy, a reaction that persisted throughout her life.

    Her remarkable memory and accurate singing startled friends and neighbors as well as her family. In 1869, thousands of choristers in New England were practicing to take part in Patrick Gilmore's "Grandest Musical Demonstration that the world has ever witnessed," a giant National Peace Jubilee held in Boston to celebrate the end of the Civil War. The high point would be the triumphant entrance of President Grant to the singing of "See, the Conquering Hero Comes" by a chorus of ten thousand, accompanied by bands and orchestras and introduced by an artillery salute. The conductor was Boston's Carl Zerrahn, who would be an important person in Amy's early musical career.

    Among those practicing for the performance was the local photographer W. G. C. Kimball of Concord. As he prepared to take the two-year-old's picture, she suddenly burst out at the top of her voice with "See, the Conquering Hero Comes." Kimball, who was amazed at the clarity and accuracy of her rendition, said, "That is more wonderful than anything we shall see at the Jubilee." The photo suggests that he caught her in the act of singing, for her mouth is open and her expression is one of fierce intensity. The pose would have required remarkable control on her part, since subjects at that time had to remain still for an entire minute.

    Her concentration on music was extraordinary for so young a child: Clara Cheney's piano playing was the joy of Amy's life, and when her mother accompanied a local violinist, Amy would listen for hours without moving. All these signs of a musical gift gave both equal portions of pleasure and concern, the latter prompting a strong reaction: from the moment Amy reached up to try to touch the piano keys, her mother made it clear that the piano was out of bounds for the toddler.

    The child, who wanted nothing as much as she wanted to play the piano, did not accept the restriction placidly. Rather she begged, coaxed, and tried to climb on the piano stool or on her mother's lap at the piano. But nothing moved her mother to change. Amy could hear music, and nothing and no one could stop her from thinking music. She could order others to sing, sing herself to sleep, and find the apt song for any event, including the stray cat scratching at the window or the moon shining through it. But she could not touch the piano keys. Resourceful and determined yet accepting, the child found another outlet for her musicality: she sang original melodies to Mother Goose rhymes while playing an imaginary keyboard.

    On occasion, even Clara Cheney was startled. Before Amy was two, when her mother rocked her to sleep, she exhibited a new skill, that of improvising "a perfectly correct alto to any soprano" that her mother might sing. There is something threatening, even uncanny about the little child cradled in her arms taking charge of music making in this way. Clara Cheney, who identified this feat as a display of compositional ability, responded to it not by relenting the ban on piano playing but rather by reinforcing it, explaining that she was afraid that too early access would cause the child to tire of music. She followed what the popular essayist Gerald Stanley Lee called the "top bureau-drawer principle," of placing the desired object just out of reach. Children must learn discipline early, and the best way to teach it is to withhold whatever the child wants most. Besides, Cheney did not want Amy to become a prodigy, with all that that implied, and was not about to allow behavior that would induce others to treat her daughter as one.

    Her decision seems both harsh and inflexible by present-day standards. Why, for example, did not her curiosity lead her to allow the child to experiment at the instrument, merely to find out what she could do? But no, Clara Cheney held firm, animated perhaps by more profound motives than the ones she expressed.

    Charles and Clara Cheney were determined that their daughter grow up as much as possible as a normal child. Part of the standard education of middle-class girls was to teach them to be modest, not to take undue pride in their accomplishments, and certainly not to be boastful or arrogant. Amy soon learned that her prodigious talent was a gift of God, an idea that preserved her modesty while suggesting the magnitude of the gift.

    Her parent's decision undoubtedly had deeper roots than even the issue of proper female modesty. If Clara Cheney needed other reasons for keeping her child from the piano, her religion may have provided them. Amy's parents both came from colonial stock. Charles Abbott Cheney (1844-1895) was the son of Freewill Baptists, a liberal sect that, unlike other Baptists, did not believe that infants were born depraved. A genial and easygoing man, he seems to have had less direct influence on his daughter than his wife, especially during the many years when he traveled as a salesman of imported paper stock, beginning in 1870.

    Clara Imogene Marcy (1845-1911) was a Congregationalist, that is, a Calvinist, although probably a moderate one. Calvinists believed that children were born depraved, that to save their souls they must be taught piety early, and that earthly life was but a preparation for heaven. Horace Bushnell's influential book, Christian Nurture, appeared between 1847 and 1863, the years when Clara Cheney was growing up. He was important as a reformer, rejecting the harsher aspects of Calvinist training, particularly that of breaking a child's will. Instead, he recommended genial warmth and love, "a good life, the repose of faith, the confidence of righteous expectation [of salvation, and] the sacred and cheerful liberty of the spirit." It is likely that Clara Cheney followed Bushnell's teachings.

    But he also believed in discipline. Infants, Bushnell asserted, have "blind will," perhaps their strongest characteristic, and one that must be curbed. "Is this infant child to fill the universe with his complete and total self-assertion, owning no superior, or is he to learn the self-submission of allegiance, obedience, duty to God?" It is easy to see how the mother of such a demanding child might worry that Amy would turn into a monster of self-assertion. How comforting then to know that someone of the Reverend Bushnell's authority had a cure for such willfulness: between the ages of ten months and three years, gently, lovingly train the child to submit to the parent's will, advice Clara Cheney apparently followed. The recommended means was the consistent control of what the child wanted most--food, for example--or in Amy's case, the piano.

    Indulgence of any kind corrupts, according to Bushnell. "A child can be pampered in feeding, so as to become, in a sense, all body; so that, when he comes into choice and responsible action, he is already a confirmed sensualist." Similarly, with the powerful and sensual medium of music, the child must first learn to do without; later, limited experiences could be safely offered because the child has learned that even such a privilege may be taken away for cause. For the first four years of Amy's life, Clara Cheney taught her daughter submission by withholding the piano, and later by controlled relaxation of the ban: "I was to be as carefully kept from music as later I would be helped to it."

    Clara Cheney's second response to these feats was a long-term decision that Amy "was to be a musician, not a prodigy." Since the child already was a prodigy, it could only mean that she would not be allowed to act nor, indeed, to live like one. Gender considerations also entered in. Because she was female, she must learn early that her adult life would be centered on home, husband, and children, not music. Careers for women outside the home were hardly the accepted practice in the years immediately following the Civil War. With few exceptions, a professional artist-musician class, in which the performing traditions were handed down from parent to child, did not yet exist in the United States. Middle- and upper-class women gifted in music were turned from any thought of such a life plan because of the stigma attached to those who appeared as performers on the public stage. The attendant social degradation was not something that a middle-class family like the Cheneys desired for a daughter. A musical girl could perform as a private person; but child prodigies were often the victims of exploitation and notoriety. For the next sixteen years, this decision of Clara's (and probably Charles's as well) circumscribed Amy's musical life.

    In 1869, the year that Amy turned two, the paper mill burned down. Thereafter, her grandfather devoted himself to farming; the following year, her father found a position with a Boston firm as a paper stock salesman. His wife and child soon followed him, moving in 1871 to Chelsea, a suburb of Boston. Thereafter, they may have moved with some frequency, but their earliest known address was 36 Marlborough Street, probably rented quarters.

    At age four, Amy finally got to the keyboard. This happened despite her mother and through the intervention of Aunt Franc, who was visiting from her new home in San Francisco. Beach described the signal event, her first vivid memory of her beloved aunt:

At last, I was allowed to touch the piano. My mother was still opposed, but I can remember my aunt coming to the house, and putting me at the piano. I played at once the melodies I had been collecting, playing in my head, adding full harmonies to the simple, treble melodies. Then my aunt played a new air for me, and I reached up and picked out a harmonized bass accompaniment, as I had heard my mother do.

    The very first piece she played on that occasion was a Strauss waltz that she had learned by hearing her mother play it. "The difficulty for me was the tiny size of my hands which made it necessary to omit octaves and big chords, but I seemed to have an uncanny sense of knowing just which notes to leave out, so that the result sounded well." But there were times when the frustration of not being able to recreate the sounds she heard in her head made her fly into a rage. Her mother described her reactions: "Tears of grief and anger, screams of mingled sorrow and wrath would issue from the child's throat ... but this would soon pass away as she yielded to the soothing influence of the music." Otherwise, from that day on she played whatever she heard from others or whatever music she imagined in her head.

    In all but very large houses, the person at the piano keyboard controls the aural space. There is no escaping the sound. Suddenly, the piano belonged to Amy as much as to her mother. Clara Cheney responded to this stunning demonstration by limiting the time her daughter could spend at the piano, thus still maintaining control over music in her home. Moreover, Clara Cheney withheld music as punishment, the way other parents might withhold food or treats. If Amy Cheney misbehaved, her mother refused her access to the instrument. Or, since "music in the minor keys made her sad and disconsolate," Clara Cheney would play something in the minor mode as punishment. "When the little fingers were getting into mischief, this always had the desired effect. No other punishment was needed than the playing of Gottschalk's Last Hope [meditation religieuse]," op. 16 (ex. 1.1). Indeed, Clara Cheney had only to play what she termed the "theme" of Last Hope--probably the highly chromatic and dissonant passage in the introduction--and "the little hands would drop whatever had been grasped and tears would immediately flow." Here was a child of great aural sensitivity, whose very gift was turned into her greatest vulnerability.

    Amy's intellectual development kept pace with her musical growth, for at three she taught herself to read. Her first and favorite book, A Child's Dream of a Star, by Charles Dickens, was undoubtedly read many times. The book deals with death and the child's journey along the shining path to a star, that is, to heaven. The first to die in a family of four was the youngest, a little girl. Morbid, yes, but not when considered from the point of view of mid-nineteenth-century Protestant belief. A mother's duty was to teach her young children not only that God "look[s] upon sin ... with abhorrence," but also promises salvation to the righteous. Mothers were told to "excite the gratitude of the child by speaking of the joys of heaven ... There is enough in the promised joys of heaven to rouse a child's most animated feelings." This was the message the Dickens tale delivered with clarity. There is no way of knowing whether Amy identified with the little girl who died or whether her joy in the hope of heaven outweighed any terror at the threat of damnation. Both parts of the lesson had to be learned, and their imagery would reverberate throughout Beach's life and music.

    She attended Sunday School at the Central Congregationalist Church in Chelsea and fell in love with her teacher--the only teacher other than her mother that she would have during the next few years. At age five she took to reading the Scriptures aloud, which she did with the clarity and emphasis of an adult. Her remarkable memory was not only for music, for she was able to recite extended and difficult poems in Sunday School or at church meetings.

    Amy was still four when she composed her first piano pieces while spending the summer with her grandfather in West Henniker. "[W]hen I reached home I told my mother that I had `made' three waltzes. She did not believe it at first, as there was no piano within miles of the farm. I explained that I had written them in my head, and proved it by playing them on her piano." Clara Cheney's reaction to this new achievement was to restrain displays of her own enthusiasm as well as that of others. As friends and relatives soon learned about Amy's precocious abilities at the piano and in composition, her mother went to great lengths to keep Amy's accomplishments from turning her daughter's head. She made no fuss over these waltzes, nor would she allow others to do so in the child's presence.

    Amy named one piece "Snowflake Waltz," because she made it up during the hot days of summer; "Marlboro Waltz" was named after the street in Chelsea where she lived; there were eventually two more, "Golden Robin Waltz" and "Mamma's Waltz." This last survives in a copy probably written out by her mother; it is a lengthy piece that shows a remarkable sense of form and key structure, and includes some sophisticated harmonies (see chapter 4). All four pieces were composed in her head and away from the piano, a practice she continued throughout her life.

    Evidence that the child had perfect pitch surfaced early, although her parents did not recognize it until later. She would ask for music by its color: "Play the pink or blue music," she would demand. Her mother erroneously thought the child was referring to the colors on the cover page, but eventually she discovered that Amy was referring to the key of each piece. Her color associations for the major modes were C, white; E, yellow; G, red; A, green; A[b flat], blue; D[b flat], violet; E[b flat], pink. She named only two minor keys, F# and G#, both black. While the list is incomplete--she identified only nine correspondences out of a possible twenty-four--the colors strongly suggest mood and will later help to explain some of Amy Beach's compositional practices.

    By age five, Amy had an "allotted time each day for practice," limited by her mother. She taught herself to play various pieces by ear, including chorales from Mendelssohn's oratorio St. Paul. She also insisted on knowing what musical notation meant, and her mother told her only enough so that she soon figured out the entire system and could sight-read. One of the pieces she learned was the "Spirit Waltz" (wrongly attributed to Beethoven), which she played during a visit with the children of friends. On her return, she told her mother that she was distressed to discover that the piano was a half tone lower than her mother's. In compensation, Amy had transposed the piece. "It sounded all wrong," she said, "I had to change it to a half tone higher to bring it right." Her memory of a musical work was so indelibly wedded to its key that it was only acceptable when heard in the original key.

    Later that year, parents and child found themselves once more at cross-purposes. Her father mentioned to her mother that the famous soprano and opera impresario Clara Louise Kellogg could identify any pitch she heard. When Amy piped up, "`Oh that's nothing. Anybody can do that. I can do that,'" her father reprimanded her for being "`pert,'" aiming to teach her both manners and humility. As the conversation continued and Amy was again scolded for interrupting, her mother recalled the incident with the "Spirit Waltz." At that point they decided to take the child seriously, tested her, and learned that she, too, had absolute pitch.

    Of her parents' discovery, Amy Beach wrote that "It helped [my mother] to patience later, when her child appeared only pert." Patience? One needs patience to educate a slow child. But here was a child who soaked up everything around her, whose musical feats, on top of intellectual gifts, kept family and friends amazed. But patience and consistency are needed also to train a child to accept the values parents espouse and the limits they impose. For her part, Amy soon learned to cloak her self-assurance and pride in her achievements in a modest mien.

    Such modesty was particularly important for a girl to learn. According to nineteenth-century practice, during a child's first few years, issues of gender socialization were not a concern because all children were treated like girls. Both sexes wore long dresses that limited gross motor movement and were taught to be pliant and submissive. By the age of five or six, however, differential treatment of boys and girls began when, during a ceremonial rite of passage, boys were "breeched," or put into trousers. For boys, the freedom and autonomy that were withheld since birth--like access to the piano--were now offered in a limited and controlled manner along with their first masculine clothing. For girls, however, there was no ceremonial equivalent of breeching. Even limited freedom was withheld: their clothing continued to restrict their movements, they remained confined at home, were often given less food than their brothers in order to remain "slender and delicate," were expected to avoid vigorous physical activity advocated for boys, and were educated in domestic skills whether or not they also studied academic subjects. Most important, they were expected to remain pious, self-abnegating, humble, and modest.

    Up to the age of five or six, girls and boys also were expected to have no wills of their own. Thereafter, although boys were still under parental discipline, in practice they had greater latitude. Boys were not taught the same kind of submissiveness as girls; the "stronger wills of male children would in the end make them more manly men . . . [with] a taste for ruling which is the germ of their future character." Amy Cheney, a passionate and strong-willed child, demanded the more flexible treatment granted to boys. However, her very striving against limits may well have driven Clara Cheney to greater efforts to conform the child to standards for girls.

    Yet Clara Cheney was far from being entirely repressive. As we have seen, during the earliest years she was often solicitous of her daughter's feelings and intense reactions, trying to shield her from emotional trauma. She also did not wish to overburden the child with information and instruction before she believed Amy was ready to receive it. Although she tried to keep Amy's talents more or less hidden, privately--in a biographical sketch of her daughter--she revealed immense pride in her daughter's achievements while omitting any mention of their battles of wills.

    When Amy was six, Clara Cheney finally agreed to teach her piano. She had three lessons a week and could only practice during the time her mother allotted to her. Beach later commented that "the piano was still, theoretically, in the top bureau drawer." At the same time, her mother began her daughter's general education, tutoring her at home rather than sending her to a school. Perhaps this was an economy measure or sprang from a prevalent nineteenth-century belief that organized school activities were too regimented for "delicate and sensitive" girls, which frequently led mothers to tutor their daughters at home. An additional benefit of home tutoring was that the mother continued to have total control of her child's experience, including that of shielding her from people who might make a fuss over her talents. From the child's point of view, however, this was a claustrophobic way of living that deprived her of companions of her own age. Later, Beach displayed a marked talent for friendship and pleasure in social contact, as if to make up for this unfulfilled early need.

    Her progress in music was swift. Within a year after beginning lessons, she had mastered the Boston Conservatory Method, which, although advertised "for beginners," required--especially in its closing pages--considerable technical facility and grasp of theory and harmony. Her mother proudly listed other pieces Amy was playing then, including works by Handel, Mozart, Mendelssohn, Chopin, and Beethoven.

    When she was seven, Amy played her first pieces by Bach; she especially liked the fugues. Beethoven, however, was her favorite, and she only interrupted the playing of his works when she was forced to leave the piano. Her hand size was still a problem, and occasionally--to her extreme and loudly voiced distress--she had to omit the lowest notes. With that exception, everything was played accurately and with feeling.

    By now, Amy Cheney was ready and eager "to give serious recital programs." When the opportunity arose, it was her mother who bent once again, although Beach thought "the consent was unwilling." As with Amy's first session at the piano, outside intervention plus the child's intense campaign to perform may have caused Clara's change of heart. Nevertheless, Clara Cheney, simply stated that she gave her permission.

    At one recital, a benefit for the Unitarian Church, the performers waited their turn in the library, where Amy, who was to play a Chopin waltz and one of her own waltzes as encore, immediately became engrossed in a book. Her mother reported:

When her number on the programme came and I went to take her to the conductor of the concert, she spoke very impatiently[:] "Wait, please[,] until I have finished my chapter." She put the book down very reluctantly with the command that "no one should lose her place." She didn't approve of the encore as it kept her from the book.

Yet it was Amy who had insisted on performing. Headstrong, impetuous, imperious--those characteristics in the child arouse the reader's sympathy for Clara Cheney.

    At a musicale in a private home in Boston, Amy repeated the Chopin waltz and also played Beethoven's easy sonata, op. 49, no. 1, and one of her own waltzes. That event resulted in what was probably her first review: The Folio, a journal of the arts, reported that she "played with an accuracy and style which surprised every listener ... the young pianist is exciting much surprise by the precocity of her musical talent."

    As a consequence of this recital, two or more concert managers, attracted by the combination of precocious talent and extreme youth, offered contracts. Indeed, Beach noted that she looked even younger than her seven years because she was "small for her age, fair, and slight." She wrote, "it would have been merely play to enter upon the career of a travelling pianist, but my father and mother both agreed it would have been the worst possible thing for me mentally and physically."

    Clara Cheney then announced that there were to be no more recitals--even at private or Sunday school events--and that in raising Amy, "due regard must be paid to a judicious expenditure of health and energy." Unquestionably, a recital tour would be a strain on a young child; indeed, it often is on adults. The outcome of that little recital, a press notice and offers from concert managers, was what Clara Cheney had hoped to avoid, along with the "corrupting" power of such a heady experience, one that would lead the child to dream of a concert career. Nevertheless, years later Beach agreed with her parents' decision: "I shall always have the deepest gratitude for my inexperienced young parents that they did not allow me to be exploited by managers."

    In early fall of 1875, they moved even closer to the hub when they settled in Roxbury at 63 Clifford Street. Now they were a short trolley ride from Beacon Hill, the center of upper-class Boston, where Unitarians and Transcendentalists rejected harsh Calvinist practices and where women's public activism as abolitionists and feminists suggested new ways of raising children, especially girls. Even though public performance would remain just out of reach, Amy Cheney's world would expand in new and exciting ways.

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