Amy Beach, American composer, found inspiration in nature

Born in 1867, Amy Beach began composing at 4 years old

American composer Amy Beach. George Grantham Bain Collection (Library of Congress)

She was a gifted pianist, truly a child prodigy, debuting with the Boston Symphony Orchestra at age 16 — the Moscheles Piano Concerto No. 3, a very difficult piece.

Amy Cheney Beach was born in New Hampshire in 1867 and began composing by the time she was 4 years old. She started performing in public not too long after that, and studied composition voraciously.

At age 18, Beach married a prominent surgeon and her public performances largely came to a halt, although she continued to compose. By all accounts, her husband was encouraging and proud of her work, but a married woman in her place and time simply didn’t concertize.

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Beach’s compositions ranged from solo keyboard pieces to large-scale symphonic music and sacred choral works. I especially enjoy her piano pieces inspired by nature: “Fire-flies” and “Autumn” (both from “4 Sketches op 15,”) and “Hermit Thrush at Morn” and “Hermit Thrush at Eve.”

You can feel the leaves swirling around in “Autumn,” and Beach has brilliantly captured the light and movement of fireflies. The two hermit thrush pieces were inspired by hearing the birds sing outside her studio window, then trying to replicate those beautiful sounds on the piano.