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Obscure Music Monday: Beach's Hermit Thrush At Eve

Amy Marcy Cheney Beach (Sept. 5, 1867 - December 27, 1944) was an American composer and pianist.  Extremely gifted from a young age, Beach's talents seemed to run in the family, with various members playing instruments or singing, and showing great aptitude for music.

Beach was exceptionally talented, having learned 40 songs around the age of one, and at two she was able to sing counter melodies. She taught herself to read at three, and composed some piano waltzes at age four. She began formal lessons with her mother at six, and was soon giving public recitals and performing her own music.  In 1875, her family moved from New Hampshire to Chelsea, Massachusetts, and instead of enrolling their talented daughter in a European conservatory, they chose to keep her training local. She studied piano along with harmony and counterpoint, but her thirst for knowledge was formidable. She did additional work on her own time outside of her studies.

Beach's ouput as a composer was not insignificant; she wrote symphonies, violin sonatas, chamber music, and several works for piano, including Hermit Thrush At Eve Beach heard a hermit thrush bird singing his "lonely and appealing" song repeatedly one day while she stayed at the MacDowell Colony.  She would write the song down, revising it with each utterance the bird made. Beach would then play them back, and the bird would answer, like a conversation.

Beach's writing sets the mood and atmosphere for this work; the opening notes are like a dark arpeggio and scale, as if the evening sky was making itself known. The tone of the work is mysterious and meditative, and the hermit thrush's song and the following conversation between composer and bird is fascinating, and darkly beautiful.

Here's a recording of this wonderful work for you to enjoy!

Joanne Polk

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