Saturday, April 23, 2016

Amy Beach's E Minor "Gaelic" Symphony (but rather New World-like); more on her piano concerto; play her music during Hillary Clinton's run for president

I’ve blogged about the Piano Concerto of Amy Beach on a supplement to an unrelated posting Dec. 3, 2013, as it deserved its own review.

I do have the Chandos CD of the Symphony in E Minor (1894), Op. 32, the “Gaelic”, played by the Detroit Symphony with Naeme Jarvi. The work draws on at least two Irish melodies, and some observers think it is much in the spirit of another Dvorak’s “New World”.

The first movement is an “Allegro con fuoco” and dives in immediately with a rapidly quavering, rising motive in the strings.  A motto rhythm appears quickly.  (The Dvorak has a slow introduction, by way of contrast, but a comparably furious main body of music in the first movement.) The music tends to retain a frantic pace throughout and the movement ends rather violently.

The scherzo is an “Alla Sciliana” with a familiar folk theme (on half step up in F Major), and a faster middle section. The folk section does have a “New World” Dvorak stylistic feel.

The slow movement, a Lento, features a violin solo that would almost be appropriate for a violin concerto, based on another folk tune.

The finale, Allegro di molto, works up to a grand climax based on the slow movement theme, ending in the Picardy E Major in grand fashion, with a great deal of harmonic and contrapuntal complexity in the closing pages, before three final crashing chords "FFF".  The opening theme in the finale bears some resemblance to the opening of the Brahms double concerto, but the style is a little closer still to Dvorak than Brahms.

Again, by way of comparison, Dvorak's E Minor Symphony ends with an odd dimenuendo on the very last chord.  I've always wondered why Dvorak wrote it this way.
My own feeling is that the work is a little more “obvious” and doesn’t have quite the subtlety of the Piano Concerto, which on repeated hearings, almost seems like it is another “Brahms concerto” (more Germanic and less Slavic or English influence).  Indeed, Beach seems interest in some of the issues posed by Brahms melodramatic First Piano Concerto in particular, and wants to present similar material with a more nuanced, layered treatment (although, like the Brahms, the long first movement ends with a lot of sudden violence).  The Concerto is obviously very difficult to play technically, and would represent an investment in time or effort for a pianist trying to revive it in concerts.  Here are some comments on the work by Joshua Kosman. It would be interesting for major performances of the work to occur in the US this presidential campaign season with Hillary Clinton running to be the US’s first female president.  Maybe some performances the weekend before the November election?  There are very few comparable big romantic works by female composers (Clara Schumann’s piano concerto seems much less interesting to me.)

I’ll look at some of Beach’s chamber works soon.

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