Bias and Sexism in the Search for the Great American Symphony

When I was working on the readings for our upcoming class, I was perplexed by the choices made in order to procure the definition of ‘American’ music.  It just sounded to me like no one knew what they wanted, criticizing composers for sounding too European while accepting music from foreign enemies into the American cannon over those from marginalized groups of Americans.  Fauser’s and Shadel’s articles do an especially good job in complicating the relationship between American music and European opinion, as the idea that American music must be differentiated in some way came from the Europeans and was put into practice first by Dvorak in his New World symphony.

Beach Symphony in E Minor, Op. 32 ‘Gaelic’

I was interested in the portion of Shadel’s article on Amy Beach’s response to Dvorak’s symphony and how she created her own interpretation.  Having been born and raised in America, one would think that Beach would have a leg up on Dvorak in composing American symphonies.  Her Gaelic Symphony, being the first symphony composed by an American woman, fits much of the criteria proposed of the idealized ‘great American symphony’; However, alongside the thinly veiled racism of the late nineteenth and early twentieth century was thinly veiled sexism.  She was not taken seriously by critics due to her gender, despite her symphony being adored by audiences.  Compared to Dvorak and Chadwick, Beach’s music was described by critics as “delicate”, “beautiful” and “tender”, while “other early reviewers… did not comment at any length on the expression of a national identity given the works clear dialogue with Dvorak” (Shadle 255).  It was striking that many of the quotes, whether positive or negative, couldn’t help but mention Beach’s gender in relation to the music, while “the most negative critics displayed heightened anxiety over the emergence of a truly valid American symphonic voice capable of speaking to international audiences” (Shadle 255).  This is what people had been hoping for in the ‘great American symphony’; however, for some, the fact that this voice was coming from a woman was the sole thing rendering the attempt invalid.

Beach, Symphony in E Minor, Op. 32, “Gaelic Symphony”, I. Allegro con fuoco:

https://stolaf.naxosmusiclibrary.com/mediaplayer/playfer.asp?br=320&tl=75616

Dvorak, Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op. 95, B. 178, “From the New World”, I. Adagio- Allegro molto

https://stolaf.naxosmusiclibrary.com/mediaplayer/player.asp?br=320&tl=371713

Chadwick, Symphony No. 3 in F Major, I. Allegro sostenuto:

https://stolaf.naxosmusiclibrary.com/mediaplayer/player.asp?br=320&tl=260155

Chadwick purportedly told Beach after her symphony’s debut, “I always feel a thrill of pride myself whenever I hear a fine new work by any one of us, and as such you will have to be counted in, whether you will or not—one of the boys” (Block).

American music has a long history of discrimination on the basis of race, gender, class, etc.  When we think about American music, we must also stop to think about who’s experiences we are validating and invalidating.  Who are we letting participate and why?  We cannot tout the idea of an American “melting pot” of musical culture if different groups are not all respected equally.

 

Works Cited:

Annegret Fauser, Sounds of War

Beach, Symphony in E Minor, Op. 32, “Gaelic Symphony”

Block, Adrienne Fried, and E. Douglas Bomberger. “Beach [Cheney], Amy Marcy.” Grove Music Online.  October 16, 2013. Oxford University Press. Date of access 16 Oct. 2019,

Chadwick, Symphony No. 3 in F Major

Douglas Shadle, Orchestrating the Nation

Dvorak, Symphony No.9 in E minor, Op. 95, B. 178, “From the New World”

“Naxos Music Library – Invaluable Resource for Music Enthusiasts and Collectors.” Naxos Music Library – Invaluable Resource for Music Enthusiasts and Collectors, https://www.naxosmusiclibrary.com/.

 

Why don’t we talk about Arthur P. Schmidt?

While scrolling the archives of the Sheet Music Consortium to find fodder for this weeks blog post, I found myself a bit at a loss. For the past few classes we’ve begun to study early American art music and I was hoping to find some manuscript of Amy Beach’s or Edward MacDowell’s to put on display. While I did find scores from both composers, what I found more compelling was the name at the bottom of nearly every score I examined.

Canadian Boat Song by Amy Beach

No, not Mrs. H.H.A. Beach like you see on the right, but rather Arthur P. Schmidt. This name appeared on several scores of both Beach and MacDowell. Who was Arthur P. Schmidt? Why does his name get to be on an exorbitant amount of the music published in 19th-century America? And why should you care?

Musical scholarship often focuses on the narratives of performers and mostly of composers, but equally important to these artistic forces were the business people that helped create the music industry. Figures like Theodore Thomas helped define the idea of a duality between art and the free market. Arthur P. Schmidt, while not a conductor or music director, was a music publisher. The publishing side of the music industry became increasingly important as the 19th century marched on. Soon, the publishers of Tin Pan Alley would help define American musical tastes.Arthur P. Schmidt, too, became a taste-maker of sorts. In fact, Douglas Bomberger states in an article about Edward MacDowell and Arthur Schmidt that the later 19th century became known as the “Golden Age” of music publishing in America. Schmidt’s Boston based publishing company would come to publish nearly the entire compositional body of Edward MacDowell and feature several compositions by Amy Beach. In total, the Boston office had printed over 15 000 titles. The publisher Arthur P. Schmidt, when searched in the Sheet Music Consortium, comes up with over 4,000 results.

From the back page of an Edward MacDowell Composition

The guy was really popular. But why don’t we hear about him? In Richard Crawford’s American Musical Life, there is an entire chapter devoted to the music of Edward MacDowell, but it never once mentions the way MacDowell’s music got published. In the scholarship this class has read about the music industry of mid to late 19th-century American art music, there has been little discussion of the way music publishers shape the reception and transmission of famous musical works. Money and music have never been as separate as we want them to be. The influences of capitalist market demand have no doubt shaped the way we consume, study, and participate in music. According to the New Grove Dictionary of Music and Musicians, the Arthur P. Schmidt company grew so popular that it opened an office in Leipzig, Germany. What impact did the transmission of American composers like MacDowell and Beach have on American and German cultural interactions? How did these relationships develop during the first world war? How did music publishers influence understanding of American musical culture? Music publishing is still and must have been incredibly important. So why isn’t it talked about more?

Personally, I think that this hesitancy to acknowledge the codependency of music and capitalism results from our societies binary system of thinking. The notions of artists and business people are often seen as contradictory by most of the public. We don’t want our art to be infected by money. But, like everything in life, it most definitely is. A complete understanding of American musical life demands that we consider not only our beloved composers and performers,  but the hardened business people responsible for shaping our musical tastes. Including examples of music published by someone like Arthur P. Schmidt in an exhibit about America’s music, for example, could help prompt further questions about the codependent relationship between music, money, and American markets.

Sources

Bomberger, E. Douglas. “Edward Macdowell, Arthur P. Schmidt, and the Shakespeare Overtures of Joachim Raff: A Case Study in Nineteenth-Century Music Publishing.” Notes 54, no. 1 (1997): 11-26. doi:10.2307/899930.

Cipolla, Wilma Reid. “Schmidt, Arthur P..” Grove Music OnlineOxford Music OnlineOxford University Press, accessed October 24, 2017http://www.oxfordmusiconline.com/subscriber/article/grove/music/24937.

 

Poetry in Motion: Amy Beach

Amy Beach was one of the most influential composers on American music during her life. Her grand works like the Mass in E-flat and the Gaelic Symphony made her stand out amongst composers in a newly emerging American classical scene. Beach also wrote many songs for piano and voice and one in particular that I would like to highlight is With Violets, Beach’s first official work.

With Violets was published in 1885 and the text comes from the poet Kate Vannah, and is presented in an original setting by Beach. Not much scholarship exists on Beach’s first work, in fact I was unable to find any recording of With Violets. I find this a little surprising, as With Violets captures elements of Beach’s compositional style that stayed consistent throughout her life.

Amy Beach, composer of “With Violets”

The first page of “With Violets”

 

In 1943, Beach commented on her creative process and composition in general by comparing it to poetry. In her words, a poet is “stirred by a vigorous emotional impulse” then “reflects more calmly upon this emotion” and finally “seeks to clothe the combination of emotions plus thought with the most beautiful and suitable words, meters, and rhymes.” She goes on to say that “that, in the most general way, approximates the stages in musical creation, as well.” As you read the text to With Violets (no recording exists as of yet), try conjuring up music in your head.

The violets I send to you
Will close their blue eyes on your breast;
I shall not be there, sweet, to see,
Yet do I know my flowers will rest
Within that chaste, white nest.

O little flowers, she’ll welcome you
So tenderly, so warmly!
Go, I know where you will die tonight.
But you can never, never know
The bliss of dying so.
If you could speak!

Yet she will know
What made your faces wet,
Although I fain would follow you, and tell.
There, go and die, yet never know
To what a heav’n you go.

Beach describes a very similar experience to the one you might’ve just had when she was composing her setting of Canticle of the Sun. In her words,

“The text called melodies to my mind. I went out at once under a tree, and the text took possession of me. As if from dictation, I jotted down the notes of my ‘Canticle’.”

I think it’s a stretch to say that every piece composed by Beach had this sort of musical epiphany, but the intentionality of her composition can’t be denied. For her first published work to be a setting of a poem says a lot about the artistry she saw in her compositions. Her songs exude many of the same feelings that poetry does, and I would argue that point as a major reason for her musical success.

Bibliography

Beach, Amy Marcy Cheney. With Violets. Arthur P. Schmidt & Co., Boston, monographic, 1885. Notated Music. Retrieved from the Library of Congress, https://www.loc.gov/item/sm1885.13562/. (Accessed October 22, 2017.)

Brooks, Benjamin. “The ‘How’ of Creative Composition: A Conversation with Mrs. H. H. A. Beach,” Etude, 61, no. 3 (March 1943), 151, 208-9.

Crawford, Richard. America’s Musical Life: A History. New York: W.W. Norton & Company, Inc., 2001

The Melting Pot: Remington’s Chinese Figure Study and American Music

Frederic Remington (1861-1909) was an American painter, sculptor, illustrator, and writer (no relation to the rifle- and typewriter-makers, Eliphalet and Philo Remington). Although he studied for short periods at Yale’s School of Fine Arts as well as at the Art Students League in New York, he was a mostly self-taught artist. After a period traveling through the Dakotas, Montana, the Arizona Territory, and Texas, he had one of his drawings published in Harpers’s Weekly, leading to a long relationship with that publication as well as with The Century Illustrated and Scribner’s Magazine.

Due to Remington’s first-hand experience with the quickly-vanishing frontier, he grew renowned for his visual and textual depictions of cavalry, cowboys, Native Americans, and the American West:

 5042214861_ec9ed5fa5f_z 5169152407_ea99bdf4fc_z 5042171903_3c65c10bbe_z 6329189165_f7370ae467_o6332165260_ed50d9552e_o 6329996698_7396f6a42b_o

Knowing about his affinity for the American West, it might at first seem odd that while painting cowboys and campfires Remington also drew this Chinese figure study:

Screen Shot 2015-04-29 at 10.14.32 AM

I promise you though, this is not odd at all.

As everyone knows, America is a land of immigrants, referred to in past years as the great melting pot (now we opt for the great salad bowl, kaleidoscope, or mosaic). Beginning in the 19th century, immigrants from China came to America, especially to the West, to work as laborers for the transcontinental railroad and the mining industry. These immigrants faced fierce racial discrimination, leading to such laws as the 1882 Chinese Exclusion Act, prohibiting immigration from China for ten years, and the 1892 Geary Act, extending the prohibition for another decade. Thus the presence of Chinese immigrants in the American West would not have been uncommon, and Remington would have found many study subjects as he traveled the frontier.

“That’s interesting, but why is this post in a music history blog?”

By presenting a Chinese figure in various outfits, Remington demonstrates the Americanization of immigrants: on the left is a figure in more traditional clothing, while the figures on the right take on more and more aspects of Western culture, such as replacing the tunic with a baggy shirt and the cap with a Spanish guacho or grandee. So, by including Chinese immigrants in his oeuvre, Remington was portraying other cultures as an important piece of the American pie. In similar ways, composers like Amy Beach, Edward MacDowell, and Antonín Dvořák also sought to include other cultures as members of the American family.

Take the fifth movement of MacDowell’s Indian Suite of 1892, which pulls tunes from the Iroquois tribe:

Or listen to the Largo from Dvořák’s From the New World, which, while not directly copying songs, features original melodies similar to Native American music:

Or sample Amy Beach’s Gaelic Symphony, in which she incorporates traditional Irish-Gaelic melodies, tapping into the rich heritage of a people long part of the American fabric:

Remington and these three composers are just a few of the numerous artists who rather than exoticizing other cultures sought to portray them as an essential part of the American melting pot.


Beach, Amy. Symphony in E-minor, No. 2 “Gaelic.” American Series Vol. 1. Detroit Symphony Orchestra, conducted by Neeme Järvi. Chandos CHAN 8958. Streaming audio. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=VmLU1CfHcJw. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Dvořák, Antonín. Symphony No. 9 “From the New World”, Op. 95. Prague Festival Orchestra, conducted by Pavel Urbanek. LaserLight Digital 15824. Streaming audio. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=2TIFEQLANpw. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Foxley, W. C. “Remington, Frederic.” Grove Art Online. Oxford Art Online. Oxford University Press. http://www.oxfordartonline.com/subscriber/article/grove/art/T071404. Accessed April 29, 2015.

MacDowell, Edward. Suite No. 2 “Indian”, Op. 48. Village Festival. Bohuslav Martinu Philharmonic, conducted by Charles Johnson. Albany Records TROY 224. Streaming audio. YouTube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=efDZ100iJMQ. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. “A Mining Town, Wyoming.” Oil on canvas. Ca. 1898. Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericremington/6329189165/in/set-72157649247951734. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. “Chinese Figure Study.” Ink on paper. Date unknown. Flaten Art Museum Collection. http://embark.stolaf.edu/Obj4142?sid=162&x=83&sort=9. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. “Recent Uprising Among the Bannock Indians — a Hunting Party Fording the Snake River Southwest of the Three Tetons (Mountains).” Wash on paper. Ca. 1895. Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericremington/5042171903/in/set-72157651574818071. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. “The Broncho Buster #275.” Bronze cast. 1895. Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericremington/5169152407/in/set-72157625248734897. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. “The Outlier.” Oil on canvas. 1909. Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericremington/5042214861/in/set-72157649247951734. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. “Then He Grunted and Left the Room.” Wash on paper. 1894. Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericremington/6329996698/in/set-72157651574818071. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Remington, Frederic. Untitled [possibly The Cigarette]. Oil on canvas. Ca. 1908-1909. Frederic Remington Art Museum Collection. https://www.flickr.com/photos/fredericremington/6332165260/in/set-72157649247951734. Accessed April 29, 2015.

Beach’s Variations and the Success of the American Female Composer

Amy Beach (September 5, 1867–December 27, 1944) was an American composer and pianist. She was primarily self-taught in composition and was the first successful female composer of large works as well as the first president of the Society of American WomenComposers. She worked to further the works of young composers and was also known as “Mrs. H. H. A. Beach” at many of her concert piano performances.

This is the cover of a manuscript being held in the Amy Cheney Beach Collection, which is housed in the Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections of the University of Missouri - Kansas City.

This is the cover of a manuscript being held in the Amy Cheney Beach Collection, which is housed in the Dr. Kenneth J. LaBudde Department of Special Collections of the University of Missouri – Kansas City.

Amy Beach’s Variations on Balkan Themes, op. 60 was one of many great works she composed for piano. Based on songs “of unknown origin” collected by Reverend and Mrs. William W. Sleeper during their time living as missionaries in the Balkan region, the variations play upon “O Maiko Moya,” “Stara Planina,” and “Nasadil e Dado,” among other Balkan folk tunes. (Beach did not collect any of the folksongs her works were based on.) The variations employ switches between different themes to make up their complex texture.

The following is a loose translation of the text of “O Maiko Moya,” which is the first theme introduced in the work. Although there is no text to be sung or read with this work (this is a piano work, after all) this is important to the structure of the work and is suggestive of the overall tone of the variations and the cultural background that they were based on.

“O my poor country, to thy sons so dear,

Why art thou weeping, why this sadness drear?

Alas! thou raven, messenger of woe,

Over those fresh grave moanest thou so?”

The different folk songs do not all have to deal with Balkan nationalistic pride, rather, some texts relate to the mountains, or a story of a grandfather planting a small garden. As is the case in any piece written as a theme with variations, the variations gradually move away from the original motivic elements and provide new context for different themes.

In her analysis of Beach’s Variations on Balkan Themes, Dr. Adrienne Fried Block suggested that Beach borrowed from Beethoven’s tonal scheme for his Six Variations, op. 34. Beethoven’s Variations was one of the pieces that Beach regularly performed in her solo piano performances and one of the few variations that she regularly played throughout her career. It makes sense then, that this piece had such an effect on her own music. The Balkan Themes were in minor, which affected the tonal adjustments she made to the piece and prevented her from using Beethoven’s Variations structure exactly as it is (it should be noted that the speculation that Beach borrowed from Beethoven is a part of Dr. Block’s correspondence to a E. Douglas Bomberger).

Overall, Beach’s Variations are lively, yet melancholy in mood. Beach was known to incorporate romanticism and delayed resolution into her work, later on moving away from tonality. It is no surprise that Beach has been declared the first successful American female composer of large-scale music, although I think it would be interesting to explore the published music of other female composers and try to understand where they “fell short” of the success of their male counterparts, causing America to have to wait until the late 1800s for a female composer of Beach’s accomplishment.

 

Beach, Amy. Variations on Balkan Themes, op. 60. Boston: Arthur P. Schmidt, 1906. http://javanese.imslp.info/files/imglnks/usimg/0/0f/IMSLP08550-Beach_-_Op.60__Variations_on_Balkan_Themes.pdf.

Beach, Amy. Variations on Balkan Themes, op. 60. Performed by Virginia Eskin. Composed 1904.

Bomberger, E. Douglas, and Adrienne Fried Block. “On Beach’s Variations on Balkan Themes, op. 60.” American Music 11, no. 3 (1993): 368-71. http://www.jstor.org/stable/3052509.

Amy Beach: musician in spite of her family

Today many listeners of classical music are familiar with the music or at least the name of Amy Beach. A prodigy from a very young age who came to fame through her virtuosic piano performances made her lasting mark in her compositions. Her life was defined by her gender because women, especially those of Beach’s social standing, were not to support themselves. Even though her parents were distinctly aware of Amy’s talents, they stuck with the status quo plan for young women of the time: some formal schooling, lessons in the arts, and marriage.[1]

In her article published in many women’s magazines in the early 1900s she does not fault her family for so obviously holding her back when she had so much to do in music. Rather she saw her mother’s education style as a way to ease the young prodigy into music without becoming overwhelmed. Beach’s article almost exclusively focuses on the relationship between Amy and her mother, as well as her career as a performer and composer.[2]

Beach’s success as a musician almost depends on this sort of frame that women were expected to live in. There is no doubt that Beach could have done amazing things if afforded the right to a fancy musical education that men had available to them. However, her affluent family history and unique life story allowed (or forced) her to stand out among other women. I mention forced because Amy hardly had any choice in her study of music or the path it would take.[3]

Beach had the opportunity to become a self-taught musician after her little formal training because she did not have the duties of a domestic wife like many other women. After her husband’s death in 1910 she was able to take many tours of Europe and make her name even larger.

All of these facts make for a confusing picture of Amy Beach. On one hand we have a woman who is a prisoner in her time where women aren’t allowed to study music at high levels and must submit their wills to their parents and husbands. On the other hand we have Beach as a child prodigy who has led the way for other women composers after her and succeeded because of her circumstances, but could have thrived even more in a more accepting culture.

 

[1] Adrienne Fried Block, Amy Beach: Passionate Victorian, (Oxford:Oxford University Press, 1998), 298.

[2] Judith Tick ed., Music in the USA: A Documentary Companion, (Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008), 323-327.

[3] Walter S. Jenkins, The Remarkable Mrs. Beach, American Composer, (Warren: Harmonie Park Press, 1994), 66-68.