Author: Lyons, Megan E.
Title: Unsung: A Corpus Study on the Art Songs of Amy Beach
Institution: University of Connecticut
Begun: August 2018
Completed: May 2022
Amy Beach (1867–1944) was the first female American composer to rise to critical acclaim, mainly on the basis of her symphonic works which were premiered by prominent orchestras of her time. Significantly, while Beach tended to alternate working on large-scale symphonic works and smaller chamber works, she consistently composed art songs throughout all stages of her more than five-decade compositional career. In total, she composed more than 122 art songs, setting texts by a broad range of male and female writers.
The primary aim of this dissertation is to highlight and analyze the oft-neglected art songs of Amy Beach. This dissertation is organized into 5 chapters: 1. Introduction and Historical Context; 2. The Corpus Conundrum: Defining Amy Beach’s Art-Song Corpus; 3. Transcendence as Musical Process; 4. Musical Intimacy in the Songs of Amy Beach; and 5. Concluding Corpus Results. The Introduction and Historical Context of Chapter 1 addresses the deficiency of research dedicated to Amy Beach’s art songs and interrogate the controversial labels of Beach as feminist and racist.
Sorting out the Corpus Conundrum provides the basis for the second chapter and is followed by the transcription and analysis of two unpublished songs, “April Dreams” and “The Deep-Sea Pearl,” which provide insight into the forgotten songs of Beach. Transcendence as musical process is proposed as a common musical tool employed by Beach throughout her song corpus in Chapter 3. The fourth chapter on musical intimacy proposes that “art song” may not be the most appropriate label when referring to Beach’s songs. Rather, this chapter proposes that Beach’s songs exist on a genre spectrum ranging from simple parlor songs playable by amateur musicians to highly complex art songs likely intended for professional performers. Chapter 5 deploys corpus analysis methodology to interpret the statistics of the song corpus.
As a 19th-century American female composer, Amy Beach’s work is marginalized within the traditional canon. Judged on the basis of its quantity, quality, and range, her music deserves the same attention as her illustrious contemporaries — including Dvořák and Brahms — and the principal 19th-century composers of art song.
Keywords: Amy Beach, art song, American composer, corpus study, text-music relationship, archival research
1. Introduction and Historical Context
2. The Corpus Conundrum: Defining Amy Beach's Art Song Corpus
3. Transcendence as Musical Process
4. Musical Intimacy in the Songs of Amy Beach
5. Concluding Corpus Results