Amy Beach: Grand Mass In E Flat Major

Mrs. H.H.A. Beach

Mrs. H.H.A. Beach (1867-1944) was a famous, influential and admired composer during the early part of this century. A pioneer on many fronts, she was the first American woman to compose a symphony, the Gaelic Symphony, premiered in 1896 by the Boston Symphony Orchestra. While on tour in Europe in 1914, she was hailed by one critic in Berlin as "the leading American composer." As more of her prodigious output is made available through recordings, people are becoming aware of her significance as a composer of works of great scope and beauty.

Born Amy Cheney in Henniker, New Hampshire, she demonstrated prodigious musical ability early on, singing tunes accurately at the age of one, improvising alto lines to her mother's soprano at two and teaching herself to read at three. By the age of four she mentally composed her first piano pieces and could play hymns by ear in four-part harmony. The family moved first to Chelsea, Massachusetts, then Boston where she attended private school and studied piano with Ernest Perabo and Carl Baermann. It was never considered that she study at the all-male Harvard University; instead she received only one year of formal training in harmony and composition with Junius Hill in the winter of 1881-82. From then on she taught herself by translating from French the treatises on harmony and counterpoint written by Berlioz and Gevaert. For twelve years she studied works of great composers on her own, including the practice of writing Bach fugues from memory, then comparing them with the original.

At sixteen she made a highly successful debut as a pianist in Boston and in 1884, at age seventeen, she played Chopin's Concerto in F Minor with the Boston Symphony. One critic observed: "Thoroughly artistic...[a] beautiful and brilliant performance...with a totality of conception that one seldom finds in players of her sex." Her concert career was interrupted by her marriage in 1885 to Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach, a prominent Boston surgeon twenty-four years her senior. A knowledgeable musician himself, he did not want his wife to play the piano for money, but encouraged her work in composition. For many years she held weekly musical soirees at their Commonwealth Avenue home, during which she encouraged other composers and performers. The Boston Classicists Arthur Foote, George Chadwick and Horatio Parker welcomed her as "one of the boys."

In 1886 Beach turned to composing large-scale works and began her Mass in E Flat. Its premiere in Boston on February 7, 1892 by the Handel and Haydn Society marked the first performance by America's oldest and most conservative choral group of a work composed by a woman. This productive period in her youthful life also gave us the Gaelic Symphony and the extremely virtuosic Piano Concerto in C Sharp Minor.

After the death of her husband in 1910 she resumed her concert career with performances throughout Europe and America, often playing her own composi­tions. The audiences of her time loved her music, as do those who are acquainted with it today. She lived a long, healthy, productive life, and left an enormous body of work that displays originality and charm. Her output includes numerous chamber works for strings and winds, orchestral works, and, of course, music for her own special love, the piano and the voice, whether individual or in groups.

The Grand Mass reflects the late Romantic period in the breadth of its conception, its exploration of unexpected harmonic relationships, chromatic side-trips, long arching melodies, and dynamic diversity. Especially amazing is Beach's mastery of orchestral color made available through the large orchestra required (four horns, three trombones, harp, organ, English horn, in addition to conventional forces of winds and strings.) Her childhood method of hearing different keys as different colors is clearly evident in her frequent and unusual modulations into unexpected keys that work so well to highlight the text or spirit of the piece.

The Mass opens with a simple, unaccompanied melody which reappears in the orchestral transition to the closing Dona Nobis Pacem, as the piece ends as it begins, simply and reverently. The Kyrie gathers energy with the entrance of the soloist, and the chorus takes several of its interesting chromatic ventures. The mood of quiet is reestablished in the almost static and hushed Christe Eleison before the return of the opening Kyrie.

The opening fanfare of the Gloria sets the stage for this big, energetic movement in which exultant cries of "Gloria!" alternate with lilting passages "in excelsis." Et in terra pax is a lovely waltz, followed by an orchestral build-up to the hearty restatement of the opening material.

In complete contrast, the solo trio alternates with harp and introduces the first of the four extended, exquisite solos for each of the solo voices. The beauty of the alto's "Gratias agimus" is, as in all cases, greatly enhanced by superb coloration of the accompanying instruments.

Rich, darker regions are entered in the Qui Tollis, introduced by English horn and featuring a soaring tenor solo and solo quartet. The full chorus picks up the theme in unison, albeit at an introspective pianissimo level, and the movement ends as it began in E-flat minor.

Quoniam tu solus, marked "allegro con vigore," resumes in E-flat major and is an athletic marche militaire in the form of a strict four-part fugue. Both chorus and orchestra (and audience) are off in an extravaganza of energy that finally comes together in solid unison in the final five bars.

One of the highlights of the work is the Graduak: Benedicta es tu for tenor solo. Although a part of the mass liturgically, this text is not usually incorporated in musical settings of the mass. In many ways this one movement reveals in miniature many of Beach's compositional strengths — beautiful melody, superb writing for solo instruments, contrasts of mood and direct expression of emotion. This movement alone converts any skeptic.

The Credo, so often squarely set, is here an unapologetic, joyful waltz featuring the soprano solo in dialogue with the chorus. The mood is abruptly interrupted by the chorus' cries of "homines," as they prepare forthe "descendit de coelis." The core of this amazing movement is the soprano solo "Et in caraatus" in gentle 12/8 meter, accompanied only by organ. After the touching "et sepultus est," the orchestra, back in a driving 3/4, rouses the chorus to its affirmative "Et resurrexit" - but in C-minor and through descending sequences. Nevertheless, the mood is clearly exultant and assured.

Once again the English horn establishes a mood of spiritual depth and sensitivity for the Sanctus, sung a cappella by the quartet. The chorus and orchestra respond with a rousing "Hosanna."

The Benedictus, once again in 3/4 and this time in C-major, is reserved for the bass solo. After the lyrical ascending lines, he finally settles on a single note as the movement thins, and the chorus answers as from a great distance.

The most intense movement, Agnus Dei, begins with celli and two free harp cadenzas. It moves from soprano solo to a duet, a quartet, and finally, the full orchestra and chorus in a unison (C-minor) statement of the text. When it can build no further, the celli restart the movement (shades of the final movement of Beethoven's Ninth Symphony?), the orchestra reintroduces the opening motive from the Kyrie as well as the figure for the final chorus. In one of the most effective passages, the sun emerges as the music moves seamlessly from 3/4 to 4/4 and the chorus introduces the prayer for peace, as gently and inexorably as a flower unfolding. The work ends as it began, in quiet reverence.

This historic recording is of the first Boston performance of this significant work in more than a century. The Boston Globe critic in attendance said of the work: "Grand it is indeed - it seems to breathe the same air as Liszt, Wagner and Bruckner. It is not little in technique, either. This is a composer who knows what there is to be known about structure, narrative and melody; it sounds alive, rather than just willed. It surely cannot have sounded conservative in its day. Is it music for our day as well? The Stow Festival Chorus and Orchestra under Barbara Jones convinced this listener that it is."

Barbara Jones, director

Director Barbara Jones' first choral experience was as a freshman in college, where she encountered Bach's B Minor Mass. Thus began a life-long love of the choral experience and literature. A graduate of Wells College and Brown University, she has directed the Stow Festival Chorus since 1979 and together with pianist Ernest Goldman, has established the Sounds of Stow. This organization provides the community with three concerts a year, presenting large choral works with orchestra as well as chamber and solo selections. The unauditioned chorus draws its membership from many surrounding communities. The orchestra members from the greater Boston area who perform with the chorus are assembled by Doris and Ernest Goldman.

Margot Law, soprano

Margot Law, a long time member of the Stow Festival Chorus, has been a featured soloist in performances ranging from sacred music to opera to jazz. She received her Bachelor of Music degree as a flutist from the Crane Conservatory at the State University of New York (SUNY) at Potsdam. She began studying voice in 1989 with Robert Gartside of Boston University and since then has made many solo appear­ances in New England. Her most recent performances include the role of Pamina in The Magic Flute, and a recital tour of American sacred music performed in the French province of Brittany. She is the featured singer with the Phil Argryris Jazz Quartet iwth whom she has performed both in Europe and New England.

Martha Remington, mezzo-soprano

A native of upstate New York, Martha Remington is an alumna of The Crane School of Music, Potsdam College, where she studied voice with C. Robert Reinert. Currently a Data Processing Consultant in Greater Boston, she formerly pursued an active career as a free-lance concert singer in Metropolitan New York, making her solo debut in the ever-popular Mozart Festival Midsummer Serenades at Lincoln Center with John Nelson, conductor.

Ray G. Bauwens, tenor

Ray Bauwens has performed as a soloist throughout the New England area with numerous orchestras and choral groups including the New Bedford Symphony and the Bach Society of Worcester. His operatic performances have included roles in Puccini's Madama Butterfly, Amahl and the Night Visitors, and Don Jose in Bizet's Carmen. A frequent recitalist, Mr. Bauwens has offered performances of compositions from Handel to Ross Lee Finney. He studies voice with Mark Pearson of Boston and is currently the choirmaster at the First Congregational Unitarian Church of Harvard, Massachusetts, and previously held the position of Musical Director of Harvard Pro Musica.

Joel Schneider, baritone

Originally from New Jersey, Joel Schneider has been living and singing in Massachusetts for twelve years. His singing experience ranges from traditional community choruses to early music groups and small jazz ensembles. He has studied voice with Robert Gartside of Boston University. This performance marks Mr. Schneider's recording debut as a soloist.



Ann Allison • Juliana Anderson • Charlotte Evans • Racquel Gavel • Diana Harotian • M. Irvil Kear • Elizabeth Moretti • Odette Newsome • Hannah Pemberton • Linda Proulx • Mary Rubel • Dorcas Sefton • Ginny Siggia • Dorothy Sonnichsen • Heidi Strickland • Susan Willard


Gail Babb • Janna Bruene • Marjorie Clark • Miriam DiGirolamo • Deanne Glorioso • Ginny Huettner • Ruth Lull • June McKnight • Elizabeth Moseley • Evadne Moy Pat Mucci • Mary Redford • Martha Remington • Marcia Rising • Margaret Shapiro • Barbara Spencer • Sylvia Stocker


Donate Bracco • Rosario Caltabiano • Robert Glorioso • Donnalisa Johnson • Keith Myles • Mark Warkentin


Will Anderson • Thomas Babb* Peter Beltron* Donald Brown* Brian Donley* Steve Hanna Gordon Johnson • Theodore Johnson • Philip Moseley • Neal Ogle • lan Palmer • David Rubel • Robert Schoen • Dwight Sipler • George Turtle

Notes by Leslie Holmes and Barbara Jones • Cover design by Sheila Foley • Recorded by Brad Michels/Qarion Productions at the Cathedral Church of Saint Paul, 138 Tremont Street, Boston, Massachusetts on January 22,1995. Final edits and master by Scott Glorioso, Alias Studios • Rehersal Pianist - Ernest Goldman • Funded in part by the Massachusetts Cultural Council as administered by the Stow Cultural Council, and the Cultural Councils of Acton-Boxborough, Bolton, Hudson, Maynard and the National Endowment for the Arts.« Special thanks to the New England Conservatory Library for providing conductor's and orchestral scores.


Violin I

Alan Whitney, concertmaster

Edith Epstein

Marilyn Malpass

Lucy Parker

Alison Sparks

Chuck Woods

Violin II

Doris Goldman

Hans Hoch

Amy Seligson

Sue Stone

Deter Straub


Nancy Garty

Anne Dixon

Betty Harris

Sarah Redfield


Frederick Miller

Bob Blais

Ilene Guttmacher

Joan Mechlin

Heath Marlow


Karen Brim

Charles McCauley


Marsha Westerberg

Jennifer Chiapella


Veronica Kenney

Barbara Shinn-Cunningham

English Horn

Barbara Shinn-Cunningham


Grant Anderson

Dianne Mahany


Robin Hillyard

John Oliver

French Horn

Lydia Busier

Iris Tremelling

Joeth Barlas

Susan Thornbury


Tom Taylor

Jim Wallace


Ian MacFarlane

Peter Norton

John O'Toole


Whitney Granger


Maria Staniszewska


Michael Dugas