Ride of the Valkyries, from Act III of Die Walküre

    Walkürenritt or Ride of the Valkyries serves as the opening to Act III of Die Walküre, the second opera in Richard Wagner's epic cycle, Der Ring des Nibelungen. At the beginning of Act III we find the Valkyries converging on a rocky mountain top on their flying horses. The music evokes the image of these valiant goddesses in flight around the mountain. It is the Valkyries task to visit recent battlefields and gather up fallen heroes to be taken to Valhalla.

    Prior to the first performance of the Ring cycle, Wagner was opposed to concert performances of Ride of the Valkyries and was furious when it was published as such. Once the Ring was given at Bayreuth in 1876, he no longer objected to it's separate performance.

    At the conclusion to Act III of Die Walküre Brünnhilde has defied her father, the High God Wotan. He must now punish his Valkyrie daughter by removing her powers as a Goddess. Adding to her punishment he places her in a deep sleep on a rocky mountain top and decrees that she will be doomed to marry any man who wakes her. Feeling compassion for Brünnhilde and so that she won't be taken by a coward, Wotan commands Loge the fire God to ignite a ring of magic fire around her and declares that only "one who does not fear my spear" may pass through the fire. Years later she will be raised from her sleep by the yet-unborn Siegfried.

Hear the above piece on the Sosnowski SSynth

    Amy Marcy Cheney was born in 1867 in Henniker, New Hampshire. She was a child prodigy who began composing at age four and was giving public recitals when she was six. Her Mother, a proper Victorian woman with a strong Calvinist background, was reluctant to allow her to pursue music as a vocation but as she came to realize the extent of Amy's gift, saw to her musical upbringing as best she could.

    Amy's mother, a respectable pianist, taught her until she was eight, at which time her parents sought the services of a professional piano teacher. No expense was spared and the best piano teachers in Boston were consulted. Upon hearing Amy play, every one of them recommended she be enrolled in a German conservatory. Amy's parents were strongly opposed to study abroad and instead hired German born and trained Ernst Perabo as her piano teacher. She would also study with Carl Baermann and studied harmony for a year with Junius W. Hill.

    At sixteen, she made her professional debut in Boston performing Moscheles’s G minor Concerto with the Theodore Thomas Orchestra receiving rave reviews. A few weeks later she debuted with the Boston Symphony Orchestra playing Chopin's F minor Concerto, about which critics said her playing was perfect.

    Soon after the debut, Amy's desire to study composition led her to seek the advise of Wilhelm Gericke, conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. He scoffed at the idea of a woman composing serious music and merely suggested she study the works of the masters. Undaunted by Gericke's indifference, Amy began a passionate regimen of self study that continued for years.

    She was married at age eighteen to Dr. Henry Harris Aubrey Beach, a surgeon, lecturer, Boston society figure and amateur musician. Society figure would be an understatement since Dr. Beach's circle included the likes of Henry Wadsworth Longfellow and Oliver Wendell Holmes. In deference to her husband's wishes and in keeping with the practice of the time, she assumed the professional name of Mrs. H.H.A. Beach.  Dr. Beach, 24 years her senior, also requested Amy limit her public appearances to one per year and concentrate her efforts on composition. She reluctantly agreed even though she loved to perform. Though Dr. Beach's conduct might seem harsh, he was in fact, her strongest supporter. He would inquire daily about what she had written and insist on hearing it or singing it. And it was he who encouraged her to try her hand at larger pieces. Free from the rigors of concert life, she had plenty of time to devote to composition and was able to amass a formidable collection of scores and books on music theory, which she poured over daily. It could be argued that posterity benefited from this arrangement.

    Up until 1892 Amy's notoriety centered on her pianistic abilities. In that year she composed a large scale Mass in E Flat for solo voices, choir, orchestra and organ (one is left to wonder what her Calvinist Mother thought of her writing a latin Mass). The successful performance of this work by the Handel and Haydn Society, brought her compositional skills to the forefront and established her reputation as a first rate composer not only with the public but among her male colleagues. In the following decade Amy would write two other large works, the Gaelic Symphony and her Piano Concerto in C sharp minor.

    In 1892 Dvorak came to the US to direct the National Conservatory of Music in New York. While serving in that position he advised American composers to incorporate African American and Native American music in their compositions in order to achieve a cultural identity. After all, European composers had been using indigenous folk music in their compositions for some time. Though Dvorak was highly respected, many American composers disagreed with this seeing no need to establish a national cultural identity. Amy Beach agreed with Dvorak in principle but stated that in the North Eastern US with much of it's population descended from the British Isles, Gaelic music was a much stronger influence.

    In 1894 Amy began work on the Gaelic Symphony in E minor and by 1896, the symphony was finished. In it, she used authentic Irish folk tunes. It was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra on October 30, 1896. The reviews were enthusiastic and the symphony was given four times, twice in Boston then Brooklyn and New York. George W. Chadwick, a prominent Boston composer, commented to her she was now "one of the boys". In the following years, the Gaelic was performed in Chicago, Philadelphia, Detroit, Berlin, Hamburg and Leipzig. It was published in 1898 by Arthur P. Schmidt and is dedicated to Emil Paur, then director and conductor of the Boston Symphony Orchestra.

    When Dr. Beach died in 1910, Amy set out for Europe. At last she was able to pursue a career as a concert pianist. She made an extensive three year concert tour performing and promoting her compositions, most notably the Gaelic Symphony and her Piano Concerto. Throughout this tour, she billed herself as "Amy Beach" and received generally enthusiastic reviews. In 1914 when war appeared imminent, she returned to the US and continued to tour and compose at home. After WW I she returned to Europe several times and finally settled in the MacDowell Colony in New Hampshire. In 1925 she helped found the Society of American Women Composers and served as its first President. Amy Beach died in 1944 in New York City.

    Denied the opportunity of a formal music education and isolated from then current musical trends, Amy Beach defiantly persevered and became a concert pianist and the first American woman to write a symphony. Amy Beach is now recognized as a principal in the group of American composers known by musicologists as the Second New England School sometimes called the Boston Six. Others included in that group are George W. Chadwick, Arthur Foote, Edward MacDowell, John Knowles Paine and Horatio Parker. Though their music was clearly Romantic and strongly influenced by the German tradition, their achievements would have an invaluable impact on the next generation of American composers.

    Louis Moreau Gottschalk was born in 1829 in New Orleans, Louisiana of an English businessman and a white Creole Mother. Gottschalk was known as the "Chopin of the Creoles" and demonstrated exceptional musical ability at an early age. As a child he frequently performed in the salons of the New Orleans wealthy.

    Realizing he needed a proper music education he set out for Europe at the age of thirteen. His hopes were dashed when he was rejected by the Paris Conservatoire on the grounds he was American. He turned to private instruction studying piano and composition with, among others, Chopin and Berlioz. Ultimately, he was able to build a reputation as a first rate virtuoso as he toured Europe. Chopin commented that Gottschalk would become one of the foremost pianists of the century.

    Gottschalk's output consisted largely of short piano pieces though he did write some operas, now lost. He had no interest in sonatas, concertos or the other higher forms of his European colleagues. He was a crowd pleaser and his piano pieces reflect that; engaging melodies and spicey rhythms conveyed by brilliant piano technique. Many of these gems are difficult and demanding for a pianist. Additionally, they are snapshots in time capturing the musical pulse of the 19th century Americas while occasionally mimicking the likes of Chopin and Liszt.

    In 1869 he succumbed to malaria while giving a concert in Rio de Janeiro, collapsing as he sat down to play his celebrated concert etude, Tremolo. He died two weeks later. Sadly, many of his scores have been lost, including two operas. Just after his passing, custody of his entire musical legacy, which was bound into 23 volumes, became the subject of a heated legal dispute. The music was last known to be in possesion of a Brazilian music publisher but has since vanished.

    Throughout the late 19th and early 20th centuries American composers were seeking a national identity and many consider Aaron Copeland to be the first American composer to achieve that. In truth, it is Gottschalk that deserves the credit. Gottschalk's music is heavily influenced by the Creole and slave tunes he heard growing up as well as other American folk tunes. Later his music was heavily influenced by the latin rhythms of the Caribbean and South America where he toured extensively. He combined all of these elements into a unique and original American style that is unlike any European model of the time.

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