Composers Datebook

Beach at the opera

Amy Beach (1867 – 1944) Cabildo ensemble; Ransom Wilson Delos 3170


Composer's Datebook - May 13, 2021

2:00


May 13, 2021

Synopsis

On today’s date in 1995, an opera by the American composer Amy Beach received its first professional production at Lincoln Center in New York City–63 years after Beach completed it–in the summer of 1932.

Beach was 65 years old in 1932 and for years had wanted to write an opera on an American theme. She settled on a play written by Nan Bagby Stephens, a writer from Atlanta. Their operatic collaboration was entitled “Cabildo,” after the famous prison in New Orleans where the pirate Pierre Lafitte was imprisoned during the War of 1812. Stephens even supplied Beach with authentic Creole songs and dances to incorporate in her score.

Beach had a concise one-act opera finished by August of 1932, but it was never staged during her lifetime. Both the Depression and the outbreak of World War II postponed various attempts at a staging. Sadly, when an opera workshop at the University of Georgia finally got around to an amateur production in 1945, Beach had already died.

The manuscript of the opera remained unpublished for decades, but with the passage of time, interest in Amy Beach led to the Lincoln Center performance in 1995, conducted by Ransom Wilson.

Music Played in Today's Program

Amy Beach (1867 – 1944) Cabildo ensemble; Ransom Wilson Delos 3170

On This Day

Births

  • 1842 - English composer Sir Arthur Sullivan, in Lambeth (London);

  • 1913 - American organist and record retailer, William Schwann, in Salem Ill.; In 1949 he began publication of the Schwann Record Catalog, a guide to phonograph records in print;

Premieres

  • 1833 - Mendelssohn: Symphony No. 4 ("Italian"), in London, by the Philharmonic Society, with the composer conducting;

  • 1877 - Franck: "Les Eolides," in Paris at a Lamoureux Concert;

  • 1949 - Panufnik: "Sinfonia Rustica," in Warsaw;

  • 1987 - Harbison: Symphony No. 2, by the San Francisco Symphony, Herbert Blomstedt conducting;

  • 1993 - Ellen Taaffe Zwilich: Bassoon Concerto, by the Pittsburgh Symphony conducted by Lorin Maazel, with Nancy Goeres the soloist;

  • 1995 - first professional production of Any Beach: opera "Cabildo," at Alice Tully Hall in New York City as a "Great Performances" telecast conducted by Ransom Wilson; The world premiere performance was given on Feb. 27, 1945 (two months after Beach's death), by the Opera Workshop at the University of Georgia in Athens, directed by Hugh Hodgson;

  • 2001 - Harbison: "North and South (Elizabeth Bishop Cycle)," by the Chicago Chamber Musicians;

Others

  • 1862 - First concert by the Theodore Thomas Orchestra in New York City; His program includes the American premieres of Wagner's "Flying Dutchman" Overture and Liszt's arrangement for piano and orchestra of Schubert's "Wanderer Fantasy."

  • 1875 - American premiere of J.S. Bach's "Magnificat," during the May Festival in Cincinnati, conducted by Theodore Thomas; The Cincinnati Commercial review of May 14 was not favorable: "The work is difficult in the extreme and most of the chorus abounds with rambling sub-divisions. We considering the ‘Magnifcat' the weakest thing the chorus has undertaken . . . possessing no dramatic character and incapable of conveying the magnitude of the labor that has been expended upon its inconsequential intricacies. If mediocrity is a mistake, the ‘Magnifcat' is the one error of the Festival"; Thomas also conducted the next documented performance in Boston on Mar. 1, 1876 (for which composer John Knowles Paine performed as organ accompanist to a chorus of 300).