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Jephthah’s Daughter Rediscovered in Plain Sight


A world premiere of a work nearly lost to history: New England Philharmonic to premiere an orchestral version of Beach’s concert aria Jephthah’s Daughter at BU’s Tsai Center on Sunday at 3:00. NEP will include the two other world premieres, including Bernard Rands’s Dreams, dedicated to the organization’s Music Director Emeritus, Richard Pittman and a couple of favorites. Music director candidate finalist Adam Kerry Boyles will preside. Complete “Dreams of Love and War” listing below.

Amy Beach has been regaining recognition in recent years. For instance, the many performances of major works like her Symphony in E Minor, op. 32 (“Gaelic”), recently by the Seattle Symphony; and closer to home, by the Eureka Ensemble in 2018, just a few blocks from Beach’s Commonwealth Avenue townhouse. It’s easy to think of these current examples, but important also to acknowledge the decades of work that it has taken to raise Beach’s stature closer to what it was at the time when she lived in Boston. Now all her large works have recordings of some sort, even if only on that resource that has become central to adventurous listening, YouTube.

– OR DO THEY? (ominous chords here)

Having learned from, and having been a part of those decades of work, I did not actually think that a premiere of a major Beach work still needed to take place. But I was wrong. Beach’s concert aria, Jephthah’s Daughter (op. 53) is a case of Lost, Found, and Hidden in Plain Sight.

A French poem attributed to C. L. Mollevaut, apparently struck Beach, and she made her own translation; Sarah Pelletier and NEP will debut that English version Sunday. Beach received no commission for this work ― and at the time, 1903, following her high-profile successes, Beach had many commissions. Possibly Beach was inspired by her friendship with the soprano Marcella Craft, and hoped that the rising star would take up the work (this is suggested both by Beach biographer Adrienne Fried Block and scholar C.E. Aaron). Beach’s publisher Arthur P. Schmidt quickly came out with the piano-voice version, and the music theorist Percy Goetschius praised the aria in 1906, saying it “rises to heights of dramatic fervor” and notes the “remarkable” “firm grasp with which she sustains the passionate mood and holds it subject to the design of the whole.” But his comments, and also those of several of Beach’s friends might result from study or performance of the piano-vocal score. An orchestral performance is something that is hard to hide under a bushel, and there is no mention of any performance of the full version.

When Beach travelled to Europe in 1911 (following the death of her husband) she may have still had Craft in mind for Jephthah’s Daughter, as she brought the score with her – and started her trip with Craft in Munich; Craft had had a great triumph the previous year as Salome, under Strauss’ direction. But it was not to pass. Beach achieved great success in Europe (especially in Germany), but upon leaving in 1914 as war became imminent, she asked some friends to carry back a few of her scores, among them Jephthah’s Daughter. The trunk it was packed in was seized by German soldiers at the border, and so it was believed to be lost.

Miraculously, the missing trunk was located in 1928 and Beach was able to recover it the following year when she returned to Europe. But by then, the time for Jephthah’s Daughter to draw interest had passed, and Beach focused on writing new works. Jephthah’s Daughter was included in Beach’s works lists and in references about her, but it apparently never received a hearing in her lifetime. Beach was a prolific composer, and this work simply slid into a stack of her past achievements.

The modern resurgence of Beach’s music that emerged in the late 20th-century led to the one known performance of the piano-vocal version in 1995. It was part of an all-Beach concert organized by Richard Conrad’s Boston Academy of Music [a title appropriated from Lowell Mason’s 19th century namesake], with Ellen Chickering, soprano, and Virginia Eskin (that tireless advocate for Beach and so many other deserving women composers), at the piano. The condescending review the Boston Globe provided might easily be construed as part of larger conspiracy to keep Beach from being taken seriously.

Because ― here is a work that demands to be taken completely seriously, with an expansive structure and powerful architecture. Trying to contextualize it makes me wonder if Beach might have known Die Walkürie, not the bits that were so frequently excerpted, but rather Brünnhilde confronting ― and experiencing compassion for – her father; the profound remorse of a daughter being sacrificed, and yet still feeling love for that flawed father who sacrifices her.

The organization Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy (I serve as President) started the project of editing Beach’s music with the thought of making a new edition of Beach’s Symphony (“Gaelic”) available in time for 150th anniversary of her birth in 2017. Together with our Director of Publications, Chris A. Trotman, we wanted to offer quality engraved editions that would encourage more performances of Beach’s music. The project has moved through a large range of Beach’s music, which is still ongoing. We are happy to have had a role in a number of important performances (including the recent performance by the Seattle Symphony). With the concert being offered by the New England Philharmonic on Dec. 5th, we are especially thrilled by this world premiere of a work that has been known about, but not previously ever heard in its full orchestral version.

Dreams of Love and War

  • 3:00 PM 4:30 PM
  • Boston University Tsai Performance Center (map)

Conducted by music director finalist Adam Kerry Boyles (at right)

Michael Gandolfi Stepping Up Fanfare in Honor of Richard Pittman
World Premiere
Bernard Rands DREAM
Boston Premiere
Amy Beach Jephthah’s Daughter
Sarah Pelletier, soprano
Camille Saint-Saëns Introduction and Rondo Capriccioso in A minor
Ella J. Kim, violin, 2021 Young Artist Winner
Maurice Ravel Daphnis et Chloé, Suite 2

Liane Curtis lived happily in Somerville, MA for many decades, but with the pandemic,  returned to her ancestral home in northern California.



7 Comments [leave a civil comment (others will be removed) and please disclose relevant affiliations]

  1. I mentioned those two very helpful people, Adrienne Fried Block (Beach’s biographer) and Virginia Eskin (whose musicianship and perseverance has done so much), but wanted to say a little more about C.E. Aaron, whose scholarship I draw from extensively here. C.E. Aaron’s honor’s project “A Story of Feminine Sacrifice: The Music, Text, and Biographical Connections in Amy Beach’s Concert Aria Jephthah’s Daughter” is available here It is so amazing and helpful to be able to access these wonderful resources so easily. Also C.E. Aaron wrote a Preface for our edition of _Jephthah’s Daughter_ available here
    which we really appreciate it.

    I am missing Boston very much, and if I were there, this concert is where I would be this weekend!!

    Comment by Liane Curtis — December 2, 2021 at 6:31 pm

  2. I do enjoy Beach’s music, but if we are to treat and listen to Wagner with a “disclaimer” of sorts in regard to his views, we ought to do the same with Amy Beach. The fact of the matter is Amy Beach retained racist views. Of course, her views were not unpopular in her times, but we can and should hold her to the same standard that we hold Wagner, Karajan and others.

    Comment by Lee — December 3, 2021 at 11:20 am

  3. I was excited to see Liane’s article here, and to learn of the rediscovery and planned performance of Amy Beach’s concert aria. I’m sorry not to be in Boston at this time, not only to hear that piece, but also the works of Gandolfi and Rands in honor of Richard Pittman’s years–nay, decades!–of service in Boston and the surrounding area, to music old and new. Best wishes to all concerned.

    Comment by Steve Ledbetter — December 4, 2021 at 11:33 am

  4. Lee — I’d be interested to know what you perceive as Beach’s views on racism and how her retention of those views was manifested. I compare her musically to Wagner (Tchaikovsky also came to mind), and certainly this concert aria suggests that she could have produced remarkable work in opera, had she received any encouragement to do so. Of course Wagner did not simply retain racist views, but rather actively and prolifically promoted them in his voluminous writings. If we are holding her to the same standard as Wagner — with regards to musical output — then a broad range of her works ought to be the subject of multiple prominent festivals; performed, streamed, recorded and broadcast widely and regularly by the most prestigious companies in the world ….

    Comment by Liane Curtis — December 5, 2021 at 3:34 am

  5. I am taken aback to read that Beach needs trigger warnings……………as Liane outlines, if she is so Wagnerian, where are the concerts, recordings by major artists, festivals? in fact there are none. The record of her being antisemitic or racist as Lee says- based on what evidence? Jenkins’ lovingly written book, he was an intimate, and Fried Blocks tome, never mention any of these issues- so in today’s political world, poor Beach is suddenly attacked. When Barenboim forced Wagner on Israeli audiences, that was appalling- if you want to criticize Beach, go after her dark harmonies, Gaelic themes, inability to move with atonality, just remember she was a country girl from the sticks who made it big- from age 13 onwards!

    Comment by virginia eskin — December 7, 2021 at 4:29 pm

  6. In “The Karl Muck Scandal: Classical Music and Xenophobia in World War I America” Melissa D. Burrage writes: “Wealthy member of The Daughters of the American Revolution, and a woman with prejudices against Jews, Beach was typical of many upper-class Boston Brahmins who idolised German culture and harboured anti-semitic feelings towards eastern Europeans. (Page 189.).

    Perhaps Dr.Burrage could be made aware of this discussion so that she could elaborate.

    Comment by Jonathan Brodie — December 7, 2021 at 9:32 pm

  7. It is best to treat music as period pieces and discuss the period piece separately. Consider Amy Beach as composer and Amy Beach as person separately. But I am unhappy to see “Woketude” invading music now; it bids well to destroy Art and Culture itself; why we could see in the future exhibits of something like Degenerate Unwoke Art. When you hear Vittoria and other Spanish composers of the 16th century–do you think of the Inquisition? If you are not Catholic does Pope St. Pius V’s ordering Queen Elizabeth I of England deposed in the Papal Bull “Regnans in Excelsis” affect how you treat and view Catholic church music? (The Vatican DID do a formal treaty with Britain in 1766 agreeing to recognize the Hanoverian Succession to settle the matter.) I may have heard some Amy Beach 50-odd years ago but am unfamiliar with what she would sound like; sorry I missed this concert to find out. Yes, I knew of Karl Muck a long time ago. More recently a friend explained to me how Boston was basically in thrall to French musical culture; much more so than more mid-western cities where music was basically German-Slavic. So, I should go look up on-line now that I have sound for some Amy Beach to see what she sounds like.

    Comment by Nathan Redshield — December 11, 2021 at 5:31 pm

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