There will be a great treat tonight for classical music lovers attending the Toronto Summer Music Festival – a performance of Amy Beach’s Piano Quintet in F-Sharp Minor, op. 67. Tickets and more information about the concert this evening is available here.
This rarely heard work is a gem from Beach’s oeuvre. Musicologist Jane Troy Johnson says this about the work:
Beach premiered her only Piano Quintet in 1909. Critics found it “truly modern” and “distinctly rhapsodic … in the fashion of our time.” They also politely suggested that the piano sometimes overwhelmed the strings. (She was, after all, showcasing herself!) The equality of the parts indeed is undermined by so much unison string playing against the piano’s Liszt-like figurations and powerful octaves and tremolos, as heard, for example, in the opening and closing of the work. But throughout, thematic material is distributed, rather soloistically, to all players. In the first movement, after the slow introduction, the first violin presents the first, Brahms-tinted theme and the piano the second in sonata form with development and recapitulation. The strings in the second movement, in ternary form, have more independence, both in introducing and sharing the melodic material. After a lengthy, if fast, introduction, the last movement’s first theme is presented by the violin and the second theme, more slowly, by the viola. There is even a brief fugal treatment of the first theme before the return of the Adagio introduction of the first movement. Typical of Beach’s style, all movements have distinct sections and frequent changes in meter, tempos, and keys. The mercurially chromatic harmonies suggest another Lisztian influence.
A scanned copy of the original manuscript is available in the public domain – a treat to see and study! If you aren’t able to attend the performance tonight, why not follow along as you enjoy this recording of this great piece: