Photograph of Amy Beach from the collections of the Music Division of the Library of Congress.

A post by CSC singer Susan Schnurr

Our final concert of the season includes the rarely performed The Canticle of the Sun by Amy Beach (1867-1944). This canticle, or song of praise, is based on text penned by St. Francis of Assisi. That text, known as “Canticle of the Creatures,” was written in an Umbrian dialect of Italian, and has since been translated into many languages. It is believed to be among the first works of literature, if not the first, written in the Italian language.

The canticle gives thanks to all of nature’s elements in turn: the heavenly bodies, air, water, and fire, even referring to them as brothers and sisters. According to tradition, the first time it was sung in its entirety was by Francis and Brothers Angelo and Leo, two of his original companions, on Francis’ deathbed, the final verse praising “Sister Death” having been added only a few minutes before.

This setting is written for men’s and women’s chorus with soprano, mezzo soprano, tenor, and bass soloists, as well as orchestra accompaniment that are interwoven in a symphonic style in this twenty-two-minute cantata. While rooted in the Romantic tonal tradition, this twentieth-century work marks a new direction in Beach’s style, with expressionistic treatment of melody and harmony. Premiered in 1928 with organ and in 1930 with orchestra, the Canticle had an immediate success with audiences.

Amy Beach was an American composer and pianist and thought to be the first successful American female composer of large-scale “art music”. She was one of the first American composers to succeed without the benefit of European training, and one of the most respected and acclaimed American composers of her era.

From a young age, Amy showed every sign of being a child prodigy. She was able to sing forty songs accurately by age one, she was capable of improvising counter-melody by age two, and she taught herself to read at age three. At four, she composed three waltzes for piano during one summer at her grandfather’s farm in New Hampshire, despite the absence of a piano; instead, she composed the pieces mentally and played them when she returned home. She could also play music by ear, including four-part hymns. As a pianist, she was acclaimed for concerts she gave featuring her own music in the United States and in Germany.

The Concert Singers of Cary
Cary Arts Center
101 Dry Avenue
Cary, NC 27511


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