AMY MARCY CHENEY, a musical prodigy originally from Henniker, debuted as a professional pianist in Boston in 1883, when she was 16 years old. After a busy two-year concert schedule, she married a prominent Boston surgeon who was 24 years her senior, Dr. H.H.A. (Henry Harris Aubrey) Beach. Dr. Beach practiced surgery at Massachusetts General Hospital and served on the faculty of Harvard Medical School. He was also a writer and editor on medical topics, and an amateur poet. Dr. Beach’s first wife, Alice Mandell Beach, had died in 1880 at the age of 32. They had no children.
It is likely that Amy Cheney and Dr. Beach had become acquainted through their association with the elite social circles of the Boston classical music world. Dr. Beach was a lifelong music lover and had sung in choirs as a boy and as a young adult. Over the years he had developed many friendships with people who shared his interest, and was a devoted member of musical clubs and societies in Boston.
The Beaches enjoyed a happy marriage. They chose not to raise a family, so Amy was free to dedicate her life to music. She gained success as a pianist, though she was limited through an agreement with her husband to perform only occasional concerts in Boston. But he did encourage her to compose, and through her genius and hard work she became a celebrated composer of classical and sacred music, and popular song. Amy dedicated several of her works to Dr. Beach, and also set seven short poems he had written to music, including “Empress of Night,” “Autumn Song,” and “Forget-me-not.”
The Beaches enjoyed a pleasant life together in Boston, and at their summer home “The Pines” in Centerville (Barnstable) on Cape Cod. But in April, 1910, Dr. Beach was badly hurt in a fall. Up to that time he had been in good health, but the accident left him with internal injuries. His doctors instructed him to remain immobile while he healed. This was bad advice as he developed an abscess, which led to a fatal blood infection. Dr. Beach died on June 28, 1910 at age 66.
Amy’s father Charles Cheney had died in 1895, but she still had her dear mother Clara. When Clara died in February 1911 Amy was left bereft. She spent the next three years in Europe, where she was able to begin pursuing the career she had always yearned for as a concert pianist. With Munich, Germany as her base, she traveled widely and made connections in the European music world. She began to perform in concerts, and to write new music, gaining new fame with sophisticated audiences.
Amy returned to the U.S. in September 1914, just after war broke out in Europe. She spent a short time in Boston before moving to New York City. In the spring of 1915 she traveled to San Francisco where she was reunited with the last of her close relatives, her aunt Emma Francis “Franc” Clement and her cousin Ethel Clement. Amy performed to great acclaim in San Francisco and in other cities on the west coast before returning to the east for several engagements.
Sometime after March 1916 Amy returned to San Francisco, where she planned to stay. She bought a house near Franc and Ethel’s home and registered to vote. She arranged to have a new composition performed by the San Francisco Chamber Music Society that would be premiered in September. But in early August, Amy, Franc and Ethel suddenly packed their bags and moved to Hillsborough, N.H. This town, which borders Henniker, was the hometown of Franc and Clara Cheney’s family, the Marcys.
What domestic catastrophe had provoked this abrupt relocation? It may have had something to do with Lyman Clement, Franc’s husband of 50 years, who was left behind. Amy wrote to a friend saying only that her last days in San Francisco had been sad, and that she would not likely return to the city. She told a newspaper only that she had to leave due to “professional commitments.” Lyman Clement died in 1922 in a veterans’ home outside of San Francisco.
Next week: Amy Beach in Hillsborough and her connection to Peterborough’s MacDowell Colony.