Every year in Dublin there is a celebration on June 16th called Bloomsday. James Joyce set the events of his novel Ulysses on June 16, 1904, and the main character’s name in the book is Leopold Bloom. Bloomsday evolved as a commemoration of the life of James Joyce and the events described in that great modernist novel. People stage marathon readings of the whole book, some take walking tours of the places in the novel, and others stage a pub crawl through Dublin.
I have to admit I have never actually finished reading Ulysses, but someday I will. Since this is a music blog, and not a literary blog, I will give a nod to our Irish friends by writing about the Gaelic Symphony. The Symphony in e minor Op. 32 (“Gaelic”) by the American composer Amy Beach is a work that deserves to be heard more often. Amy lived from 1867 to 1944, and for much of her life published under the name Mrs. H.H.A. Beach. She was another musical prodigy who played piano and composed. The Gaelic Symphony is a four movement work in a late Romantic style. The first movement is labeled Allegro Con Fuoco, and the second All Siciliana – Allegro Vivace – Andante. In this particular work, the third movement is the slow movement and is labeled Lento Con Molta Espressione. The finale is marked Allegro Di Molto.
This is a decidedly American work. Many American citizens of the 19th century were immigrants or first generation children whose parents emigrated from Europe. They brought with them folk songs from many countries, including the Irish folk tunes Beach used for some of the themes in this symphony. Some of her original themes in the work also have an “Irish-ish” character. It is first-rate orchestra music, completed in 1896, and lasts about 40 minutes in performance.
Beach’s symphony is notable as the first symphonic work composed by an American woman, and the first to receive performances around the world. I would offer the view that it is notable because of her talent, not just her gender. I don’t listen to other composers because of their gender. I listen because they write good music. The Gaelic is good music well worth hearing. It is a work that gets compared to Dvorak’s New World Symphony, which also uses themes borrowed from folk music in America.
Here are a few other works by Amy Beach
If you don’t have time to read the whole Ulysses novel for Bloomsday, at least take some time to listen to the Gaelic Symphony before going out on a pub crawl. Tip a pint of Guinness for Amy Beach, James Joyce and Leopold Bloom!