American Women Composers in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries: A Comparison of the Social, Cultural and Personal Influences on the Lives, Career, and Music of Amy Beach and Ruth Crawford Seeger
Date of Award
Amy Chivington, Ph.D.
First Committee Member
Amy Chivington, Ph.D.
Second Committee Member
Gayle Walker, Ph.D.
Third Committee Member
Sarah Bouchard, Ph.D.
Amy Beach, Ruth Crawford Seeger, Women in music, American composers
A comparison of the lives and works of two American women composers, Amy Beach and Ruth Crawford Seeger, provides an interesting look at the role of women in music in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries. Amy Beach and Ruth Crawford Seeger were pioneers in American music during the time period after the Civil War through World War II. Both women performed professionally, composed, and innovated musical ideas and theories during a time when women’s compositions were not widely performed or published. Their professional and personal lives illustrate many differences that informed their works in different ways. Amy Beach grew up a piano prodigy in an important New England household. Her marriage to Dr. H.H.A. Beach at eighteen allowed her to spend the first half of her life with no other responsibilities except composition. While Ruth Crawford Seeger did not have as much musical training as a child, she did have the opportunity to attend the American Conservatory of Music in Chicago. For her experimental compositions, she received the first Guggenheim Fellowship awarded to a woman. Their musical works demonstrate their shared struggles while highlighting the differences in the ways they found success despite having little opportunity to do so. Amy Beach’s most famous work, her Gaelic Symphony, was the first by an American woman to premiere in the U.S. and demonstrates Beach’s traditional Romantic roots (encouraged by her husband, while Crawford Seeger’s innovative String Quartet 1931 is indicative of her highly modern style and utilizes many progressive techniques. Both women were able to find success due to a number of factors, including parental support, time, and male confidants. Their contributions to music theory and history are immense, including progressive serialist techniques and writings on theory and composition. They remain important figures and influential role models to aspiring women composers even today and serve as an example of the continued importance of equality in music education, composition and history.
Scarberry, Lindsey A., "American Women Composers in the Late Nineteenth and Early Twentieth Centuries: A Comparison of the Social, Cultural and Personal Influences on the Lives, Career, and Music of Amy Beach and Ruth Crawford Seeger" (2015). Distinction Papers. 14.