Beach's Bal Masqué in Boston Performance

Update: concert postponed to Aug. 23 because of rain.

Amy Beach’s delightful waltz, Bal Masqué, op. 22, is part of this week’s concert by Boston’s Landmark Orchestra.  Titled “Symphonic Dances” the Aug. 22 event features “music to move by” with professional and community dancers.  Directed by Christopher Wilkins, the concert is free to all.

Bal Masqué is unique in Beach’s output as a single-movement orchestral work.  It is handy for programming, and thus this lovely waltz was performed in 2000 by the Boston Pops (directed by Keith Lockhart) at the concert where the addition of Beach’s name to the composers’ names on  Boston’s Hatch Shell was unveiled (described in detail here).  Like most of her orchestral music, the performance materials were never engraved – hand-copied score and parts served as the performance materials.  Thus Women’s Philharmonic Advocacy undertook the editing and engraving of the score and parts as part of our celebration of Beach’s 150th birth anniversary last year (engraved and edited by Chris A. Trotman).  We hoped that this new edition would encourage performances, and we are happy to say that is happening!  😀

Bal Masqué is Beach’s orchestral version of the piano work of the same title, published in 1894.  But the melodies in Bal Masqué are found in two of her other works.  The song, “Wouldn’t That be Queer,” part of the set of opus 26 published in the same year, shares melodic content with the “A” part of the Bal Masqué’s tripartite ABA form.  Presumably the song predates the instrumental version, since reading a poem (in this case one by Elsie J. Cooley) usually suggests a melody to a composer.

The middle “B” section of Bal Masqué is an arrangement of mvt. 4, “Pierrot and Pierrette” from Beach’s Children’s Carnival, Op. 25, for solo piano.  Was the lilting melody extracted from Op. 22 to make a movement for the children’s suite?  Or did she create the melody as a separate movement and then later decide to frame it with the tune of “Wouldn’t that be Queer” to form a longer, multi-section waltz?  As yet, there is no definitive answer to this question.

In a further recycling, Beach would later arrange “Wouldn’t that be queer” for women’s three-part chorus and piano (published 1919).  Beach’s self-borrowings are many, and are a rich topic of study.  Clearly, she wanted her striking melodic ideas to be put to a wide use and be heard in a range of contexts — from the intimate solo to a sweeping orchestral work.

Here’s a recording of the orchestral Bal Masqué