The Salon Advent Calendar: Day Fifteen

Eunice Pinney had an extremely difficult start to her adult life. Maligned publicly in a newspaper by her husband for leaving him, she set the record straight in the same publication, laying bare his alcoholism, infidelity, profligacy and abuse. Shortly afterwards, the couple divorced, allowing Pinney to find a much happier union. It was after this time that she appears to have started painting. Known as 'possibly the earliest American primitive watercolourist' (i.e. self-taught), her range of subjects was broad. She painted scenes, portraits, landscapes, and copies of literary artworks. There are 54 known works still extant. This one, 'Family Group at the Piano', demonstrates Pinney's eye for everyday truth. The wife plays with abandon; there is stifled boredom on the husband's face; and the the small child has long ago lost interest in the music, being much more focussed on making the doll fly.

Pinney.jpg

Amy Beach was one of the first women to have her works played by an American orchestra, in the 1890s. Not only was she a prolific and extraordinary composer, she was also a champion of women's music. When in 1892 Dvorak completely dismissed that possibility of women being composers, Beach wrote to a newspaper, pointing out the fallacy of his remarks: 'From the year 1675 to the year 1885, women have composed 153 works, Including 55 serious operas, 6 cantatas, 53 comic operas, 17 operettas, 6 Singspiele, 4 ballets, 4 vaudevilles, 2 oratorios, one each of fares, pastorales, masques, ballads and buffas.'

Beach was equally at home in the larger forms she lists as she was in the works for solo instruments. Her oeuvre for piano is a particular highlight - from the virtuosic Ballade to the miniatures of the Children's Album, there is no denying her skill at writing for different levels of technical ability, without compromising musicality. 'Children's Carnival', while not in the virtuosic bracket, is a challenge for any developing pianist. Its six movements range from the opening Promenade, through pieces for the traditional carnival characters such as Columbine and Harlequin, to a more enigamtic 'Secrets'.