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Kids Commute: Amy Beach's 'From Grandmother's Garden' Week!

Composer Amy Beach with flowers
Composer Amy Beach

Amy Beach was a lot of "firsts" - the first woman to have a symphony performed by a major orchestra, one of the first composers to train exclusively in the United States and more!

She was born in a small, woodland New Hampshire town, and even as early as two years old, she was already showing signs of exceptional musical talent!

She started playing the piano and composing when she was just four years old!

Find out more about Amy Beach with this episode of Classical Sprouts!

Find out more about this American composer, prodigy and nature enthusiast!

This week, we're going to explore her composition for piano, "From Grandmother's Garden" and learn about the flowers that inspired each of the movements.

The first movement is called “Morning Glories.”

Morning glories
Morning glories

They bloom in late summer, early fall on cold mornings, but wither by the end of the day.

In the mornings before it unfurls, it looks like a unicorn horn, twisted into a point.

They crawl on vines and have dainty purple, blue, pink or white flowers that blow in the breeze.

Listen for how the music sounds like the vines crawling up a trellis, or the blossoms and leaves blowing in the breeze!

KC Amy Beach Week! - MONDAY: 'I. Morning Glories'
by Amy Beach, "From Grandmother's Garden", performed by Joanne Polk

Let's go to the beginning of spring for some of the first flowers to bloom each year as the snow melts, Heartsease—something that eases the heart after a long and cold winter!

Heartsease, or wild pansies
Heartsease, or wild pansies

These are also called violets, and they are a smaller, and wild version of the pansy.

This movement features a sweet and calm theme: listen for the flower poking its head out of the snow.

Are the high notes the snow? And maybe the low notes represent the flower, strong enough to withstand those chilly early spring days? Does the music ease the heart?

KC Amy Beach Week! - TUESDAY: "II. Heartsease"
by Amy Beach, "From Grandmother's Garden", performed by Joanne Polk

Mignonette” means “little darling” in French.

Mignonette flowers in a field

These flowers smell strongly of vanilla: sort of spicy, sort of sweet.

They grow on tall stalks and have lots of leaves, and lots of little blossoms that bloom together on spikes, sort of like lupin.

And they blossom all summer long, until the first frost!

The music features little repeated clusters of sweet sounding chords, just like the little flowers on their stalks filling a beautiful summer field!

KC Amy Beach Week! - WEDNESDAY: "III. Mignonette"
by Amy Beach, "From Grandmother's Garden", performed by Joanne Polk

This next movement isn't the first time Rosemary and Rue have been thought of together...

Branch of rosemary with purple flowers

“There's rosemary, that's for remembrance; […] there's rue for you, and here's some for me;

The character Ophelia says that in Shakespeare’s “Hamlet”.

And then:

“For you there’s rosemary and rue. These keep seeming, and savor all the winter long.’

Perdita from “The Winter’s Tale” says that as she’s gathering flowers for a sheep shearing festival.

And it’s true that the smell of rosemary leaves is often thought of as helpful for one’s memory.

But, it also has gorgeous purple flowers.

Rue, on the other hand, has yellow flowers!

Yellow rue flowers

Purple and yellow flowers occur together somewhat frequently in nature: Astor and goldenrod, lupine and yarrow, foxglove and delphinium, and hyacinth and anemone!

And not only is it beautiful, it’s helpful for both flowers to have its color friend in a field alongside it, as bees see the vivid and contrasting colors better and are more drawn to them to pollinate!

With more bees, and more beautiful flowers, everyone is happier, including the plants themselves.

The music starts out slow and sweet, as if remembering something… “rosemary.. That’s for remembrance.”

The music then gets a bit more intense, darker, as rue is often a symbol of regret or sorrow — both sadder feelings.

But then, the initial sweet theme returns, if not a bit darker than before...

KC Amy Beach Week! - THURSDAY: "IV: Rosemary and Rue"
by Amy Beach, "From Grandmother's Garden", performed by Joanne Polk

The final movement of Amy Beach's "From Grandmother's Garden" is "Honeysuckle."

Pink and white flowering Honeysuckle
Jason Ingram

It’s a tall, vining plant that has very fragrant and colorful flowers.

It also has berries! And really big leaves. And the flowers themselves look like they are exploding with excitement!

The music features lots of exciting running musical lines that might just sound like a trailing vine, running up, up and up, or a bunch of bright and colorful summertime flowers!

KC Amy Beach Week! - FRIDAY: 'Honeysuckle'
by Amy Beach, "From Grandmother's Garden", performed by Joanne Polk

More from Kids Commute:

Kate Botello is a host and producer at Classical IPR.
Emily Duncan Wilson is IPR's digital content manager and is the producer of "Classical Sprouts" and "Kids Commute".