Johanna Beyer

Author: Amy C. Beal
Portrait of an innovative woman artist who believed that "the heart and the brain should go hand in hand"
Cloth – $110
Paper – $25
eBook – $14.95
Publication Date
Cloth: 03/16/2015
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About the Book

Composer Johanna Beyer's fascinating body of music and enigmatic life story constitute an important chapter in American music history. As a hard-working German émigré piano teacher and accompanist living in and around New York City during the New Deal era, she composed plentiful music for piano, percussion ensemble, chamber groups, choir, band, and orchestra. A one-time student of Ruth Crawford, Charles Seeger, and Henry Cowell, Beyer was an ultramodernist, and an active member of a community that included now-better-known composers and musicians. Only one of her works was published and only one recorded during her lifetime. But contemporary musicians who play Beyer's compositions are intrigued by her originality.

Amy C. Beal chronicles Beyer's life from her early participation in New York's contemporary music scene through her performances at the Federal Music Project's Composers' Forum-Laboratory concerts to her unfortunate early death in 1944. This book is a portrait of a passionate and creative woman underestimated by her music community even as she tirelessly applied her gifts with compositional rigor.

The first book-length study of the composer's life and music, Johanna Beyer reclaims a uniquely innovative artist and body of work for a new generation.

* Publication of this book is supported by the Bukofzer Endowment of the American Musicological Society, funded in part by the National Endowment for the Humanities and the Andrew W. Mellon Foundation.

About the Author

Amy C. Beal is a professor of music at the University of California, Santa Cruz, and the author of Carla Bley and New Music, New Allies: American Experimental Music in West Germany from the Zero Hour to Reunification.

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"In this much needed study Amy C. Beal, a professor at the University of California, seeks to redress. . . erasure while acknowledging the difficulties of trying to shed new light upon 'the enduring mystery of this prolific yet elusive composer.'"--The Wire

"A wonderful introduction to the work of a sadly forgotten composer."--Soundbytes


"Amy Beal writes, 'Johanna Beyer's work combines the confidence of an original thinker and the calculations of an analytical mind.' The same could be said of Beyer's biographer, whose amazing detective skills have enabled a troubled and fascinating artist and woman to be rediscovered. In her efforts to act as Henry Cowell's advocate, Beyer neglected to find one for herself. Beal explains why and simultaneously allows us to appreciate the musical rewards in bringing someone in from the cold margins of conventional history."--Judith Tick, author of Ruth Crawford Seeger: A Composer's Search for American Music

"Despite not having written music until age forty-three, Johanna Beyer quickly became a composer of elegant and innovative contrapuntal, percussion, and even . . . electronic works. Given that she was almost totally forgotten for decades after her death, it is a musicological miracle that Amy Beal has been able to compile a record of her life as detailed and touchingly intimate as this one. I'm so thrilled to see this book come out--Beyer was a surprising question mark that demanded an answer. A lovely book."--Kyle Gann, author of Robert Ashley

"Beal's groundbreaking study reveals that Johanna Beyer was a key figure in the modernist circle around Henry Cowell and an accomplished composer in her own right during a pivotal moment in American music. Johanna Beyer is an intelligently written and thoroughly engaging biography of this fascinating figure in modern music."--Gayle Sherwood Magee, author of Charles Ives Reconsidered