Priscilla Alden Beach City Trees Program Notes
A descendant of 1620s Mayflower passengers John & Priscilla Alden, Priscilla Alden Beach spent her childhood in Rome, NY (near Syracuse), where her father owned a lumber company. She demonstrated commendable musical talent in school, which may have provided some impetus to study at Smith College, with its strong music department. From Smith, she went to Eastman in 1924, beginning her master’s degree in composition at that newly-minted school (it was founded in 1921 by Kodak’s George Eastman). Also starting in 1924 was its new director, composer and conductor Howard Hanson. Hanson conducted the Rochester Philharmonic in the premiere of this work on June 8, 1928 in Kilbourn Recital Hall - the stage would have been quite small!
In an A-B-A form, the languid outer sections evoke light, breezy nature. The central, più mosso section, has a heroic feel to it, introducing its heraldic material in the trumpets and horns over tremolo strings. This material has reminded several listeners of Hanson’s 1930 Symphony No. 2, ‘Romantic,’ and there’s no doubt these musical ideas were discussed among the composition faculty and students.
A fellowship at Juilliard in New York City followed, and then her career and life took other directions. Most of her compositions are lost, though they intriguingly include music for the “Silent Motion Picture Series” of New York’s Museum of Modern Art. She co-authored books about pets with a Los Angeles radio evangelist John Hosford Hickey in the 1940s, was a laboratory technician at Johns Hopkins’ Applied Physics Laboratory, and worked at Shelton College in Cape May, NJ, directing Special Research.