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Amy Fay: America's Notable Woman of Music.

This slender volume presents itself as a biography of Amy Fay (1844-1928), the American pianist best known for her book Music Study in Germany (Chicago: McClury, 1880), describing her study with Franz Liszt and musical life in Europe. Actually, it ties together several stories: Fay's multifaceted career as a pianist, writer, teacher, and organizer of musical activities; the growing feminist movements in late nineteenth-century America; and the establishment of vibrant cultural enterprises in the major American cities of Boston, Cambridge, Chicago, and New York. McCarthy gives compact but lucid accounts of all three.

Fay's desire to realize a major concert career took her to various teachers in Europe - Carl Tausig, Theodor Kullak, Liszt, and Ludwig Deppe. This aspect of McCarthy's biography is perhaps the strongest, for here we become most engaged with Fay the human being. Fay was one of the earlier American women pianists to venture European study. Her depictions of her student experiences reveal her innermost feelings, and the reader is quickly caught up in her efforts to advance her artistry while enduring the inevitable frustrations of study. One of her greatest obstacles was the nervousness she often felt when facing solo performances. Her admiration of Liszt seems due in part to his ability to inspire her best efforts despite her stage fright. Following study with Liszt she went to Deppe. and here McCarthy gives us some of the complicated history of pianism; she details Deppe's technical philosophy clearly and explains why Fay found Deppe's tutelage so beneficial. Deppe's understanding of Fay's performance anxiety and his encouragement of her playing chamber music concerts, allied with his technical approach, made her feel that she could conquer any stumbling blocks to a significant concert career. Later in life, when she realized that she had not overcome her bouts of nerves, Fay developed the "piano conversation," where she talked about each piece before performing it. McCarthy shows the importance of this direction and how it influenced other pianists to begin lecture recitals. Students and teachers who confront issues of relaxation, technical maturity, stage fright, and career development will find Fay's story remarkably contemporary and even helpful.

The success of Music Study in Germany - it appeared in over twenty-five editions - is a testament to Fay's ability to communicate through the printed word. The book probably would not have seen the light of day had not Fay's sister Zina cherished and promoted the vivacious letters Amy sent her from Germany. This gift for describing her experiences and her involvement with music led Fay to write for various journals, and to a national reputation as a lecturer on music. McCarthy appends several of Fay's contributions to Etude, Music, and Musical Courier, some of which were originally lectures read at national conventions of the Music Teachers' National Association.

Following Fay's career after she returned from Europe takes the reader through Boston and Cambridge, where she received reviews from John Sullivan Dwight, the foremost music critic in America, to Chicago in 1878, where she began to show her gift for organization and club work, especially when devoted to the cause of music. These currents became even stronger when she moved to New York and served as president of the New York Women's Philharmonic Society from 1903 to 1914. McCarthy tells this fascinating chapter of Fay's life within the context of the women's movements of the time, giving a particularly good historical, social, and psychological framework in which to understand Fay's activities.

As a young woman Amy Fay lived in the intellectual atmosphere of Cambridge. Her move to Chicago brought connections with many important musical figures, including Fannie Bloomfield-Zeisler and future brother-in-law Theodore Thomas, with whom her brother Norman founded the Chicago Symphony Orchestra. During her New York years she continued close relationships with many important European and American musicians, often traveling to Europe in the summer. Following her life takes the reader through the important cultural developments of turn-of-the-century America.

McCarthy has produced a short but thorough, readable biography of interest to any student of late nineteenth- or early twentieth-century musical life. It will be of particular delight to those interested in feminist issues in music or the history of pianism and pianists.

ANN SEARS Wheaton College, Mass.
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Author:Sears, Ann
Article Type:Book Review
Date:Dec 1, 1996
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