Edith Vail Ross

May 1902 performance of Edith Vail Ross in Ossining, New York

May 1902 performance of Edith Vail Ross in Ossining, New York

Edith participated in a benefit concert in May 1902 just a few days after her 23rd birthday for St. Paul’s Church in Ossining, New York. The prevailing preference at the time were for European singers and Edith’s decidedly American name was determined to be an obstacle to her success in auditions and audience reception not only in 1902 but in the years to come. This concert program represents one of the earliest times she tried an alternative spelling for her name providing a “Y” instead of an “I” in Edith. This was later referred to as a slightly more romantic spelling variation as she began to market herself in the performance world. This particular early instance could have also been a simple attempt to further distinguish herself from the other performer on the program with the first name of Edith.

It is unknown how Edith Vail Ross came to be selected for the concert in Ossining, 215 miles south of her family home in Rutland, Vermont and 30 miles north of Mrs. Schirmer’s boarding house in Manhattan, where she had taken up residence. At some point in 1902 or perhaps earlier she had taken her first steps in establishing her career in music by moving to New York City and developing her voice there. The benefit engagement could have been the work of her voice teacher Mr. Desci to give his young pupil more experience.

Also unknown is how the two works she preformed came to be chosen, but most likely the selections represented songs well positioned for her voice. Considering her youth at the time it is unlikely that she had a large repertoire to draw from. The first piece, “My Sweetheart and I” was by the American composer H.H.A. Beach, the married name of New Hampshire born Amy Marcy Beach. Published in 1893 and known also by the French title “Elle et Moi”, it was a popular selection at the time. Mrs. Beach was one of the very first women in America to have a career as a concert pianist and widely considered the very first to gain success in professional music composition for full orchestra. In 1902 she was known primarily for her composing and only rarely gave concerts so it is unlikely that Edith had seen her in a live performance. After the death of Mr. Beach in 1910 and a few years in Europe, Amy Beach returned to the United States. Starting in 1914 she maintained a full schedule of concert tours in Winter and composing retreats in Summer up to the mid 1930’s. (Library of Congress, http://lcweb2.loc.gov/diglib/ihas/loc.natlib.ihas.200153246/default.html

The second selection that Edith performed was a piece of Camille Saint Saëns’ “My Heart at Thy Sweet Voice” from the Opera Samson and Delilah. Both selections allowed 23 year old Edith to share her soprano voice and perhaps her new poise from independent living in New York City.

There are no known recordings of Edith’s voice but you can take a dive into the imagination with a little help of some artists posted to YouTube. A student performance of a Beach song somewhat similar to the one performed by Edith can be found here , but be mindful this Russian performance by the State Symphony Orchestra of Tatarstan is with a full orchestra and at Edith’s performance she was accompanied by just a pianist. The gallant and striding notes and chords without the accompanied singing can be heard here http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UQ7kX1ohg2Q&sns=em and http://youtu.be/icQGqFj8kqo as expected, the difference between full orchestration and piano accompaniment is considerable.

Amy Beach’s musical legacy is very deep and worth some serious exploration. She had a life long love of bird calls and uses the inspiration for”Hermit’s Thrush at Eve” Opus 92 and you can hear some at 

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