Eskin speaks on female artists

  • Virginia Eskin speaks on the musical influences of several New Hampshire female artists during her talk at the Monadnock Lyceum in Peterborough on Sunday.  STAFF PHOTO BY ASHLEY SAARI

Monadnock Ledger-Transcript
Published: 7/25/2016 3:56:56 PM

New Hampshire’s spirit of Live Free or Die is reflected in the many female artists who have been nourished here over the years.

Among them are composer Amy Beach, writer Willa Cather and artist Lilla Cabot Perry, three women with close ties to the Monadnock region, whose lives spanned the 19th and 20th centuries.

Virginia Eskin, a Boston and New Hampshire resident and pianist, spoke of the influence of music on these creative women during her talk, “Artistic Women of New Hampshire: A Musical Program” at the Monadnock Summer Lyceum in Peterborough on Sunday.

Amy Beach was a composer who was born in 1867 in Henniker and spent many summers at the MacDowell Colony. She became close friends with Marian MacDowell, and left the colony a substantial legacy with her passing.

But her real legacy is in the music that she made – and her prominence as a female composer in a time when she had to be a pioneer in the field. 

Beach’s New Hampshire upbringing and surroundings would sometimes bring new notes to her compositions.

“Birdsong was a large part of her childhood. She would often steal notes from birds,” explained Eskin, who gave her talk, not from the Unitarian Universalist Church pulpit, as is traditional for Lyceum speakers, but from the head of the church aisle, where she could play excerpts from pieces on the church’s piano. “Ten of her sons are named for birds,” said Eskin, playing the trilling notes of “The Hermit Thrush at Morn.”

But Eskin did not limit her talk to just the music made by composers. She also talked of writer Willa Cather – who often summered in Jaffrey and is buried there – and the musical themes she embedded into her works.

“She perfumes her pages with music,” explained Eskin. And never haphazardly, she added – Cather always was deliberate in the music choices she made, likely a result of often rooming with young female musicians and listening to their stories and being immersed in a wider variety of music.

Lilla Cabot Perry, a Hancock artist, was notable for her fame and position as a breadwinner as a female artist in the late 1800s and early 1900s. She often used musical themes in her art, often painting her three daughters with various musical instruments, though she is best known for her impressionistic landscapes and portraits. 

The next installment in the Lyceum series is SUnday at 11 a.m., when Dr. Karl Kaiser will speak on “Refugees in Europe: Overture to a Global Crisis at the Peterborough Unitarian Universalist Church.

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