This site has been established to serve as a link among those who might be interested in the Lang family of Massachusetts. Benjamin Johnson Lang (1837-1909) could be seen as the Leonard Bernstein of his time-a conductor, a solo pianist, a writer and lecturer, a champion for new music, and a man well acquainted with all the musical schools of his time-a man who influenced the musical growth of his part of the country for over forty years. There is a direct link between these two men; Lang taught Edward Burlingame Hill, and Hill in turn taught Bernstein at Harvard. “In fact, a history of the life and activities of Mr. Lang for three decades or more would to a considerable extent chronicle the musical life of Boston for the same period.” (Hill, p. 9) Lang is credited with suggesting that the Harvard Musical Association present orchestral concerts, and he served on its Program Committee (Mus. Ob., 1884). Louis Elson (quoted by Fox) expressed the same opinion in 1904: “Benjamin Johnson Lang is one of the most typically American figures that we can find in our musical history. He is a man of enterprise beyond European comprehension. Lang is so thoroughly interwoven with musical progress of every kind in the United States that there is scarcely any classification of musicians in which his name would not fitly find place. It is not an exaggeration to state that no man has done more for the educational advance in America in music than B. J. Lang. The time will come when Americans will recognize him as among the very foremost of those who created musical taste among us.” (Fox, Papers, p. 1)(and Elson, p. 261) “He was an antidote to the conservatism of Dwight and Dresel, introducing many new works to Bostonians.” (Tara, p. 41) Amy Beach, writing in 1937 to Arthur Foote remembered “the time from 1880 to 1900 was a golden time.” (Block, AMY BEACH, p. 284) Having been criticized for allowing the orchestra to overpower the choir, in his Dvorak Stabat Mater performances by the Cecilia in January 1884, he placed the orchestra behind the choir as Haydn had done in his Creation performances. He also used this same arrangement for Apollo Club performances.
He was the founding conductor of two choral groups that are still active in Boston today. The Cecilia, a mixed voice choir began in 1874 as an adjunct of the Harvard Musical Association Orchestra. In 1876 it became an independent group with 100 singers and 300 subscribing members. Lang conducted the choir for 33 years, retiring just two years before his death in 1909. The group was known for presenting new works-Lang gave first Boston performances to 106, with 12 of these being first American performances and another 12 being world premiers. (Hill, pp. 21-23)
Many pupils, including his three children surviving continued his influence, the most notable being his eldest, Margaret Ruthven Lang, (1867-1972) who had many musical “firsts” in her lifetime that stretched for 104 years. As late as 1936 critical opinion still held that “In real depth her compositions are superior to [those of] any other American woman composer,” (Barnes, p. 10) Music continues to be apart of the lives of the current Lang generation with Anne Hooper (daughter of Malcolm’s daughter, Helen Lang Hooper) being a free-lance violinist in Boston today, and a former Manager of the Boston Pro Arte Orchestra.
The information on this site is provided in order to lead those who are interested into a deeper study of this family. Corrections, additions, comments, etc. are welcomed and will be added and cited. Currently material has been added even though it might contradict other material; an example of this is the exact sequence of B. J.’s organ career. It is hoped that those who have done research in this area will be willing to share their findings which will lead to a clear history of this family and ultimately, performances of Margaret’s music. Copies of her works will be available on loan.