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.
Lang not only looked after the professional growth of his own pupils, but he also helped others advance their careers. During the period that Edward Mac Dowell was in Wiesbaden (1885-88), Lang probably made his acquaintance. “Several colleagues from the United States-composers Arthur Foote and Otto Floersheim and critic and teacher Benjamin Lang-came to Germany and met with MacDowell, encouraging him to return to America and take part in the shaping of the emerging musical life of the nation…Lang was particularly persuasive. He convinced MacDowell of the fame he had already achieved back in Boston and of the quality of musical life that had been established there…In September 1888, for reasons of patriotism and of the desire for new challenges, MacDowell sold the cottage, at a $200 profit, and moved to Boston.” (Levy, 54) Another source said that Lang convinced Mac Dowell to move to Boston in order to expand “his career as a composer, performer, and teacher”. Lang had conducted the Boston premier of MacDowell’s Piano Concerto No. 1 that spring at Chickering Hall on April 3, 1888 as part of his pianoforte concerto series with B. L. Whelpley as the soloist; the composer himself played the work with the BSO on November 18, 1892 conducted by Nikisch. (Johnson, 225)
MacDowell made his American debut in Boston as composer-pianist at a Kneisel Quartet concert at Chickering Hall, November 19, 1888 playing three movements from his First Modern Suite and assisting in Goldmark’s Piano Quintet in B-flat. On Lang’s recommendation, Wilhelm Gericke invited Mac Dowell to play his new Second Piano Concerto, Op. 23, with the Boston Symphony in the spring of 1889, but he actually played the work with an orchestra under Theodore Thomas in New York’s Chickering Hall on March 5, 1889, a month before the Boston performance on April 12. The conductor Frank van der Stucken invited MacDowell to play the concerto in a concert of American music at the Paris Exposition Universelle on July 12 [Margaret had a song in this concert and MacDowell played the accompaniment]” (Phoenix CD note)