LANG-MUSICAL DICTATOR OF BOSTON.
Lang occupied a major place in the musical world of Boston, and various other musicians were envious of the power that they thought Lang wielded. George W. Chadwick’s comments have been noted earlier. Another Boston organist, Henry M. Dunham, thought enough of his own career that he wrote an autobiography. In a Chapter entitled “Centers of Musical Activity” he wrote: “Further up on Tremont Street, and still opposite the Common, musical activity centers in the Chickering pianoforte warerooms and the studio of Mr. B. J. Lang. These places were the centers of activity for the musically inclined aristocracy of Boston, the headquarters, one might say, for the Cecilia Singing Society and the Apollo Club, both of which organizations owed their creation and fame to Mr. Lang, their conductor.” (Dunham, 77) Dunham then continued that he played the organ part for Haydn’s Creation during the period that Lang conducted Handel and Haydn Society. This would seem to be a generous offer on Lang’s part as Dunham was certainly not one of his pupils, and Lang had many pupils who could have done the job. Lang’s good deed did not soften Durham’s views. “Mr. Lang was neither a great pianist nor organist, and yet he was in considerable demand as soloist on both these instruments…For many years we dubbed him ”The Musical Dictator of Boston,” which in a large degree was true.” (Dunham, Ibid)
W. J. Henderson in the New York Times wrote of another who thought that Lang exercised too much power. “There is something curious about Boston. At any rate, many artists who please New York find the atmosphere over there altogether too cool for them. Lillian Carlismith, for instance, spent some six years in the hub of the universe in a desperate struggle against those three fates, Gertrude Franklin, Gertrude Edmands, and B. J. Lang, and finally she gave it up and came to New York…This year she has sung in concert two or three times, and her voice and style have evoked hearty praise. But she will find New York a hard field to plow, too. It is not quite as full of cliques as Boston, but one must pull wires here to get started in music. This is unfortunate-wrong, indeed-but it is true.” (New York Times (January 24, 1897): Sunday Supplement, SM 14).
CECILIA: TWENTY FIRST SEASON, 1896-1897.
The opening concert was on Friday evening December 4, 1896 with full orchestra at the Music Hall. This was the choir’s 121st. concert and the featured work was Dvorak’s The Spectre’s Bride with George J. Parker singing the role of the Spectre-it was the third time that he had performed this part. The Herald [Woolf] didn’t care for the work, but noted that “The chorus singing was excellent throughout in admirable quality of the tone and th clearness and steadiness of its work generally,” but then found fault with the choir’s “persistence with which it emphasized the first beat in a bar…The orchestra acquitted itself with a strongly manifest attention to its task, but it was not always together, owing to causes which are too familiar to dwell upon again.” All orchestra shortcomings were Lang’s responsibility and they were due to “the apparently irremediable eccentricities of Mr. Lang’s use of the baton. The audience, a large one, applauded often and warmly.” (Herald, undated) Hale in the Journal wrote that this was the fourth time that Mr. Parker had sung the work-the Boston premier on May 13, 1886, the second time on March 17, 1887, the third time on December 2, 1889 and now this performance. Hale also did not like the work: “I confess that the more I hear the cantata the less truly dramatic does it seem to me. Dvorak often shows on Olympian indifference to the sentiment of the text, which is presumably the same in Bohemian as in English. There is no true blending of music and drama.” Of the performance: “The chorus singing was most excellent last night in these respects: body and quality and balance of tone, pure intonation, and precision of attack. If in phrasing, and such included matters as accentuation and punctuation, they fell short occasionally of reasonable expectation, it was because they followed the conductor’s instruction; for the chorus of the Cecilia is made up of singers of more than ordinary intelligence, nor do I know a chorus anywhere that is capable of finer and more effective work under wholly satisfactory and favoring conditions.” Hale then cited a couple of places where the choir sang forte rather than the marked pianissimo, and blamed Lang “who does not insist rigidly at rehearsals on a proper following of the dynamic indications” probably because he was busy training the choir in all the positive aspects that Hale had listed earlier. Hale seems to not allow for any conductor decision that does not follow exactly what he sees on the page, whether or not that marking is effective or chorally appropriate. Hale spent a long paragraph listing the faults of the soloist Mr. Max Heinrich [who had also sung at the Boston premier]:”Last night Mr. Heinrich was guilty of offences for which there is no pardon.” (Journal, undated)
A review for their Wednesday evening [Wage Earner] February 3, 1897 Music Hall concert began: “Listening to the Cecilia is such a restful musical pleasure; there is never a moment of insecurity or suggestion of a possible flaw in their performance.” (BPL Lang Prog., Vol. 8)
The second concert, February 4, 1897 at the Music Hall included Phippen and Lewis as pianists and Mrs. H. H. Beach as soloist. She was the accompanist for the first Boston performance of her own The Rose of Avontown for women’s voices, and she also played a group of solos by Beethoven and Chopin in place of “Mr. Proctor” who was “ill and unable to play.” (700) Hale in the Journal said of the Beach work: “This composition is indeed a pleasing one, written with skill that is not ostentatious. The emotion is gentle and becomingly womanly…The performance was all that could be desired so far as the chorus was concerned; and I know of no female chorus that for purity and beauty of tone, courage and intelligence under a difficult task, and general musical sense can equal the women of the Cecilia.” (Journal (February 5, 1897): 3, GB). There must have been much applause when this was read at the next Cecilia rehearsal. Of Beach’s piano selection: “She appeared to her best advantage in the waltz [Chopin in E Minor]. In the Chopin prelude and in the variations by Beethoven there was little or no tonal color, and there was frequently metallic attack, as well as rigidity in phrasing.” (Ibid) Elson (?-the review is marked “Adv,” but this does not sound like Elson) in the Advertiser began negatively: “The chorus is poorly balanced, the male section being far more ready and dynamically stronger than that of the ladies. The sopranos have sweet voices, but only half enough of them; the altos are colorless and slow. Mr. Lang is not magnetic or inspiring as a conductor, but his taste in programme-making and shading is unquestionable.” The Beach piece was a positive: “Nothing but praise can be said regarding the composition or its performance-both interesting and artistic…Her [Mrs. Beach’s] accompaniment to her own composition was quite a part of its success. Conductor, chorus and pianist seemed in sympathetic, friendly accord, resulting in a beautiful ensemble in every sense of the word…Mr. Phippen’s accompanying of Madam Wyman’s songs were noticeably excellent.” (Advertiser, undated) Pieces by two other Boston composers were included-George L. Osgood’s Christmas carol, Listen, Lordlings, Unto Me, and a solo song by Mrs. Clara Rogers, River Floweth Strong, My Love.
Friday , March 12, 1897 saw the first performance in Boston of Beethoven’s Missa Solemnis in D. Op. 123 which had not even been mentioned in the previous Annual Report of repertoire for the following year! In fact, what had been planned was a repeat of Massenet’s Eve, but “it occurred to the Musical Council to do something for the third concert a good deal better…It had been mentioned hesitatingly in the Musical Council for a number of years. Mr. Lang had taken care that it should not be lost sight of. It had always been passed over with the feeling that by-and-by we should be stronger. But at last the Council was convinced that the time had come.” (1897 Annual Report) Sung at the Music Hall accompanied by members of the BSO, the soloists were Helen B. Wright, Lena Little, Frederick Smith, Arthur Beresford with Franz Kneisel, violin and Arthur Foote, organ.With so many other premiers having been offered by the Cecilia, it is strange that it took this long for this work to be sung in Boston. Wright and Smith were members of the choir! The New York first performance had been in 1872, and it was sung in Cincinnati at the May Festival with a chorus of 600 in May 1880 (Johnson, First, 55). The Cecilia sang this same work at the dedication of Symphony Hall on October 15, 1900 conducted by Gericke. One review said: “The performance was one of the finest the Cecilia has given; finer than its recent one of Berlioz’s Danremont-Requiem. And, considering the character of the work, such a performance is a triumph like few for any choral society. We have listened carefully to two performances, score in hand; we could not detect a single false entry in any of the parts, we heard only a very few timid and ineffectual ones. the quality of tone was in general fine, smooth and musical, at times brilliant; expression marks were regarded and implicitly obeyed. And just here let us thank Mr. Lang for two things: for his never exaggerating Beethoven’s pianissimo, not hushing it to that double and treble pianissimo which belongs solely to more modern works…Mr. Lang had the artistic feeling to allow Beethoven to speak as he speaks in the score, underscoring nothing, putting nothing in job type…The Cecilia may well be proud of being able to take a soprano and a tenor from its own ranks for the quartet in the Missa Solemnis; few even of the great singers of the world care to attack these terrible parts. The whole solo quartet did wonderfully well…Finer even than the individual performances of the four singers was their excellent ensemble; they sang together, as if they had long known the music and one another…In a word Mr. Lang and the Cecilia may be fairly proud of each other. Together, they have given one of the greatest works in existence, not impeccably, but solidly and intelligently well. They have made a date in the musical history of Boston.” (Anon., undated) Hale basically said that the work was not worth all the trouble taken to present it. He found the soloists inadequate and of the choir: “The chorus, too, was brave and its performance was often surprisingly good; yet in the terrible fugues in the Gloria and Credo the singers were so tired, especially the sopranos, that the result was unmusical in that there was no clear walk of the parts, no pronounced attack of the subject. I know of no chorus in this country that would have made a more courageous attempt or accomplished as much.” Hale then raised the question of whether doing such a difficult work was worth it. “For the sake of the record, let us then rejoice that the Missa Solemnis has been attempted in Boston. I do not believe that repeated hearings or even incredible performances would turn the vocal score into a marvel of strength and beauty, or convert the dry, thick, at times brutal orchestration into a glory for all time.” (Journal, undated) The Gazette recorded that: “Many extra rehearsals had been devoted to the preparation of the mess [!], and the performance was most honorable to the Cecilia.” The solo quartet “undertook the great tasks of the solo quartette and acquitted themselves excellently. There was a good-sized orchestra from the Symphony, which took much pains. Mr. Kneisel assumed the violin obbligati and Mr. Lang directed with intelligent and correct command.” (Gazette, undated) The Courier said of the work: “It is not a loveable work,” and not how difficult the work was. “The singers are to be congratulated for attempting to do what they were incapable of doing well. The work is most trying and most difficult…He knows what he wants and if singers are unequal to the demands, so much the worse for them…We have now heard the Missa Solemnis; let us now be grateful that the hiatus in our education has been filled in and the work done.” (Courier, undated)
The fourth concert was given on May 6, 1897 at the Music Hall with Phippen as accompanist and Adele aus der Ohe as piano soloist. Part of the program was Margaret’s Bonnie Ran the Burnie Down of which Hale in the N.Y. Musical Courier wrote: “Mr. Lang is not a good understudy for the Roman Father. If he were he would not have allowed his daughter’s amorphous, colorless, rhythmless piece to go into rehearsal.” He also complained: “Miss Aus der Ohe, I intreet you, extend your repertory! For heaven’s sake leave the exasperatingly familiar rut!” (N.Y. Musical Courier, undated) In another review Hale wrote: “Miss Lang’s part-song, Bonnie Ran the Burnie Down is without rhythm or color; a dull thing, clumsily written, amorphous.” Of Miss Aus der Ohe, after disparaging her Bach and Mendelssohn, he wrote: “She played her own superb Etude, in which she displayed amazing brilliancy, and a Rhapsodie of Liszt, which called forth thunderous applause.” (717-719) Under the title “Last of the Cecilias” the Transcript wrote: “The Cecilia Society is always heard at its best in these short selections, and last evening’s performance was no exception to the rule. The programme included nine choral numbers, mostly from the modern school….Miss Margaret Lang contributed a musical setting of Bonnie Ran the Burnie Down which was well received. The musical scenery along the brook was very pretty, if not diversified….The work of the chorus was excellent throughout…Of Miss der Ohe’s piano numbers it need only be said that they were of her usual standard.” The Liszt “gave abundant opportunity for a brilliant display of marvelous technique…Altogether the concert was one of the most successful of the season.” (Transcript, undated) Another review said of Margaret’s piece: “Miss Lang’s song appeared to please, perhaps because of the spirit and dash with which it was sung.” Of the pianist: “Everything she does is backed by an honest sincerity which makes her performances wholly enjoyable. She was much applauded, and after her first appearance responded graciously to an encore. After her second appearance she received many recalls. There was a large audience present, but it was not especially demonstrative, except over the playing of the soloists. ” (Anon., undated) President Thorndike wrote: “Miss Lang’s Bonnie Ran the Burnie Down, written with the scholarship and musical feeling which always mark her compositions, was sung with spirit, and received great applause.” (1897 Annual Report) Of the accompanist Joshua Phippen, the President wrote that the choir was “indebted for such valuable service.” (Ibid)
President Thorndike began his Annual Report of May 27, 1897: “The Club has not only maintained but has added to the distinction of its record. It has in its third concert, to use the language of one of our friendly critics, ”made a date in the musical history of Boston.”” [with the Missa Solemnis performance] He continued: “There are today few, perhaps no choirs of two hundred voices on either side of the water capable of finer and better work.” Again, as in the report of the previous year, he gave credit to Lang: “Mr. Lang may well be proud of what he has made the Cecilia, as the Cecilia has always been proud of Mr. Lang.” Of the Wage Earner Concert tickets we wrote: “It is manifest that the plan is a failure and entails a distinct loss.” He then announced that he was retiring as President after sixteen years as he felt that the choir would be “made stronger by the infusion of fresh blood, and the time always comes when the elder should give place to the younger.” He called his time with the choir “the pleasantest years of my musical life and [these musical] friendships [are] not easily forgotten.” (1897 Annual Report)
APOLLO TWENTY-SIXTH SEASON, 1896-1897.
“The opening concert [November 24, 1896] enjoyed the attendance being large and a [performance] of excellent quality…The singing was eminent for beauty of tone, fine projection in the parts, sensitiveness and even poetry of expression, and smooth, steady command of the material elements of song.” (Courier, unsinged, undated) There were two soloists, a soprano and the violinist. “Mr. Carl Halir, who comes to this country with a reputation of one of the great violinists of Europe…His debut was thoroughly successful.” (Ibid) Very little was said about the individual pieces on the program. Philip Hale’s three paragraph review spent the first paragraph on Halir’s background and career to date; the second, longer paragraph, praising his musical qualities; the third, shortest paragraph gave one sentence to the vocalist and a second sentence listed the names of the composers of the choir’s pieces with no critical comment. The third, and final sentence was the typical snide Hale comment: “there was a very applausive audience.” (Journal (November 25, 1896): GB) The Herald review also consentrated on the violinist. It began: “The choral part of the program was about the same as usual in selections and effect,” and then went on to mention that Mr. Halir would be the soloist with the BSO the following week and gave 21 lines about his pieces and technique. The soprano soloist was mentioned at all. (Herald (November 25, 1896): 10, GB) Louis C. Elson wrote a well balanced piece noting that the vocalist, Miss Stein, “made an excellent impression, being recalled many times,” but,” her enunciation is not very clear, and she was almost unintelligible in three different languages.” (Advertiser (November, 25, 1896, 8, GB) He also made some sly comments about three of the choir’s pieces. In one he wrote: of the Brahms’ Lullaby-“Where 70 sturdy men sing one little infant to sleep.” (Ibid) However, he had to record that these three pieces “won the heartiest of encores!” (Ibid)
In mid May the Club performed at Steinert Hall and the Herald noted that Lang’s Hi-fe-lin-ke-le was included. “It is not often that Mr. Lang comes before the concert-going public with an example of his powers as a composer, and when he breaks through the rule, the event calls for special recognition. In reply to an inquiry from a correspondent who was not present on the occasion, it may be stated confidently that Hi-fe-lin-ke-le is not a musical setting of one of Sir Edwin Arnold’s eastern poems, nor did its inspiration take root in Omar Khayam’s famous work. The oriental aspect of the title is misleading. the piece is merely a bit of musical humor, and its name has no more significance than has ”tooral-looral-loo” or ”tra-la-la-la,” and was doubtless thrown off in a moment of mirthful leisure, showing the composer, as it were, ”en pantoufles.”” In truth, these nonsense syllables were part of the original Swedish text and had nothing to do with Lang’s inspiration. The correspondent asking the original question then went on to ask if the work was published. “Mr. Lang has published few of his compositions: in fact, as far as can be ascertained, none of them except some of the earlier inspirations of this genius, which are now difficult to obtain a sight of except in the cabinets of collectors.” This piece is itself from an earlier period having been premiered by the Apollo Club in 1884 and then published by Charles Homeyer some time after. Did the author of this article actually know of other Lang pieces that were published?
The Herald Social Page called the concert “a love feast…The place was crowded with every musician, music publisher, singer and player, past and present, we should think, in Boston. It was really a great occasion for them socially, as well as artistically. Mr. Lang seemed particularly happy in his part of the work, and there was an enthusiasm and a good fellowship in the air which were delightful. Mr. George H. Chickering was a prominent figure in one of the boxes, and Mrs. Gardner was in another with Mr. Proctor and a fellow-musician. The lady wore a hat which was loaded with roses, and a black and white silk blouse.” (Herald (May 16, 1897, 26, GB) The previous Sunday the Herald Society page had noted that his concert had “aroused especial enthusiasm, as the programme was made up of requests, so that everyone enjoyed over again an old favorite. Mr. Myron Whitney had a perfect ovation after his noble rendering of the Two Grenadiers, and Mr. George Parker, another past member of the club, had a most gratifying reception.” (Herald (May 9, 1897): 27, GB)
The concert was repeated on Wednesday, May 12th. The Herald noted that Joshua Phippen was the piano accompanist and played a solo by Paderewski. “The programme was received with much appreciation, and the hall was well filled…with guests of the conductor and the active members.” (Herald (May 13, 1897): 6, GB)
ETUDE INTERVIEW WITH LANG ABOUT HIS TEACHING.
The interviewer began with this introduction: “Among the many conversations and discussions about things musical The Listener indulges in, few have proved as interesting and instructive as the little talk he arranged especially for The Etude with Mr. B. J. Lang from Boston.” (Etude, May, 1897, online, 8/9/2011) Next Lang’s weekly schedule was mentioned. “Mr. Lang’s entire week-day is filled with piano and organ teaching; his Sunday with two church services at historical King’s Chapel, where he is the organist and director of the quartet choir. His evenings during the winter are given to rehearsals with the three singing societies he directs,-the Handel and Haydn Oratorio Society, the Apollo Club (a male chorus), and the Cecilia (a chorus of mixed voices),-the three constituting as well-trained and thoroughly enjoyable ensemble singing as is to be found in America. Each society gives four or five concerts every season.. Imagine such an amount of rehearsal work on top of teaching and playing. Mr. Lang’s endurance is an object of wonder and admiration, spiced with envy in some quarters…Mr. Lang’s studio where he teaches is a large sunny apartment, fitted up with a pipe organ at one end, a grand piano not far distant, a great cheery open fire-place, and some interesting pieces of furniture. On the walls hang pictures signed by celebrated artists who presented their children of paint to ”friend Lang,” also framed autograph letters and poems from authors now famous. There we sat, while the afternoon sun streamed in across our flow of talk, Mr. Lang looking unworn and vigorous as though ready for anything, his kindly Scotch-blue eyes showing now and then a twinkle of bon camaraderie, suiting well his fresh, clear skin and friendly looking grey beard, set off by a dark velvet smoking-jacket which he wears for comfort while teaching.” (Ibid)
The first question asked of Lang was “Who should Take Lessons.” “well, if I could have my own way I would enforce legislation that would debar all people who were not musical from studying the piano.” Lang then decried the “pounding, pounding, pounding” that was not only a curse but lowered “the general tone of art as well.” In order the his time and the time of the pupil was not wasted, “I frequently take pupils on a three month’s probation so that we may both be certain before we go ahead,” and if musicality was not present, the pupils were told this. “Perseverance and industry without native talent many mean brilliant success in some kinds of work, but to my mind they do mean anything of the sort in the world of art.”
Lang then showed The Listener a unique aspect of his teaching. “I have two grand pianos, side by side, one the regulation height, the other built lower just so the end of the keyboard will fit under the end of the pupil’s…In this way I make illustrations of phrasing. The pupil plays a phrase unmusically-I say, ”Listen, this is how the way the composer meant it to go.” Then I repeat the phrase on my piano, showing where her fault lay, giving my idea of the best way to play it. This arrangement was my own idea, and I save an infinite amount of time and strength by it.”
The next question concerned the use of a silent practice clavier, a practice that was popular at the time-some pupils spend a whole year using them. Lang noted that the ear of the pupil would not be developed by such a machine, and if used at all, it should be for a limited amount of time.
“How do you advise pupils to memorize music” asked The Listener. The answer: “Memory is not a talent, it is a habit…As soon as children can play pieces they ought to be made to memorize them.” His method was to learn the notes as an actor learns his words, by “indelibly impressing every note on the brain.” Lang then told of one pupil who had no success memorizing a piece after three weeks of effort. “I had her sit down at the piano with a piece she had never seen before; then I told her to commit the notes as she would words. We worked together until, at the end of fifteen minutes, she knew four pages, and understood for the rest of her life what memorizing meant.”
THE DITSON FUND.
Among Lang’s other responsibilities was being President of the Ditson Fund which provided financial help to musicians in need. The Annual Meeting for 1897 was held late in May at the home of Mrs. Oliver Ditson. Lang was reelected President and Trustee. The other Trustees were Arthur Foote and A. P. Browne. Not all the money available had been distributed, but “in the near future more deserving cases will be brought to the notice of the officers.” (Advertiser (May 28, 1897): 9, GB) Other donors had been inspired by Ditson’s bequest and had added donations of their own putting the Fund in a very positive position.
FARM: THIRD SUMMER SEASON, 1897.
Top: front of the house in 2011. Bottom: the ell, built in 1740, which was the original building. Photos by Quent and Carolyn Peacock.
In the summer of 1897 former pupil and now family friend Richard C. Dixey and his wife Rosamond were guests. Helen Hood’s visit during July 1897 was remembered by an original song, Reminiscence. Apthorp and his wife Octavie both signed with verses on July 10, 1897, followed by the third visit of Edward Burlingame Hill who left an eight measure piece for piano, A Hedge Log[?] Danca. Severance Burrage returned for a third time, July 31-August 4, 1897 and drew two flowers found on the farm. The following week saw three more Burrages-Ruby M. Burrage, Alice Burrage and Eleanor ? Burrage. The conductor Georg Henschel’s visit on September 16, 1897 was remembered with a verse and a three measure musical quote. Arthur Foote, on September 24, 1897 also left a four measure theme.
LANG’S SUMMER TRIP TO EUROPE-1897.
RMS (Royal Mail Steamer) CAMPANIA.
B. J. did not spend the whole summer with the family at the farm. On July 23, 1897 he arrived in Liverpool, having sailed from New York on the CAMPANIA. The passenger list puts his profession as musician and he seems to have been traveling along. However, B. J. and Francis H. B. Byrne shared a room on the LUCANIA which sailed from Liverpool back to New York on August 21, 1897. According to the Boston Directory Byrne was a neighbor of Lang as he lived at the foot of Brimmer Street, 5 Otis Place, and his work address was given as 791 Tremont Street. This was the Chickering Piano Factory. The Herald reported in August that “Mr. B. J. Lang and Mr. Arthur Foote are both enjoying themselves hugely at Baireuth [sic]. Mr. Lang expects to be home about the 1st of September, and Mr. and Mrs. Foote and their daughter will come back the last of that month.” (Herald (August 22, 1897): 27, GB)
RMS LUCANIA. Cunard. Was the same dimensions and specifications as the CAMPANIA. Was the largest passenger liner afoat when launched in 1893. 2,000 total passengers: 600 in First (Saloon); 400 in Second and 1,000 in 3rd. 1894 to 1898 was the fastest ship crossing the Atlantic. In April 1897 Cunard advertised fares from Boston to Liverpool, via Queenstown, Cork: Cabin-$75 and upward, according to steamer and location; Second Cabin-$42.50 and upward; Steerage-at lowest rates. (Herald (April 19, 1897: 8, GB) The Warren line, sailing the same route, matched Cunard’s rates for First and Second, and quoted Steerage at $25.50. (Ibid)
Wikipedia, accessed February 17, 2019.
Below: RMS LUCANIA at sea. Wikipedia, accessed February 17, 2019.
CECILIA: TWENTY-SECOND SEASON, 1897-1898.
1897-1898. Bruch’s Odysseus was again performed, this time on Thursday evening, December 2, 1897 at the Music Hall with orchestra. The Gazette didn’t like the work: “It is not cheerful; it makes no strong appeal either to the heart or the head; it is without color or inspiration,” but of the performance: “It was well sung throughout, the chorus work being excellent. There was no dragging, no lack of unevenness of attack, and the singing was spirited and very effective.” Many of the soloists were given positive comments. (Gazette, undated) The President’s Report of May 1898 noted that choir members were used for eight of the twelve solo parts. Hale in the Journal also found the work “dull” but praised the choir. “The performance, so far as the chorus is concerned, was excellent in quality of tone, balance of parts, precision of attack.,” while the “orchestra played about as it pleased.” (Journal, undated) Just before this concert the Transcript had an article giving the “Reasons Why the Cecilia Suspended” the Wage Earners Concert for the 97-98 Season. “The two great causes of the abandonment of the concerts were a lack of interest on the part of the wage-earners themselves, and the misuse of the tickets by those to whom they were intrusted for distribution.” It seems that “agents of business houses distributed the tickets among their personal friends instead of to wage-earners.” Thus the Club losing “attendance at their own regular club concerts.” (Transcript, undated)
The Cecilia provided the chorus and solo singers for a performance at Harvard of Athalie by Racine. Mendelssohn’s music was used and the orchestra was composed of members of the BSO. The performances were given under the direction of the Harvard’s French Department, and held on the evenings of December 6, 8 and 10, 1897. The cast was a combination of students, graduates, the Department’s Instructor “together with Miss Louise Cushing and Miss Mary Coolidge of Boston, who will play respectively the parts of Athalie and Joas. (NY Times (November 7, 1897): 11)
The second concert was on Thursday evening January 13, 1898 at the Music Hall with orchestra, and the repertoire was Brahms-Song of Destiny, Humperdinck-Pilgrimage to Kevlaar, [first Boston performance-had been done in NYC and Milwaukee in 1896:Johnson-First Performances] and The Swan and Skylark by Goring Thomas [first Boston performance-had been given by Zerrahn and the Worcester County Music Association on September 23, 1897, this Worcester performance was cited as the third time in this country: Johnson-First Performances]. The Herald reviewer praised the concert: “The chorus again distinguished itself by the precision, the steadiness and the admirable color of its singing,” with special praise going to the women’s voices who “can hardly be overpraised…the concert, taken altogether, may be ranked among the best that the organization has ever given. The audience was large and appreciatively bountiful in its applause.” (Herald, undated) T. P. Currier in the Journal found the Goring Thomas to suffer “for want of contrast. It is too much alike.” Two choir members were had solos in this concert were praised: Miss Palmer’s contralto solo “was well sung,” but the size of her voice was “hardly equal to the task of filling Music Hall,” while Mr. Townsend “was no less successful with the bass solos. The orchestra played for the most part admirably. The concert was wholly creditable to the club and its conductor.” (Journal, undated) The Gazette found the Humperdinck “pleasing and gracious” and the Goring Thomas “delightful, full of poetic imagination and artistic charm…The work was interpreted in the most satisfactory manner the chorus calling for particular praise. It sang with unusual spirit and fine intelligence…The concert throughout was most enjoyable, and there was hardly a fault of commission or omission to mar the pleasure. from beginning to end the chorus was admirable. There was full harmony between it and the orchestra, and it is a pleasure to record the Cecilia won a triumph that was well deserved. The art level was the highest yet reached by this society.” (Gazette, undated) It would seem from the tone of this last review in the Gazette that a new reviewer had been hired by that paper.
Schumann’s The Pilgrimage of the Rose was the main work presented on Thursday evening March 3, 1898 at the Music Hall with Foote as the accompanist-the other works were unaccompanied. The Transcript wrote: Foote “did full justice to the most beautiful poetic feature of this composition.” Most of the soloists were praised, but “Mr. Dunham was hardly the right man in the right place. The tenor part is not a particularly grateful task, but it need not be monotonous, tame and stiff.” (Transcript, undated) The Courier review was based “only upon the report of a listener on whose tried judgment we depend.” This person felt that the work was passe, and should only be sung in “a small space as it was meant for and its leading singers should be accomplished not less than well-intentioned. But the Cecilia had to depend mainly upon its own members for soloists, whose performance naturally lacked something of the authority of experienced singers. The chorus acquitted itself honorably as usual, and the male choir showed especial volume and richness.” (Courier, undated)
For the final concert of this season, “an opportunity will be afforded a small non-membership public to attend the final concert on Wednesday evening April 27.” The major work was Arthur Sullivan’s The Golden Legend which had only one previous Boston performance, on May 8, 1887 by the Boston Oratorio Society conducted by Frederick Archer. At that time Hale wrote: “twas a dull night.” (Johnson, First, 350) Zerrahn had also given the work with the Worcester County Musical Association on September 23, 1896. (Ibid) The Cecilia concert used professional soloists and “a large orchestra from the Boston Symphony players,” and Mr. B. L. Whelpley as the organist. (Anon., undated)
The Courier wrote that the performance “was chiefly meritorious for its fine, equable, rich and noble choir work…The orchestral support was correct enough so far as reading the notes went, but beyond that it cannot be commeneded…Mr. Whelpley got remarkably fine effects from the organ.” (Courier, undated) The Gazette thought little of the Sullivan work, but noted: “The best work of the evening was that done by the chorus that sang with unusual spirit, purity of intonation and intelligence. The soloists were less admirable; they sang in dry and perfunctory manner, and without any particular respect for the work in hand.” Of the orchestra: “The playing was without color or grace, and if any guidance were given to them they were inexcusably careless in not paying heed to it. The audience was good-natured and frequently gave applause where it was not deserved.” (Gazette, undated) Hale wrote that the soloists were inadequate and that one of them, Mr. Heinrich “was indisposed, and fainted while singing Lucifer’s mockery of the pilgrims.” He also noted that the orchestra “played without attention to dynamic indications…It was the fault of Mr. Lang, who, keeping his eyes fixed curiously on the score, gave no cues, gave no signals for dynamic gradations, but beat time mechanically, and often with an injudicious and unmusical choice of tempo. There was a good sized audience and applausive [!] audience.”(Journal, undated) On the other hand the Globe reported: “The chorus parts as a rule deserve commendation. The attacks were prompt and the lights and shades were well defined and smoothly sung….The orchestra performed its duties well and the whole performance was a credit to the club.” (Globe (April 28, 1898): 6) For this concert there was also a social notice which recorded: “Miss Gertrude Edmands, who is always one of the best dressed of our local singers, was in deep yellow and white brocade, opening over a petticoat of white lace.” This notice also recorded that among those in the audience were the choir’s former president, Mr. Lothrop Thorndike, Mr. and Mrs. William Winch, and Mrs. Gardner. (Anon., undated)
The Transcript called the Sullivan “a decidedly weak work…It sounds old as the hills, without the dignity of age…Nowhere in the work does Sullivan strike a distinctly dramatic note…The performance by the chorus last evening was admirable in the extreme, admirable at all points…In rich fulness of tone, precision and vigor of attack, beauty of light and shade, the choral performance left nothing to be desired. The orchestra played with unusual smoothness, for men who had made up their minds to be uninterested in their work, but almost constantly too loud for the solo voices, and exasperatingly monotonously.” (Transcript, undated) The Annual Report of May 26, 1898 presented by the new president Arthur Astor Casey reviewed the Wage Earner Concert cancellation admitting that their cancellation had not added to the ranks of Associate Members in an amount “important enough to be significant,” but he listed the advantages that these concerts did provide to the choir. “They are useful, in the first place as dress rehearsals,” and secondly, “they add to the work of the society a larger motive of public spirit.” For these reasons he had recommended that they be reinstated, which they were. (1898 Annual Report) Among his overall comments was one about the men: “I have heard, and I believe it to be true, that the male chorus never has sung so well as it has this winter, and that the chorus as a whole has never sung better. Upon this result of their labors we must congratulate both leader and chorus.” (Ibid)
In the fall of 1898 it was announced that the Wage Earners Concerts would resume on Monday nights with the regular member concerts being on Wednesday nights.. “As before, the club proposes to give precisely the same concerts in all details to its audiences of wage-earners that it gives to its associate members.” (Anon., undated)
APOLLO CLUB TWENTY-SEVENTH SEASON, 1897-1898.
A miscellaneous program opened the season, but the soloist, not the choir was the “Glory of the Occasion.” (Advertiser (December 12, 1897): 5) The choir’s “shading was generally excellent…and there was a splendid robustness in Grieg’s Discovery…there were many encores during the concert,” but the French bass M. Plancon was “a revelation.” (Ibid) He sang six songs in all, one of which included a trill “as pure as Melba’s.” This “astonished the sudience into enthusiasm, whereupon our flexible basso ceased trilling and became thrilling, giving Schumann’s Two Grenadiers in a manner that was simply stupendous.” At its end the audience “began cheering. Such a scene of enthusiam has never been seen in a club concert, and very seldom anywhere,” and those who attended would remember it for the rest of their lives. (Ibid)
The second concert was on January 26, 1898 and it included pieces by three Boston composers, one of whom was an Apollo member. This member, J. K. Smyth, composed a barcarolle entitled The Canoe Song which was described as “very pretty and expressive,” and after its performance the composer “was obliged to acknowledge the very hearty applause with which it was receieved.” (Advertiser (January 27, 1898): 2) H. W. Parker’s My Love was encored and Chadwick’s “little ditty” The Boy and the Owl was called “a dainty little bit of humor,” and was well sung.” Performance standards were stressed; “admirable company of singers…precision of attack…artistic shading…sympathetic shading,” all combined “to produce a most enjoyable performance.” (Ibid) Except for the final piece which was called trivial; “to see and hear a hundred men, the majority of whom are-well, not youthful, sing an ever-recurring refrain of ‘Tra la la’ is not what one can call inspiring.” (Ibid)
The third concert was on March 23, 1898 and had the soprano, Miss Trebelli as the guest soloist. “The program was not one of sustained interest throughout, though much of it gave sincere pleasure.” (Advertiser (March 24, 1898): 8) The most classical piece in the program, di Lasso’s Villanella, was encored. The comment on Chorus of Spirits and Hours was: “Much of the Dudley Buck music is strong and dramatic, while the remainder seems undeniably dull and heavy.” (Ibid) Almost half of this review was about the soloist which was summed up by this comment: “Miss Trebelli left nothing to be desired, and by those of last night’s audience who appreciate true artistry, it will not soon be forgotten.” (Ibid) The choir ended the program with a Lang favorite, the double chorus from the music to Oedipus by Mendelssohn.
On May 4, 1898 the club gave its 159th. concert. “A very large audience testified its most enthusiastic appreciation of an excellent and well rendered programme.” (Daily Advertiser (May 5, 1898): 8, GB) The review noted that the club had lost “a dozen or more of its voices, some of the best,” but so good was the performance that “it was scarcely noticeable.” In fact, the “choir reaffirmed its right to be considered one of the best male choruses of its size and character in the country.” It was “a tribute to Mr. Lang, to whose care is due the precision of attack, and brilliancy and vehemence of the ensemble and masterful ease of phrasing.(Ibid) There were three vocal soloists, and E. Cutter Jr. was the pianist and B. L. Whelpley the organist. No mention was made that any of the pieces were premiers. “Every number was received with loud plaudits and several encores were given.” (Ibid)
The Herald “Social Life” section had a paragraph concerning the concert. Musically, it mentioned that the solo tenor from New York, Mr. Evan Wiliams “was in superb voice, and carried all before him,” whereas his appearance at the Cecilia concert the week before had been marred by a cold. A list of notables who were in the audience was next, and the final comments centered on Isabella Stewart Gardner. “Mrs. Gardner occupied a prominent balcony seat with Mrs. B. J. Lang. On her head was an odd creation of a bonnet tied under her chin, made of rose tulle and black plumes, the latter standing well up in front of her head.” (Herald (May 8, 1898): 26)
APTHORP LECTURE. Below: Baker, A Biographical Dictionary of Music, 19
In the middle of April 1898 William F. Apthorp gave a lecture at Steinert Hall on the subject “Musical Criticism.” The Social Life section of the Herald covered this event noting that there was “prolonged and hearty applause” at the end of the lecture which was attended by “an exceedingly fine and cultivated audience…There was not a dull moment in the talk of nearly an hour, and it abounded in delicious wit and humor.” Among the fellow critics in attendance were Mr. Louis Elson, Mr. and Mrs. Philip Hale, and Mr. and Mrs. H. M. Ticknor. Among the important members of Boston’s musical circle noticed were Mrs. Apthorp, the Langs and Miss Lang, Mrs. Gardner, Mr. Perabo, Arthur Foote, Miss Lena Little, Mrs. Iasigi (Mrs. Apthorp’s mother) and Miss Iasigi (Mrs. Apthorp’s sister). It would be interesting to know how many audience members were the subject of the “delicious wit and humor.” (Herald (April 17, 1898): 27, GB)
Foote relates a story about Bayreuth in the summer of 1898 [or 1893] when he and Lang snuck into the orchestra pit between acts of Gotterdammerung. ”The day was hot, everyone being in shirt-sleeves, and we could see how differently the majestic Richter behaved (the orchestra being quite out of sight of the audience). He shouted to different players and to the singers, gave them cues, and was quite a different person from the one we were used to seeing in the concert room. It was a remarkable experience. We were observed sitting in our corner, but the liberty we had taken was winked at.” (Foote, Auto., 78)
Spring 1898. Frances wrote in her Diary: “Lel wants to perform, next winter, all the Bach Concertos on a Harpsichord, which is to be sent from Paris. I do not smile on this idea, as he has given up piano playing in public, and he is before the public so much anyway, with the 2 singing societies, his organ playing etc. and etc…Lel is going on with his plan, only has decided to ask different musicians to play. Erard + Co. in Paris will send the harpsichord here.” (Diary 2, Spring 1898) On December 1, 1898 and January 12, 1899 Lang arranged two Bach Concerto Concerts performing on the Erard harpsichord imported from Paris which was done “by the kindness of Messrs. Chickering and Sons.” (BPL Lang Prog.) The purpose of these concerts, which were held at the Association Hall at three o’clock, was the “enlarging of the Ruth Burrage Library by the addition of full orchestral scores for the home use of Musicians.” (Ibid) As usual Frances and family members were involved in the details. “I worked almost all day on the Announcements for the Bach Concerts. They are very handsome. The work of Updyke…Directed envelopes all day. Bach concerts.” (Diary 2, Fall 1898)
At the first concert Lang and Madame Hopekirk played the Concerto in C Major for two keyboards, Lang played the Concerto in D Minor on the harpsichord, and Lang, Mr. Foote, and Mr. Proctor played the Concerto in C major for three keyboards. At the second concert Lang and Madame Szumowska played the Concerto in C Minor for two keyboards, Lang played the Concerto in F Major on the harpsichord, and the concert ended with Lang, Mr. Baermann, and the BSO conductor, Mr. Gericke performing the Concerto in D Minor for three keyboards. The accompaniment for all the concerti was provided by an orchestra under Mr. Kneisel. “The subscription list will include the first names in Boston, as Mr. Lang’s clientele is a distinguished one, and orders are pouring in at the Music Hall.” (Herald-Social Life (November 13, 1898): 31, GB)
These early music performances were not the first for B. J. At a concert at Bumstead Hall on Sunday April 12, 1896 he included the Bach Concerto in C Major for Three Pianos which he followed with the Prelude in C Major by Bach and the Allegro in C Major by Handel which were performed on a harpsichord built by the Boston keyboard maker, Chickering. The concert finished with Bach’s Coffee Cantata using members of the Handel and Haydn Society. A note at the end of the program stated “except in some portions of the cantata, for which Mr. Lang will play accompaniments from Bach’s figured bass, the original instruments will be used.” (Anon., undated)
CECILIA: TWENTY-THIRD SEASON, 1898-1899.
December 5 and 7, 1898 saw the American premier at the Music Hall of Verdi’s Te Deum for Double Chorus and Orchestra whose world premier had been only a few months earlier in Paris, March 20, 1898! Mr. B. L. Whelpley was the organist and Miss Sara Anderson the soprano soloist for this concert. Verdi’s Stabat Mater and other shorter works were also on the program. (Cecilia program) Hale approved of the Verdi pieces, noted that the soprano “evidently gave pleasure to the large audience, [but] was not the Miss Anderson who triumphed at the Worcester Festival,” and ended his review with his now familiar complaint: “But, as we know, orchestral rehearsals are few before Cecilia concerts, and Mr. Lang is not at his ease before an orchestra.” (Journal, undated) H. M. Ticknor gave more credit to Lang, but echoed the rehearsal problem: “Mr. Lang conducted and obtained more faithful attention from the orchestra than the Symphony men always give to a leader not their own; but the Verdi hymns needed much more rehearsing than any of our choral societies can afford to pay for.” Ticknor also faulted the choir’s diction. “A mere stream of pulpy vowels without distinctive consonants means so little.” (Courier, undated)
The second concerts of the season (134th. in all) has given on Wednesday evening January 25, and Thursday evening January 26, 1899 at the Music Hall with two new accompanists, Miss Alice Coleman and Miss Laura Hawkins. Mr. Melville Horner sang Margaret’s song, The King is Dead and the choir sang Love Plumes His Wings. [for SSAA choir] Elson wrote that “there had not [been] a single weak number on the programme…Once more the Cecilia has done a good deed for Boston’s music. When one remembers how many new works have been heard here because of the energy of this society, it seems as if a very large debt of public gratitude was due to this organization.” Of Margaret’s choral piece: “Love Plumes His Wings is a dainty bit of composition, well worth the singing, and the female voices gave it with felling and finesse.” (Transcript, undated) The Herald headline was: “Fine Volume and Quality of Tone of the Singing of the Chorus—Miss Rock Piano Soloist.” This review recorded that there was “a very large audience present, and applause was generous and well deserved. The chorus sang in tune throughout the evening, with a fine volume and quality of tone. It sang expressively too, and was a credit to itself and its conductor.” Miss Rock played twice in the concert “in a manner which provoked the heartiest applause.” Nevin’s Wynken, Blynken and Nod was also part of the program. (Herald, undated) The Globe wrote: “The concert attracted a large and appreciative audience to the Music Hall last night. Mr. B. J. Lang’s marked ability as a conductor of chorus music was demonstrated anew…Miss Moulton’s love stanza, Love Plumes His Wings was given new meaning by Miss Lang’s melodious setting of the words…Miss Frances Rock assisted at this noteworthy concert, giving three piano compositions.” (Globe (January 27, 1899): 5)
The third concert was La Damnation de Faust by Berlioz, and “On account of the unusual expenses incurred to produce [this work], by reason of the artists engaged and an enlarged orchestra, a certain number of tickets will be placed on public sale at the Music Hall Box Office on and after March 1. Price, $1.50 and $2 each.” (Anon., undated) The performances were on Monday evening March 13, and Wednesday evening March 15, 1899. The Transcript wrote: “We think the performance, as a whole, the best the Cecilia has yet given of the Damnation, indeed, the best that has been heard since Mr. Lang’s first productions of the work here, in the Music Hall in 1880, and in Tremont Temple in 1881…It is getting past the time for praising the Cecilia chorus; their wonderful excellence in singing is becoming proverbial. The orchestra did better than usual…What was evidently lacking was sufficient rehearsing of all save the chorus.” (Transcript, undated) The Advertiser also praised the choir: “The work of the chorus from the very outset to the very end was admirable and always full of merit.” (Advertiser, undated) However, Hale began with the headline: “A Poor Performance of Berlioz’s Damnation of Faust in Music Hall Last Night.” he continued: “The performance last night was neither coldly accurate nor brilliantly wrong. It was colorless, dull, slovenly. Let me first of all praise the chorus for what it was allowed to do.” He continued with more praise of the choir, especially in unaccompanied works, but then wrote that when the group did orchestrally accompanied works, “it’s life is taken away by a stick, and it is sacrificed, as upon an altar and in the presence of the people.” (Journal, undated) That is certainly a new way to comment on Lang’s conducting. Another review began by saying that this was “a performance which had marked merits and serious faults, but was upon the whole interesting and creditable. The many delicate points and fine shades of the score were not to be found in the rendering, can not be denied. But probably the heaviest blame for this should rest rather upon the singers than the conductor.” The writer, possibly a choral singer himself, then remarked on how often the conductor would call attention to points of interpretation only to have them forgotten and/or ignored the next time through. “One might fancy that common sense had temporarily deserted many of them.” He then mentioned the orchestra players, who knowing that little can be covered in the in-adequate rehearsals provided, “will play neglectfully, even if they are not wilfully recalcitrant. A strong, obstinate and quite expert leader might get better results than are generally obtained, but we doubt if even such as one could come very near to perfection.” (Anon., undated)
The fourth concert broke the usual pattern of a Miscellaneous Program with just piano accompaniment, instead, The Transfiguration of Christ by Perosi was given on April 14 and 26, 1899 at the Music Hall with Mr. B. L. Whelpley as the organist and members of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Perosi was then only twenty-six but was already the Music Director of St. Mark’s in Venice. This performance was a Boston and American premiere-it had only been premiered in Italy a year earlier, March 20, 1898. A story written before the performance began with: “No event in the musical annals of Boston has ever been attended with greater or more deserved interest than the production of the Perosi oratorio by the Cecilia on the 27th.” [Actually April 24 and 26-Annual Report ] This writer noted that London, which was known to have much experience with “oratorio composers” and praised this work should account for much more than then the “grumblings of the Viennese” audience. “Everything concerning the new composer is being read and discussed with an interest thoroughly Bostonian. There remains little to be said until we hear what he says for himself.” (Anon., undated) Hale’s review included interesting comments about Italian concert life. “We heard an oratorio by Perosi last week. How do you account for the success of the work in Italy? Perosi has two powerful backers; The Church and a rich and indefatigable publisher.” [Ricordi] He then suggested that The Church wanted to have the “dramatic intensity” of modern Italian opera “used in its own service,” but “unfortunately Perosi does not show himself in the works that I have heard to be a musician of either technical proficiency or marked temperament.” From the first “to the very last note of this story of the demonic child there is not a beautiful or moving phrase, there is nothing in recitative or in accompaniment that excites any emotion whatever, religious or dramatic, there is nothing that suggests religious contemplation or leads to it…It is a bitter disappointment. For we all hoped to hear religious music that would move and uplift; and we heard music that is inherently, continuously and irretrievably dull.” After all this (and more) Hale had no space to say anything about the performance itself. Another Hale review said: “Verdi’s most effective Te Deum, sung for the second time at these concerts, brought relief, pleasure, and the heartiest admiration” after the Perosi where “the singers had performed bravely their repulsive tasks. Mr. Herbert Johnson, to whom fell the burden of the evening, sang with marked purity of voice and style. Alas! he had nothing to sing but notes-notes-notes.” (Journal, undated) Another reviewer noted the advance publicity which suggested that “a new musical genius was expected.” But, this reviewer felt that the composer handled “his art like a thoughtless amateur…To compare him to Palestrina, as his admirers have done, is to indulge in the most crushing satire…The concert ended with Verdi’s Te Deum, and it gave the audience the opportunity of judging between genius and incapacity.” (Anon., undated) After the concert Richard Bliss of Newport, writing a Letter to the Editor of the Daily News noted: “It can scarcely be denied that Perosi has been absurdly overpraised by his countrymen,” but Bliss was concerned that all the Boston critics (except Louis C. Elson) “had been not only supercilious in tone, but [also] unfair and indiscrimination in substance.” Bliss did acknowledge that the work “seems to me like a number of musical fragments written at different times, and finally tacked together. That many of the individual parts are of great beauty does not make the work as a whole satisfying.” Of the performance: “The vocal parts were excellently well done, both by the soloists and choiristers. But here praise for the execution must cease. The orchestra played with a carelessness and indifference that is astounding.” At the end of his letter he returned to the choir: “The singing of the choristers was admirable, and their work was worthy of the highest praise.” (Daily News, undated)
This season also saw the choir taking part in performances by the Boston Symphony Orchestra on March 10 and 11 when the male voices took part in Liszt’s Faust Symphony, and on April 7 and 8 when “the full chorus, enlarged for this occasion, sang in the Manfred by Schumann.” Finally the choir “again enlarged, sang in Beethoven’s Ninth Symphony with the BSO…This makes a total of fourteen concerts which the Cecilia has taken part in this season.” These additional concerts were reported in the Annual Report of May 25, 1899 where it was also reported that “a contribution of one thousand dollars a year for the next five years has been secured from anonymous subscribers, to enable the Society to rearrange its system of sale of seats in such a way as to make receipts larger and the amount of work smaller, at least, than the amount you have done during the last year…The resumption of the ”Wage-earner Concerts” had been an entire success…The increased demand, it is interesting to note, seemed to come from teachers in the public schools.” President Carey then announced that due to having had to miss so many meetings, he was stepping down as President after only two years, but “I shall always feel the liveliest interest in the welfare of the Cecilia, and the greatest sympathy with it in its problems.” (1899 Annual Report)