In 1914, when the founder of the BSO, Henry Lee Higginson was eighty years old, he wrote to the then members of the BSO concerning the founding of the orchestra. He began by reviewing the two and one half years he spent as a music student in Vienna-the chief result being the discovery that “I had no talent for music.” However this experience created a desire “that our own country should have such fine orchestras” as he heard in Europe. He returned to Boston, took part in the Civil War, married, became successful in business, and “at the end of two very good years of business began concerts in the fall of 1881. It seemed best to undertake the matter single-handed, and, beyond one fine gift from a dear friend, I have borne the costs alone…It seemed clear that an orchestra of fair size and under possible conditions would cost at least $20,000 a year more than the public would pay. Therefore, I expected this deficit each year…It was a large sum of money, which depended on my business each year and on the public. If the concert halls were filled, that would help me; if my business went well, that would help me; and the truth is, that the great public stood by me nobly.” (Perry, pp. 291 and 292)
Boston was ready for this orchestra in 1881 as “forty-years’ preparation of the Boston musical public” had been done by other groups. In 1840 J. S. Dwight had written of a dream of “an orchestra worthy to execute the grand works of Haydn and Mozart.” The Academy of Music concerts in the 1840s led to the Muscial Fund Society and then Germania Orchestra concerts of the 1850s. The building the the Boston Music Hall led to the orchestra concerts of the Harvard Musical Association and the Philharmonic Society of the 1860s and 70s. The visits of Theodore Thomas’s orchestra to Boston also added to the preparedness for the BSO. (Perry, p. 297) But, “The professional symphony orchestra operating on a full-time basis with a series of established concerts running weekly (or nearly so) throughout the winter season from October to April-not an opera orchestra that gives occasional concerts, or a mixed orchestra of professionals with nonprofessionals, or an ensemble that performs monthly or less-is an American invention. Henry Lee Higginson”s creation of the Boston Symphony Orchestra is the earliest full-fledged example.” (Ledbetter, Higginson and Chadwick, p. 52)
The group gave twenty concerts during its first season and increased to twenty-six concerts in its third season. “Since then the regular number has been twenty-four, in addition to public rehearsals.” (Mason, p. 190) The early BSO conductors were:
George Henschel 1881-1884: Visitor to Lang’s farm.
Wilhelm Gericke: 1884-1889
Arthur Nikisch: 1889-1893: Visitor to Lang’s farm.
Emil Paur: 1893-1898
Wilhelm Gericke: 1898-1906
Karl Muck: 1906-1908
Max Fiedler: 1908-1912
Karl Muck: 1912-1918
During the first years of the Boston Symphony Lang appeared as piano soloist in five seasons – ’83 and ’84 under Henschel; ’85, ’86, and ’89 under Gericke in six different concerts with the orchestra. He also appeared as an organist during the ’83 Season. (Howe, BSO. p. 253) He had been scheduled to perform at the fourth concert of the first season (Rubinstein Piano Concerto No. 3 and piano solos: Prelude in B flat minor -No. 22 of the clavecin bien tempere and the Chopin Scherzo in B flat minor, Opus 31), but illness forced him to cancel. (BSO Website)
Soloist Record Book from the BSO. Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archive.
B. J. had earlier been soloist with the Philharmonic Society of New York. At the second concert of their 35th. Season (1876-1877: of a season of six concerts, one per month from November to April) on December 9, 1876 he was the soloist in the first American performance of the Concerto #2 in G Minor by St. Saens with Dr. Leopold Damrosch conducting (Krehbiel: Phil-Memorial, p. 143) [In fact Lang had given the first American performance eleven month’s earlier in Boston with the Harvard Musical Association-see Johnson, First Performances, p. 309]. Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archive.
RUBINSTEIN CONCERTO NO. 3. For the Friday, January 5 and Saturday, January 6, 1883 concerts (14th. Pair of the Second Season) he played Rubinstein’s Third Piano Concerto, conducted by Georg Henschel (Lang had done the American première with the Harvard Musical Association on February 1, 1872-Rubinstein himself had played New York City premier eleven months later with the Theodore Thomas Orchestra on December 31, 1872-its world premier had been in London in 1857),(Johnson, First, p. 302), and at the March 14 and 15, 1884 concerts (23rd. Pair of the Third Season) conducted by Henschel he played Brahms’ Piano Concerto No. 2 which was its Boston premier. Henschel, a bass singer, also gave vocal recitals with his wife, Lilian June Bailey, a soprano; B. J. often acted as their accompanist. In fact, Lang had presented Bailey’s Boston debut “in the spring of 1876, when [she was] only just sixteen years old” in a concert that also included Arthur Foote. “These two men…had from that time taken a most kindly interest in the young lady, whose rare talent, earnestness, and charming personality had greatly impressed them.” (Henschel, p. 268) Henschel described Lang as a “thorough and enthusiastic musician, broadminded, tactful, of great general culture and a rare kindness of heart, he was the acknowledged leader of the musical community of Boston.” (Henschel, p. 268) Henschel also stated that “I doubt if without them [Lang and Foote] I should have come out of the first season of the Boston Symphony alive” as even though he had the complete support of Mr. Higginson, the attitude of the press was not of “enthusiasm or…universal approval.” (Henschel. p. 270)
The reviews for Lang’s first BSO solo appearance which included Rubinstein”s Concerto No. 3 for Piano in G, Opus 45 and the Polacca Brilliante by Weber, orchestrated by Liszt [“L”Hilarite” Opus 72 by Weber, arranged by Liszt, S367] were mostly very positive. The Courier began: “The concerto was the best performed of last night’s concert. Mr. Lang played with greater ease and stedier shading than at the recent Phgilharmonic Concert. His octave work was free from over emphasis, and the elbow action was less noticeably employed, its place being taken by a quieter but more effective wrist action in these passages. The scale runs of the first movement were especially remarkable for true delicacy of touch and shading. The floritura (much of it in arpeggios) preceeding the closing theme was of excellent qualiity. In the dashing passages of the finale Mr. Lang made his best efforts, but in the closing theme there was again something of dryness and hardness audible. In the polacca the lighter passages were very daintily rendered, but the heavier portions demanded something of Neupert’s bravoura style. More power was needed.” The review continued: “The symphony was badly played.” (Courtesy of the Bosyton Symphony Orchestra Archives) The reviewer of the Traveler echoed the evaluation of the symphony (Beethoven”s Fifth) saying: “It is doubtful if its admirers will go again to hear it should Mr. Henschel announce its repetition by the orchestra under his baton,” and only mentioned the two orchestra and piano works with the comment: “Mr. Lang’s selections for the piano were beautifully rendered with the well-known taste and skill of that gentleman.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony orchestra Archives) The Globe also felt that the Beethoven Symphony had not been well handed, even though it was the second time that Henschel had programmed the work with the BSO. “The symphony was very roughly handled, in matters of detail. many passages which should have been delicate were coarse, and the rasping of the strings disagreeably prominent throughout.” But, of Lang it was said: “He was received with evident satisfaction and unmistakable enthusiam. Rubinstein’s Concerto for the piano-forte in G afforded him an excellent apportunity to exhibit the rich results of training and study. His performance was mechanically perfect. Further than that there is not much to be said. After the performance of the concerto he was recalled twice. This was likewise true after his playing of a second number later in the evening, which was a truly brilliant piece of work.” (Courtesy of ther Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Journal”s short review also panned the Beethoven performance, and covered Lang’s appearance in two lines: “Mr. Lang’s pianoforte numbers were played with care and generally with fine feeling, although in the more difficult parts of the concerto the solictude of the performer seemed to be more for a demonstration of mechanical than artistic skill. As a whole his work was interesting, but best, it seemed, in the second number, whose demands were no so numberous or exacting.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Evening Transcript of Monday, January 3, 1883 spent two full columns on the Beethoven, continued with one sentence concerning the Mendelssohn and Berlioz overtures which “were brilliantly played,” and then ended with a long paragraph of luke-warm praise ending with the confession of the reviewer”s “absolute inability to feel any entusiasm for Rubinstein’s concerto. It is a work that has always left us cold.” The review ended with: “In the Weber-Liszt polacca we were carried away at once by both player and music. The performance was utterly superb.” (Courtesey of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The first two-thirds of the review in the Herald concerned Lang. “Mr. Lang’s contributions to the programme proved the strong attraction of the evening, as he has rarely been heard to better advantage than on this occasion. In the melodious concerto the full beauty of the pianoforte score was brought out with a clearness and brilancy that could hardly have been bettered. The graceful interpretation of the andante was one of the most notable features of the performance, and the final movement aroused the enthusiasm of the audience to such an extent that it found expression in the most generous applause. The Weber-Liszt Polacca, however, illustrated the brilliancy of the player”s mnethod even more distinctly, as the composition was given with admirable spirit, and so thoroughly with the orchestra throughout as to add immensely to the effect. At the conclusion of each of his numbers Mr. Lang was recalled to acknowledge the applause awakened by his efforts.” Again, the symphony performance was negatively commented on: “The presentation of the symphony, notably in the two first movements, was not altogether satisfactory.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) One final review under the banner of “Music and the Drama,” also panned the symphony noting that since it was very well known “with Boston people, and the many fine interpretations of it which they have enjoyed, the performance given by the Boston Symphony Orchestra at its concert on Saturday evening must have left, with many of those present, an impression not wholly free from pain…In some respects the work was not given as well as last season. There was much the same lack of consistancy in the conductor’s reading as before, but last year the orchestra was well under the conductor’s control and followed faithfully where he led, and its delivery was reasonably smooth, tuneful and sympathetic. This year, however, the orchestral treatment was generally harsh in tone, often coarse and slovenly in expression and lacking in unity of time.” Lang’s section of the review covered one-seventh of the whole. “Mr. B. J. Lang, the soloist of the evening, played, with orchestral support, Rubinstein’s Pianoforte Concerto in G (No. 3, op. 45), and Liszt”s piano transcription of Weber”s Polacca Brilliante. In both selections he displayed to very high advantage his fine taste, scholarly insight and finished technique. In the Polacca, however, he played with something more of freedom than in the concerto, though his style lacks that last degree of intensity requiste for the most satisfactory interpretation of Liszt in his most frenzied moments.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) Recordings of the Weber-Liszt can be found on YouTube. Search for: Franz Liszt (Polonaise Brillante for Piano and Orchestra), and in December 2009 two recordings could be found. Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archive.
HENSCHEL-TE DEUM. Lang’s second appearance with the BSO was during the final concert of its second season when he appeared as the organist in Henschel”s Te Deum for Chorus, Soloists and Orchestra. He aslo played the organ part in Mendelssohn’s Overture to St. Paul about which the April 1, 1883 issue of the Courier commented: “The overture with its broad organ accompanimrnt, put the audience into an appropriate mood for the earnest works to follow [the Henschel and Beethoven’s Symphony No. 9]. Henschel’s work was called “One of the broadest, and highest works works he has given forth.” The review ended with: “With this worthy programme ended the most phenomenal series of orchestral concerts that Boston has ever enjoyed.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) Another review called the Te Deum an “impressive and musicianly work, clear, strongly colored and interesting throughout, but made no mention of Lang. (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Transcript review praised the new work calling it an “eminently effective work, full of passages of intense emotional vigor,” while “The Ninth Symphony had one of the best performances that have been heard here. The chorus did especially well, and showed the carefullest and most intelligent drilling.”[What choir?] “Mr. B. J. Lang played the organ part in the overture and the Te Deum. Mendelssohn’s brilliant overture was capitally played, and made a great effect…The whole occasion was one of enthusiasm, and, at the close, the audience’s farewell was of the warmest description. The next season will begin on Oct. 13.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Journal noted: “The overture, in which the strong organ accompaniment by Mr. B. J. Lang appeared with marked effect, was fairly well played, and served as a good introduction for the more important numbers on the program.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Herald felt that the Te Deum should be part of a church service rather than in a concert, but admitted that the “instrumental part is richly scored, the chorus is used with admirable taste, and there are many melodious ideas throughout the work.” No mention was made of Lang’s part in the concert. (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives). The Traveler was very complimentary about all aspects of the concert, and noted that “Every seat was taken and all practical standing places were occupied on the floor and in the balcony.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Advertiser said of the Mendelssohn: “The overture was admirably played, though the effect was marred not a little by the untunefulness of the grand organ, which proved an element of discord where it was introduced in the other two works.” Of the Te Deum it noted: “It proved itself to be the most immediately interesting and beautiful of Mr. Henschel”s compositions thus far produced here.” (Courtesy of the Boston Syumphony Orchestra Archives) The Musical Courier , published in New York City, also spoke of the organ: “The overture was spoiled for me at least, because the organ which was played by Mr. Lang, was considerably below the pitch of the orchestra, the effect to a musical ear being naturally bad.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives)
BRAHMS CONCERTO NO. 2. William F. Apthorp, in his March 17, 1884 review in the Boston Transcript hailed Brahms who “has given to the world the ‘great concerto’ for which it has been waiting so long; a work which can fairly be called fit companion to the Beethoven and Schumann concertos.” (Johnson, First Performances, p. 84) The performances had been on Friday March 14 (Public Rehearsal) and Saturday, March 15. One reviewer devoted two-thirds of his space to the Brahms. “The audience as the Boston Symphony Orchestra’s concert of Saturday evening last had an opportunity to hear a work which, before them, no American, and few Europeans audiences have heard. We refer to the second concerto for pianoforte by Brahms-his opus 83, in B flat. We recall at this writing two foreign performances-by Von Bulow and by the author[composer]; of these the latter was not favorably spoken of, as Brahms is not a sufficiently strong master of the pianoforte to do justice to his own score, or always even to sketch it out according to his own prescribed condictions of time and force. On the present occasion the pianist was Mr. B. J. Lang, whose playing, in spite of the admirable chacteristics which we shall go on to note, left something to be desired. So far as this sense of desire was personal to us, we can half blame Mr. Lang for it. We had previously heard him play the concerto in an intimate circle of a few friends, where no responsibility weighed upon him, and where he felt nothing of that great nervousness which oppresses him in public, and we were then so struck by the solo part,-supported by Mr. Foote, with a sketch of the score on a second piano,- that our expectations of the complete rendering were high. Mr. Lang went to his task with a thorough conviction of the value of the music, a thorough understanding of it, a strong purpose almost to exact approval of it, and a technical command of all its many and great difficulties of account and execution. But somehow, in the Music Hall, he did not seem able to get quite deep enough, either in intensity of tone or of expression, in spite of his earnestness and correctness: and as the orchestra did not always seem quite clear in its relations with the solo instrument, we often failed to find what we were looking for with good reason, as we thought. Let us hasten to say, however, that the audience genrally accepted the concerto with pleasure, and commended with much applause the playiung of Mr. Lang, who surely deserved much.” Another paragraph followed describing various features of the work. (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Evening Transcript of Monday, March 17, 1884 under “Theatres and Concerts” was enthusiastic about the Brahms, writing: “The better one becomes acquainted wiht the works of this wonderful man, the firmer faith has one that each new composition of his will bring with it a fresh revalation of true power and greatness…This truly great concerto found in Mr. Lang a thoroughly able and sympathetic interpreter. As this was decidely the severest task Mr. Lang has imposed upon himself for years,…so was his playing of it the very finest that we can remember having heard from him since he played the Saint-Saens concerto. he overcame the technical difficulties of the work without the appearance of effort-which, on the whole, does not happen to him too often. In the higher artistic sense, too, he rose to the full height of his task. Such exhaustive rendering of a great and noble work is rare; such exquisite finish and beauty of detail work, united with such noble breadth of style, such genuine depth of sentiment, and such ample totality of conception. One not unimportant detail should not be forgotten.” Mr. Lang played with the full orchestra, not the usually diminished force of strings which is usually detailed to ”play accompaniments.” This was a piece of devotion to his task which it were well for other pianists to imitate. Mr. Lang played the little Schumann pieces with the perfection of grace” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) A short review in the Journal noted that “the chief interest of the evening centered upon the Brahms Concerto and Mr. Lang’s playing of it. It proved to be a striking and beautiful work, very strongly and harmoniously constructed, melodious, and of a decidedly romantic character. It would probably, however, prove to be capable of full understanding by professional musicians and accomplished students of music, who should possess knowledge, who should possess knowledge enough to perceive its extraordinary technical merit. It is a great work in this respect, but to credit it with decided fire and genius would probably be going too far. It was finely played by Mr. Lang, who easily attacked and conquered its remarkable difficulties. The orchestral part of the programme was very well performed, although the symphony has often been better done here.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The short sixteen line review in the Globe noted the first performance of the Brahms, and said: “It proved to be a melodious work, more pleasing on first hearing than most of this composer’s productions. Mr. Lang proved his scholarship and his popularity. Beethoven’s Eighth Symphony was finely given.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) Under the title “Music and Drama” with a headline of “Reigning Attractions of Stage and Concert Hall” it was reported: “The prelude to Lohengrin was very beautifully rendered. It surpassed anything that the orchestra has done this season. The concerto for pianoforte by Brahms came next and was really the principal attraction, as it was the most inspiring and effective feature of the entertainment. He is truly one of the greatest, weightiest and every way, worthiest of modern composers…Mr. Lang proved himself equal to the task of interpreting his part of this marvelous work, meeting all its difficulties with apparent ease, and rising to the altitude of its loftiest thought…It is impossible to conceive how he could have surpassed himself and surely we know of no one else who could have done so. This is unusual praise, but well earned and justly deserved. He also played the Schumann numbers [Romance. A Vision. Aria. Landler. The Elf] with the very perfection of ease and grace.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) In the Sunday Herald in the section “Stage and Concert Halls” recorded: “The Brahms Concerto was the novelty of the evening, and proved to be the most enjoyable composition which the composer has as yet put before the public, and its leading characteristics are sharply in contrast with his orchestral works which have been heard here. The concerto was composed about three years ago…Mr. Lang’s presentation of the work was beyond criticism. Good musician that he is, he never has shown a better proof of his abilities in this line of effort. The piano was given just the prominence demanded, and every theme was as clearly presented as one could wish. His intelligence, skill and good taste combined to give this work a peculiar charm in all the movements, and his efforts were fully appreciated and generously rewarded by the audience. The pretty trifles of Schumann were given a real value by the artistic fashion in which they were played, and altogether Mr. Lang more than maintained his reputation by his evening’s efforts.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The twenty-line Traveller review noted that the audience for this concert was “comparatively small,” and covered the concerto performance in two sentences. “Mr. Lang played the Brahms Concerto for the pianoforte with great skill and beauty of expression. The work, which was given for the first time here, proved to be one of pleasing melody as well as high merit in other respects.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Observer review began: “The great feature of the evening’s enter
tainment was the presentation of the Braham’s [sic] concertos, and the pleasant anticipations which had been raised concerning it were in every way gratified…The place of the pianoforte is more than usually subordinated in the work, and Mr. Lang again showed his masterly skill in the manner in which he rendered his part of the composition, giving it not undue prominence, and yet exhibiting in the fullest and the strongest way, the beauty of coloring and all the effects in it. The strongest passages in particular were rendered with a presision and a clearness and justness of expression that was in the highest degree commendatory…The Schumann numbers on the programme showed in strong contrast with the weightier and more severe concerto, and Mr. Lang proved his versatility in a remarrkable manner, giving to the selections all the delicacy of touch and sweetness of expression that legitimately belonged to them.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives)
Higginson described the first conductor, Georg Henschel: “He conducted the orchestra with much success for three years, during which time he drew a few men from Europe. He and the Orcheastra worked hard, and gave us fair results.” (Perry, p. 293)
TCHAIKOVSKY CONCERTO NO. 1. In the February 19 and 20, 1885 concerts (19th. Pair of the Fourth Season) Lang played Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 (just under ten years after having conducted the world premier in Boston)-he had done just the “Allegro” at a Fitchburg concert of March 1883. The Home Journal devoted about ninety percent of its attention to the concerto. The writer spent half of his space telling why he didn’t like the work, and then, in a most convoluted manner, described Lang”s performance. “In regard to Mr. Lang”s performance of the work, we can see no reason for changing our former opinion as to a method which prevents him from playing with either clearness or breadth of tone which it would be extremely gratifying to have him bestow, and which he evidently aims at with the artistic fervor and fidelity that are requisite for an absolutely perfect performance. It is yet our pleasure to acknowledge that we have not yet known him to play in Boston with such excellent taste, and to renew our appreciation of his nice sense of phrasing. It is as a master of accentuation that we find him making his efforts that naturally count for more than they are worth. During the past two years his technique has beyond all cavil developed in elasticity, which enables him to play runs and octaves with rare freedom; nor are his mannerisms so pronounced; so that all in all the treatment to which he submitted the concerto was eminently just and masterly. Mr. Lang was enthusiasticly applauded and recalled.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Traveller devoted just under one-half of its space to the concerto. The reviewer wrote that: “To one not an especial student of the painoforte, the concerto of Tschaikovsky which Mr. Lang played makes an unsatisfactory effect. It is not absolute music, though doubtless the writer conceived with definite outline the picture he would express. It would seem a good plan if modern writers for the piianoforte, beginning with Rubinstein, would search out a new name for what they are now obliged to call concerto, for their methods, and the point of view from which they write for orchestra and pianoforte, are in effect different from those of Mozart or beethoven, and, therefore, distracting to the student. But the work is not dull; it is only untransparent. The difficulties of what Mr. Lang is playing can never be established by seeing or hearing him play. The most extraordinary technical demands are met by him with just the same fortified complacency. He is never at fault technically, and his impassioned, nervous manner is indicative of a fine, susceptable temperment, which makes his interpretations uniformly just. Mr. Lang was heard with interest by the large audience, and warmly recalled.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Transcript reviewer devoted his second half to the concerto saying in general that he liked the work , even if “some portions of the work are marvels of systematized cacophony…Mr. Lang played the concerto with evident enthusiasm, and with a finish of detail that was altogether fine. For grace of phrasing, purity of style and general artistic completeness, his playing could only call forth admiration. Nor was anything wanting in force and vigor of accent. The only thing that we felt the want of was a more commanding volumne of tone from the pianoforte; in this, as in many of the modern concerts, the pianoforte has literally to vie with the orchestra in power, and it requires almost superhuman strength to make the solo part really dominate over the accompanimnet. Yet it was only in a few passages that any weakness was felt in this respect, and this occasional physical shortcoming was as little when compared with the high intellectual and artistic qualities of Mr. Lang”s playing.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The short review in the Globe noted that the concerto “held the closest attention of the audience. Mr. Lang”s clean touch and artistic interpretation gave this well-known concerto [well known only ten years after its world premier!] new life, the last movement being especially fine.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The review in the Courier began by saying: “The piece de resistance of the concert of last night was Schumann”s ”Cologne” Symphony…Not far behind the symphony in interest was the Tschaikowsky concerto played by Mr. Lang. The pianist was greeted with the heartiest applause from first to last, and in the last two movements certainly deserved it. The development of the first movement smacked somewhat of the etude order of music, although the first theme, given first in orchestra with piano accompaniment and then in reversed treatment, was finely give. Best of all was the second movement, with its pastoral, nusette-like opening, and we can compliment Mr. Lang on the perfection of ensemble in this movement of the work. He was also successful in the finale, where, in spite of the heavy orchestration, he made his part always clear and intelligible. It was rather a musicianly than a fiery performance., but its clearness and steadiness had a decided charm for both the critic and audience.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) A review with the headline of “The Nineteenth Symphony Concert” began by noting that the concerto “has been occasionally played” in Boston since its premier,[certainly a different position than the one taken in the previous review] but the reviewer found only small aspects of the work to approve of. “The orchestra did excellent work, and Mr. Lang, who was the pianist, was often strong, clear, sure and effective, although at times his natural nervousness seemed to prevent his doing his best, as an occasional inexactitude in the many double octave passages and dispersed harmonies indicated. The full chords of the introductions were sharply and positively struck, and in the andantino he read smoothly and lightly.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Gazette review spent close to half its space on the concerto. “The soloist was Mr. B. J. Lang, who played Tschaikowsky”s [sic] concerto for piano, op. 23, a work which, the better becomes acquainted with it, the more pretentious it seems, and the more frivolous and vulgar it is in effect. Of Mr. Lang”s playing there is not a great deal to be said. There was much jumping of hands from the keyboard, much that was spasmodic in style and effect, and but little that was clear. In arpeggio runs the first notes and the last notes were heard, while the intervening notes were scarcely audible. It was the same in nearly all the brilliant passages where the hands took in the whole extent of the keyboard. The opening phrase was attacked with force, and then but little was distinct until the hand sprang up with a thump from the piano at the last note. This reatless dancing up and down of the hands at last became a distracting feature of the performance. As a reading the performance was barren of interest. The artist played with exemplary pedantry, but with no breadth or largeness of style, and with a phlegmatic coldness that was wearily uninspiring. The best effects were achieved in the first half of the opening movement, and in the middle of the andante. For a performer of Mr. Lang”s long experience his playing throughout showed extraordinary lack of repose and of artistic balance. He was received with great heartiness on his first appearance, and at the end of the concert was applauded and recalled with no less enthusiasm.” [Which must have really upset the reviewer] (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Herald review reported: “Mr. B. J. Lang was the soloist, and his clear, intelligent and accurate presentation of the piano score of the concerto made this number the leading attraction of the evening. The presentation of the work was a far more satisfying one than that given by the same soloist during the second season
of the ill fated Philharmonic Society, in 1882, and Mr. Lang was enthusiastically applauded at its finish.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The last quarter of the review in the Journal noted: “Mr. Lang gave again the evidence of his true mastery in the art when he bestowed upon the technical concerto of Tschaikowsky every atom of beauty and power which the notes would allow. The strong, stuccate intonations in the allegro were given with the vividness and grace so peculiar to Mr. Lang, and at each turning point there was the delicate poising on pivotal notes which adds so much to the magnetism of the music.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives)
SAINT-SAENS RHAPSODIE D”AUVERGNE. He appeared in 1886 (12th. Pair of the Fifth Season) as soloist in Saint-Saens Rhapsodie d’Auvergne for Piano, Opus 73 (originally composed only two years before in 1884). These January 1st. and 2nd. concerts conducted by William Gericke produced the following critical notice in the January 4 issue of the Boston Traveler that said, “It seemed quite a natuarl thing that the novelty of the concert should be put into Mr. Lang”s hands to interpret; that it was a composition by St. Saens is another coincidence. The ”Rhapsodie d”Auvergne” is the latest thing which we have heard from its composer. Strolling in Auvergne, Saint-Saens must have entered a Sunday School and, to revenge the act, composed this rhapsodie. Its leading melody is likely enough a provincial chanson, and it is sufficiently sober to have emanated from the clerical and not the secular patois. But only the melody is sober, the composition itself is fanciful and jolly. Superficial in one sense yet only because it makes no pretence. Beginning with a sort of query for the piano, a moderate movement follows, wherin the orchestra speaks sparingly and in no unconventional manner. Then an intermezzo and the sound grows apace, the ensemble becoming more engrossing; the comical oboe plays hide and seek against the full force of the instruments, triangle included, all of which is very interesting. Meanwhile the theme, before mentioned, has been gaining ground with the pianofoirte; it comes and goes, now gaining hold in the orchestra, the piccolo and cymbals adding their suggestive touches, while the solo part in brilliant runs asserts and strengthens the climax. The piano is never unduly prominent, nor is the orchestration as bizarre as one might excuse under so fantastic a title. Mr. Lang enjoyed his part of the work and made it very delightful. This time the artist could lose himself in the virtuoso and read the notes for what they were on the surface. The piece was enjoyed by the audience, and Mr. Lang”s recalls were warm and hearty.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony orchestra Archives)” A short notice in the Globe noted of Lang”s playing of the Saint-Saens: “That he played the difficult work in a smooth, intelligent way goes without saying. The large audience gave him a splendid reception.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Evening Transcript of Monday, January 4, 1886 devoted the last third of the review to the Saint-Saens. “Saint-Saen”s new Rhapsodie d”Auvergne is a brilliant and fascinating fantasy on what are, in all probability, authentic Auvergnat melodies. The orchestral part is decidedly overscored-thus modern Frenchmen have acquires such a knack at getting brilliancy and volume of tone out of even the most exiguous orchestra, that they cannot rid themselves of the habit when they turn to accompany a pianoforte. In this rhapsody, too, the treatment of the pianoforte is peculiarly light, almost classical, so to speak; the pianoforte part consisting largely of finger-work, the modern means of thundering being only rarely resorted to, so that the orchestra is all the more in danger of covering it up. Mr. Lang played with infinite brillianvcy and piquancy; between him and Saint-Saens there seems to be a peculiar bond of sympathy. he was twice recalled.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) Another review began with the thought that “It was not an important concert, the only new work produced being a Rhapsodie D”Auvergne by Saint-Saens, the pianoforte part of which was played by Mr. B. J. Lang. [The other pieces were an overture by Mendelssohn, Schubert”s Fantasie in F Minor orchestrated by Mottl, and Beethoven”s Symphony No. 6!] “It was characteristic of Mr. Lang to introduce a new work in the concert, but the work chosen, namely, the Saint-Saens rhapsodie, seemed not only unworthy the reputation of the composer, but it seemed to belittle somewhat the character of the concert. It is certainly a work of such ordinary difficulty, as no musician will deny, that one feels justified in referring to it as a kinder concertstuck, and it is but just to Mr. Lang to admit that no pianist could perform it well enough to achieve with it a brilliant artistic success.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Journal reported: “Mr. Lang played the Saint-Saens rhapsodie-a recent work of that composer-in his usual masterly style, and whatever of standard beauty could be wrought out of the piece that was brought strongly to view; but in another selection it is probable Mr. Lang would have been better enjoyed.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony orchestra Archives) Under the heading “Music and Drama” with the headline of “The Twelfth Symphony Concert,” the reviewer noted: “Another novelty ended the first part of the programme-Saint-Saens”s recent ”Rhapsodie d”Auvergne,” copies of which have just reached this country. This fantasia, written for pianoforte and orchestra, is principally based on two well marked and well contrasting themes, the one quite tranquil, even almost melancholy, and the other gay, urgent, lively and with a stir like that of dancing feet running through it…Mr. B. J. Lang played the piano part with lightness, brilliancy and discreet consideration; some of the swift little flashes in the allegro being especially clear and effective.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Courier review wrote: “The Rhapsodie d”Auvergne, by Saint-Saens proved to be a spirited idealization of striking folk songs for the piano, in good classical form however, and with some good thematic development. The themes had much brusquerie, and one could almost hear the clack of the sabots in some portions of the work. Mr. Lang took it at a dashing pace, giving much verve to the composition, yet never becoming unclear. What with the catchy glissando effects, the sparkling themes and the sharp contrasts, the work and the pianist won much favor, and Mr. Lang received a double recall of the heartiest character.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony orchestra Archives) The Gazette thought the piece “not a particularly interesting work. Its themes are manifestly Auvergnat melodies, which the composer has attempted to treat in a manner somewhat similar to that used by Liszt in his Hungarian Rhapsodies; but the subjects lack the originality and the rhythmical force of those so effectively used by Liszt. Moreover, the piano part, though doubtless brilliantly and ably written, does not always come out distinctly through the orchestration, to which the piano part is, in addition, too often subordinated, for a solo. Judged by that unfair test, a single hearing, the work seemed hardly worth the doing. Certainly its musical value is very light. Mr. Lang played it with his usual zeal and with his usual well-kinown mannner, and was twice recalled at its conclusion.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) A review entitled “The Symphony Concert” devoted iits opening and two-thirds of its space to the piano work. “Mr. Lang”s appearance as soloist made the notable feature of the evening; and the high esteem in which he is held by the musical public was amply proven by the cordial greeting given him upon his entrance.. The Saint-Saens Rhapsodie, chosen as his contribution to the evening”s programme, had its first hearing here on this occasion, and proved to be a clever and interesting, rather than a particularly brilliant composition….The piano is not given an undue prominence, and the performance of the work did not afford the player the opportunity for personal display usually sought by the soloist. The work done by Mr. Lang was, however, as thoroughly satisfying as it usually is in all his concert efforts, and the audience showed a hearty appreciation of his artistic interpretation of the paino score.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) A more recent description of the work n
oted: “The Rhapsodie was his first work for piano and orchestra that was not in concerto form and, since it used airs from the Auvergne region, owed something to Liszt”s Hungarian Rhapsodies. There is the Lisztian pattern of a melancholy song, in this case based upon a melody heard sung by women doing their washing at a stream. It is interrupted with trills in thirds and gives way to an insistent bass rhythm and a ”gypsy” dance, which comes to a climax in strong chords. There is a further dashing dance embellished with runs down the keyboard, a reappearance of the introductory song and the most scintillating of all his spectacular final displays. The work was written in three versions: piano solo, piano and orchestra, and duet for four hands. It was a piece he chose to perform in an embryonic recording process pioneered by a piano manufacturer, Edwin Welte, in the early years of this century.” (Rees, St. Saens, p. 252) This piano roll performance is available as a 99 cent iTunes download.
BEETHOVEN CONCERTO FOR PIANO VILOIN AND CELLO. Lang also appeared with the orchestra on March 22nd. and 23rd. 1889 (20th. Set of the Eighth Season). Together with Franz Kneisel, violin and Fritz Gieze, cello, Lang was the piano soloist in Beethoven”s Triple Concerto. The Times wrote: “There is a good reason why the Beethoven concerto is seldom heard; it requires of the soloists the greatest breadth of style and most thorough virtuosity, and yet offers no opportunity for brilliancy and display. It was grandly given. The tone of Mr. Giese”s ”cello was not as of yore, but in matters of execution all the players deserved more than the generous applause which they received.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Transcript wrote: “The ”triple” concertos is not often heard. It is indifferently forceful, though it has moments of the real Beethoven. Barring Mr. Lang”s too great delicacy, the ensemble was admirable; strictures on the manner in which the work was read cannot rest; it was, from a musical point of view, a superior performance. The concert gave great pleasure to a very large audience.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Globe presented a very extensive review. Its third paragraph [the first two paragraphs being longer than the full length usually given in this paper] it noted: “It has not been played here for more than seven years. That last previous performance was in Mr. Henschel”s reign, and readers may remember that on that occasion he resigned the baton to Mr. Listemann, and took the pianoforte part himself; Mr. and Mrs. Liebe being the string players.” Then two detailed paragraphs about the work followed.Next was written: “The concerto was Exquisitely Played, the soloists chosen being Mr. Kneisel, Mr. Giese and Mr. Lang…It would be a difficult task to find any one else to play the piano part as Mr. Lang played it, and close upon an impossibility to have it better rendered. His long experience in accompaniment and the truly modest spirit with which he always subordinates piano or organ to the singer or the player whom he has to support, here stood him in good stead, while his technical command of the delicious toned Chickering he used, enabled him to make his attitude appreciated by his hearers. There was always tone enough to give the piano part its consequence, but never did the instrument, which can so easily override others, dominate…The whole second movement was a beautiful exemplification of how such a support should be given, and, in brief, the solo work as a whole illustrated the best kind of ensemble playing.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Post reported: “Beethoven”s triple concerto is one of those works which, like his earlier sonatas and piano concertos, is principally interesting as an illustration of his first manner, when he was not yet free from the traditions of Haydn…Mr. Kneisel and Mr. Lang gave a careful, conscientious and painstaking rendering of their respective parts [Giese had had some intonation problems], remarkable alike for faithfulness and accuracy, which, in the case of Mr. Lang, was somewhat lacking in the force and prominence demanded of the piano part..” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Home Journal said first that “the concert was absolutely without a dull moment,” and then continued: “In their treatment of this work, Messrs Lang, Giese and Kneisel played with all their characteristic earnestness, care and intelligence. The orchestra selections throughout were delightfully rendered.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) Louis C. Elson wrote: “The triple concerto introduced Messrs. Lang, Kneisel and Giese as soloists. The three are so well known as competent chamber musicians that one can readily imagine the ensemble. Yet the work is not a very inspiring one. It is not to be compared to the fourth or fifth piano concertos or to the violin concerto. The best part of it all, in my estimation, is the largo, in which the tender violin melody was beautifully played by Mr. Kneisel. (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) The Courier began its review: “If there was nothing of great depth in the programme of last night, there was certainly nothing dull…The triple concerto by Beethoven has not the depth of the later compositions, but is clearly built in the Haydn forms, and has all the symmetry of that master. The largo (second movement) is the most beautiful part of the work, and in this the violin-Mr. Kneisel-had every opportunity to display itself, and it was played to perfection, while Messrs. Lang and Giese gave all the possible support on the piano and cello. The finale, in rondo form, was given with a dash and brio that awakened great enthusiasm.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) Another reviewer wrote: “It is, perhaps, the least interesting of Beethoven”s concertos, though the first movement has some noble moments, and there is a fine outburst in the finale, of the more familiar Beethoven; but, on the whole, the work is conventional and far from impressive in effect. The solo parts are too much in the vein of chamber music to be heard to advantage in so large a place as Music Hall. The soloists were Mr. B. J. Lang, Mr. Franz Kneisel and Mr. Fritz Giese, and they peerformed their tasks conscientiously, though the piano part was given in a dry, rigid and cold manner, and was tame in effect owing to a lack of due emphasis and an over-use of the soft pedal…The work was much applauded, and the soloists received a hearty recall.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) Louis C. Elson in the Advertiser also rated the concerto lower other Beethoven works of this type, but noted that the work is “a good display of ensemble effects…it is needless to say that three such good chamber musicians presented the work adequately. Mr. Lang”s work is always clear and precise, and in the Rondo all three of the artists showed considerable spirit.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) Another review, possibly from the Journal, wrote: “It was good to hear Beethoven”s Triple Concerto-which might better have been called a trio concerto-once more. In spite of the opinions of many excellent judges that it is no very [sic] strong work, we have always found it an immensely pleasant composition to listen to…It was admirably played by the three excellent artists, and produced an exceedingly fine impression.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives) Another review noted: “The Beethoven concerto was the least familiar of the several numbers, and in its performance Messrs. Lang, Kneisel and Giese gave their best efforts. Although not a particukarly brilliant selection, it is a very pleasing one, and the grace and freedom of the melodious theme of the largo movement makes this the gem of the concerto.” (Courtesy of the Boston Symphony Orchestra Archives)
Of the Gericke years, Higginson wrote: “Mr. Gericke, who came here for five years, brought in his second year many good musicians from Europe, and really created our Orchestra. he became a great favorite with the public, which was very sorry to lose him.” (Perry. p. 293) Arthur Nikisch was the next conductor, and he stayed for four years, which was followed by the return of Gericke for an additional eight years. “He [Gericke] found the Orchestra in excellent condition, and, with his skill and admirable taste, brought it to a high pitch.” (Ibid)
Lang had other connections with the BSO. During the fourth season he, together with George W. Chadwick, gave “lectures on the structure of the Beethoven symphonies as they were played” through the season. (Howe, p. 68) Early in October of 1884, B. J. announced a series of 12 “Symphony-Concert Lessons” to be held at Chickering Hall on alternate Thursdays beginning October 23. “The music of the following Symphony-Concert will be explained, analyzed, and made more interesting by helpful information, beside being played through upon two Piano-fortes. So far as possible, the solo performer for each concert will play his respective part. A full explanation of the constructiuon of a symphony will be given, together with a description of all orchestral instruments, their quality, range, &c.” (BPL Lang Prog., 6598) The cost for the series of 12 lectures was $5. In reviewing the programs it becomes obvious that the preparation represented an enormous amount of work; doing the analysis, deciding what “helpful information” to give, finding (or making) the two piano arrangements of all the repertoire with a period of only two weeks between each presentation was a major undertaking. And, in the middle of the series he was the soloist in the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto! The series ended with the 12th. Lecture on Thursday, March 19, 1885 which covered two orchestral works, one vocal solo, and the “First and Second Parts” of Bach”s Christmas Oratorio!!! (BPL Lang Prog., 6599-6610) George Chadwick felt that this idea for public lectures had been stolen from him! He wrote in his Diary: “Teaching began quite prosperously. Mrs. Oliver Peabody organized a class in symphonic analysis among her friends and so at last I began to get into [the] sacred higher circle of Boston society. These nice women, all of them quite mature met at my studio in the church [Park Street Church] every Friday morning and went to the Symphony rehearsal in the afternoon. I talked and played to them the music of the current Sym. concert and sometimes that of other concerts. It paid me about $10 per hour and was very pleasant. I suppose I must have interested them for they continued the class the next year and also got up for me another class of their daughters and other young ladies some of whom were very good pianists and could read the Symphonies with me ”a quatre mains.” But the most sincere feature of all came from Mr. Lang who hearing of my success at the game wemt into it with a public class which he held in Chickering Hall! Of course he had a perfect night to do it and it did not cut into my classes in the least but I felt at the time that it showed a kind of professional greed to which a really generous nature would not have stooped…And so began the great industry of Symphonic lectures.” (6379-81) Louis Charles Elson, writing as “Proteus” in 1884 gave this impression of the lecture scene: “Boston is tending toward musical lectures. Mr. B. J> Lang is giving Symphonic Analysis at Chickering”s, Mr. Cgadwick is doing the same at his studio, Prof. J. K. Paine is giving historico-musical lectures once a week, [and] Mr. L. C. Elson is analyzing symphonies once a week at the Neww England Conservatory of Music.” (Faucett, Bio-Bib., pp. 235 and 236)
Lang was also responsible for acquainting the BSO’s second conductor, Gericke, with what had already been presented to Boston audiences. The critic Apthorp remembered in 1911 that:
Shortly after Mr. Gericke’s arrival in Boston, B. J. Lang asked him if he would not be interested to see the programmes of past symphony concerts in our city; to which he replied he had already seen them all, and had studied them carefully. ‘All’ sounded rather startling; so Lang asked him how many seasons of programmes he had seen. ‘Oh, there have been only three,’ answered Mr. Gericke. ‘Ah, I see’ said Lang, ‘you mean the programmes of the Boston Symphony; but wouldn’t you like to see the programmes for the seventeen years of concerts given by the Harvard Musical Association, before the Symphony existed? ’Mr. Gericke’s eyes opened wide at this, and he eagerly accepted the offer. So Lang gave him the two bound volumes of programmes, which he returned in a few days, saying, ‘I am completely dumbfounded! I do not see what is left for me to do here. You seem to have had everything already; more, much more, than we ever had in Vienna!’(Howe- BSO, p. 67).
Elson, THE HISTORY OF AMERICAN MUSIC, 1904, p. 54.
Some friends of Lang had thought that he should be considered for the conductorship of the newly formed Symphony. They based this expectation on his fine service to the Boston musical community through his leadership of the Apollo Club and Cecilia, and also the facts that- “When Hans von Bulow visited Boston in 1875 he quarreled with the conductor whom he had engaged. Lang was called in at short notice and with great éclat conducted the first performance on any stage of the Tchaikovsky’s B flat minor Piano Concerto.” After the 1875 performances von Bulow also had Lang conduct in Philadelphia. These performances were part of a tour of Europe and America during 1875-76 during which von Bulow played 139 concerts. (Baker, Dic., p. 92) Fox feels that Lang’s “amazingly steadfast and loyal personality traits may have kept him from achieving some things,” (Fox, Papers, p. 12) and quotes Apthorp as saying that “In the dark days of the Harvard Musical Association, and some years before Mr. Henry L. Higginson had founded the present Boston Symphony Orchestra, Lang might easily have made a coup d’etat and swept the whole orchestral field in Boston single handed. He was particularly ambitious to conduct an orchestra; he was at the time the strongest musical power within the public in the whole city, and was perfectly well aware of that fact. He had never failed in anything he had undertaken, and could be sure of all the financial backing he needed. He might have established annual courses of symphony concerts on his own account, and might have postponed Mr. Higginson’s enterprise for several years. No sane man who knows what the times then were in Boston and what Lang was, can doubt this for a moment. He, for one, was sure of it. But he was a member of the Harvard Musical Association, was on its concert and programme committees, and his loyalty to it would not allow him to take any step in antagonistic competition with the Harvard.” (Fox, Papers, p. 10)
In the fall of 1892 the Symphony organized a chorus. Philip Hale recorded: “At the beginning of the season much was said about a new chorus that was to play the part of annex to the Boston Symphony Orchestra. Unfortunately performance gave lie to promise. The chorus made two appearances, in the Ninth Symphony and in a bill that included Brahms” Song of Destiny and Foote”s Skeleton in Armor. The chorus was weak and timid. It was disbanded at the end of the season.” (MYB 1892-93, p. x)