- BENJAMIN LANG AND BENJAMIN JOHNSON LANG: BIRTH. ORGAN POSITIONS. SC. (G), W.C.
Benjamin Johnson Lang (1837-1909) could be seen as the Leonard Bernstein of his time. Both were conductors, solo pianists, writers and lecturers, champions for new music, and men well acquainted with all the musical schools of their time; men who influenced the musical growth of their part of the country for over forty years. “In fact, a history of the life and activities of Mr. Lang for three decades or more would to a considerable extent chronicle the musical life of Boston for the same period.” (Hill, 9) Louis Elson expressed the opinion in 1904: “Benjamin Johnson Lang is one of the most typically American figures that we can find in our musical history. He is a man of enterprise beyond European comprehension. Lang is so thoroughly interwoven with musical progress of every kind in the United States that there is scarcely any classification of musicians in which his name would not fitly find a place. It is not an exaggeration to state that no man has done more for the educational advance in America in music than B. J. Lang. The time will come when Americans will recognize him as among the very foremost of those who created musical taste among us.” (Elson, 261) “He was an antidote to the conservatism of Dwight and Dresel, introducing many new works to Bostonians.” (Tara, 41) Amy Beach, writing in 1937 to Arthur Foote remembered: “the time from 1880 to 1900 was a golden time.” (Block, 284)
- Benjamin Johnson Lang.
- Boston: 1850.
- Father Benjamin’s Businesses.
- Chickering Agent.
- Early Piano Teachers.
- Benjamin and B. J. in a joint concert.
- Chickering piano for Master Lang.
- Organ Positions: Early.
- Salem Academy of Music and Salem Choral Society.
- Bible Songs and Youthful Voices.
- European Study. Three Years or Not.
- Alfred Jaell.
- Organ Positions: Old South Church. 1859-1864. South Congregational Church. 1864-1888. King’s Chapel. 1888-1909. B. J.’s Studio Organs.
(1) His grandfather had emigrated from Scotland in the early 1800s settling in Salem Massachusetts (Benjamin Lang Death Certificate)
(2) B. J.’s father, named only Benjamin Lang, was born in Salem on January 14, 1816 (?)(The Death Certificate states that B. J.’s father’s father was born in Scotland-no information was given for the mother). In 1816 Salem was a small town of 15,000. His Death Certificate lists the date of death as December 11, 1909, age 93, eight months after his son B. J. had died. The immediate cause of death was pneumonia, but he had been at Worcester State Hospital suffering from senile dementia for the previous ten years. He had at least one sister, Mrs. Sarah Jaynes (Diary 2, March 17, 1878) A news story in 1899 calls her Sarah A. Lang married to a Mr. James, and gives her age which puts her birthday in 1814. Father Lang’s first music teacher was the Rev. Jacob Hood, a Congregational minister who was also a hymn writer. His granddaughter, Helen Hood and B. J’s daughter Margaret Ruthven Lang were to become good friends c. 75 years later. Helen dedicated her song, A Disappointment, published in 1883, to B. J. (Johnston Collection) In the 1890s both Helen and Margaret were known for the songs that they had written. (Herald (January 1, 1894): 28, GB)
(3) Our Benjamin Johnson Lang was born in Cambridgeport, MA (Vital Records to 1850-1st. Baptist Society) on December 28, 1837 and died in Boston on April 4, 1909. However, B. J. was not baptized until August 9, 1846. This took place at Crombie Street Church in Salem, and his sister, Henrietta Maria was baptized at the same time. The Harvard Musical Association was also founded in 1837. (Vrabel,135)
B. J.’s mother was Hannah Breed Learock (New Boston Town History), born in Salem, as had been her father, John, and her mother, Hannah. (Hannah Lang Death Certificate) John Learock of Salem had married Hannah Asenath Breed on March 20, 1816 in Salem. It would seem that Hannah was from Lynn as the “Intention to Marry” had been filed in Lynn two months before on January 14, 1816. B. J.’s father and Hannah Breed Learock were married on August 9, 1837, (MA-Vital records) by Rev. Brown Emerson, Pastor of the South Church of Salem. (Marriage Cert.) The Marriage Certificate gives no information about either of their parents nor any information about their birthplaces or dates. A handwritten note added to an 1893 article on B. J. added, “His mother was a woman of strong religious faith. Strict, with a vigorous love of absolute truth-the bond of mutual love, respect, and sympathy, which united them, was one of the strongest influences in his life, and the most beautiful. His vigorous habits of abstinence and morality were established in his early youth and retained to the end.” (Article in Music, August 1893) B. J. never used spirits, tobacco, tea or coffee! (Globe (December 22, 1907): 33) However, the marriage date was August 9, 1837, and B. J. was born on December 28, 1837, just four months later!
The children of Benjamin and Hannah were:
(1) Benjamin Johnson Lang – born December 28, 1837 and died April 4, 1909.
(2) Henrietta Maria (Harriet) – born August 9, 1846. Within the family she was called Etta (B. J.’s Diary) There is a photo of B. J. and a younger sister in the October 1909 issue of The Musician published by Oliver Ditson-they do not seem to be nine years apart in age. In 1859 she was listed as a solo dancer 9 (pas seul) in a Benefit Show for an actor, James Pilgrim; she
would have been only 13 years old! (Transcript (February 11, 1859): 3, GB) At a concert that B. J. produced in Salem in January 1861 which included the Mendelssohn Quintette Club and his male voice choir, the Amphions, a “Miss Lang” was a soloist-this was B. J.’s sister as a review gives her name as “Miss H. M. Lang.” (Salem Observer (February 2, 1861): 2, GB) She would have been 15 years old. A report in 1899 mentioned that her married name was Mrs. Millar, and that she was “well known in musical circles.” [Lang Senior’s Murder Story on William Wardwell site] She had married Mr. Leslie Millar on August 10, 1874 in Milton, where the whole family was spending the summer, just a couple of weeks before her mother’s death. (Francis Diary, 1874)
(3) Charles Franklin – born April 23, 1848 and died just short of a year later, April 2, 1849 of “Brain Fever”. (Death Certificate).
(4) Girl-unnamed – born June 23 (Salem Register, June 30, 1851) or 24 (Geneology Online, July 19, 2013) 1851. Died June 24, 1851 (Salem Register (June 30, 1851): 3) or June 26, 1851 (Gloucester Telegraph (July 2, 1851): 2)
The years 1841 and 1844 were both periods of intense advertising for Benjamin Lang. In 1841 he was running ads in both the Salem Gazette and the Salem Register offering “Instruction in Vocal Music” either in private or in classes of two to four. Lang “guaranteed” that they would learn to read music better in one-quarter with him than they would in a “common singing school” in three-quarters. Lang also offered instruction in Piano and Thorough-Bass. Another part of his business was the sale or rental of pianos from “one of the finest manufactories in Boston.” Finally, he was also a piano tuner. The ad listed that people could contact him at his residence, “No. 12 Liberty Street,” or by leaving word at Mr. F. Putnam’s Bookstore. Lang seems to have run the ad in the Gazette, possibly weekly, from January to October 1841. The same ad ran in the Register. (Salem Register, (January 21, 1841): 3) A June 1841 ad gave the rates for lessons: for singing, $6 [per quarter]; for piano, $8; for both singing and piano, $10. (Salem Register (June 21, 1841): 3) The ad also mentioned that he had
taken a room in Mechanic Hall (upstairs)” for his teaching studio.
Lang also ran Singing Schools. In August and September 1841 he advertised that he would “open a School for instruction in Vocal Music, on WEDNESDAY Evening, Sept. 16, in the Tabernacle Vestry in Marlboro Street. Terms: Ladies $1.50 and Gentlemen $2.00. Tickets can be had at Bookstores and at J. S. Harrison’s. For particulars enquire of the subscriber [Lang] at his Music Room, Mechanic Hall.” (Salem Register (September 16, 1841): 3) In the Gazette a Letter to the Editor was published a week after the first class. It was signed “Mechanic,” and it lauded Lang as a teacher and also mentioned how study had improved Lang’s own voice over the last four years. (Salem Gazette (September 17, 1841): 3)
“Old South Church, Salem, Mass. Corner of Cambridge and Chestnut Streets. Built 1804-5. Destroyed by fire Dec. 19, 1903. Based on models of churches by Sir Christopher Wren of London. This card was published by Metropolitan News Co., Boston of a photo c. 1891 taken by Frank Cousins. (Salem, Ma., Vol. II, 11) Johnston Collection.
There were at least two other teachers offering singing lessons at this time. In the Chapel of South Church, Jacob Hood taught a school on Monday evenings at 7 PM with terms of $2.00 for Gentlemen and $1.00 for ladies. Hood offered the first class free so that pupils could see his system of teaching, “and show, by its practical results some of its particular advantages.” (Salem Register (September 16, 1841): 3) Hood also offered a class for children on Wednesday afternoons at 2:30 PM at his house at 15 Lynde Street. A Mr. E. Valentine offered a Singing School in the Union Hall [possibly in South Danvers] on Wednesday nights beginning September 15th. at 7:30 PM; no rates were mentioned. (Salem Register (September 16, 1841): 3) Fifteen years later (1856) Valentine was offering a Singing School on Wednesday nights in the Lecture Room of the Normal School. Terms for ladies were $1 and for gentlemen $1.50. In 1856 Lang was advertising his Singing Class on Thursday nights. (Salem Register (October 23, 1856): 3)
In 1844 the ads were for his piano tuning services. The rate quoted was: “Pianos tuned by the year for $2.00” As in 1841, orders could be left at Mr. F. Putnam’s Bookshop, 198 Essex Street, or at his house (he had moved), 34 Summer, corner of Chestnut Street. Lang also listed his teaching rates-they were the same as in 1841. The ad ended with the note that “As he keeps on hand Pianos for sale and to let, pupils not having instruments, can be accommodated with daily practice, at his house, for a small additional charge.” (Salem Register, (September 23, 1844): 1) This ad ran in the Register at least from March until October 1844, sometimes on consecutive weeks. There was another piano dealer, Ann R. Bray at #6 Federal Street, but she only had a few instruments at any one time. By 1859 she had moved to 76 Federal Street, and besides musical instruments, she also sold “rich winter coats…ladies’ fall and winter cloaks…a splendid assortment of…brown and bleached cottons, flannels.” (Salem Register (November 14, 1859): 3) In 1857 she was offering Seraphines for sale or let. (Salem Register (April 27, 1857): 1) A Seraphine was a keyboard instrument that was a cross between an accordion and a reed organ.
In 1851 Joseph B. Wheaton, who listed himself as a pupil of Francis G. Hill (who would later become B. J.’s teacher), took ads saying that he intended to establish himself as a teacher of Piano Forte. His teaching studio was on the second floor of Mechanic Hall (entrance on Crombie Street). Also advertising at this time as an organist and pianist was Francis Upton who taught at Room No. (?), 98 Bridge Street, Salem. Among his references was the Boston organist, George F. Hayter for whom the young B. J. played. (Salem Register (May 12, 1851): 3)
In September 1852 Lang advertised that he “had resumed his profession as a teacher of music.” (Salem Register (September 9, 1852): 2) This was to include instruction on the piano and organ, and also singing lessons, both in classes and also privately. Another ad that same day announced that Messrs. Emerson and Harris would also open a Singing School within a week or two. (Ibid)
In 1857 Father Lang placed an ad saying that “he has not discontinued” his tuning and repair business for pianos, organs, or Melodeons.” (Salem Register (February 23, 1857): 3) In this large ad, twenty lines, he stresses how difficult it is to tune and make adjustments, and he lists as references “the late Jonas Chickering, Esq., and the well-known Sumner Hill, of Boston.” (Ibid) He also thanked those who had used his services for the last 18 years, which would place the beginning of a business career in 1839. In 1857 he had “Music Rooms, rear of Lynde Block.” (Ibid) Almost as an afterthought, the last three lines mention that he was still teaching piano, organ,or singing and that he had pianos for sale or to let.
In February 1859 Father Lang made a major investment in Chickering pianos-he bought twenty of them ranging in price from $160 to $500. He offered to rent, “with the privilege of buying, any time within one year, rent deducted.” (Salem Register): February 10, 1959): 4)
On March 10, 1859 he was appointed Agent for Chickering Pianos. His “warerooms” were now located in the Downing Block. However, Ann Bray was still advertising as selling or renting Chickering Pianos. At the same time, D. B. Brooks and Brother opened a new music room at 6 Central Street offering “PIANO FORTES, ORGAN HARMONEUMS AND MELODEONS of the newest styles and combining the latest improvements, just received from the manufacturers. The most liberal terms to purchasers.” (Salem Register (November 14, 1859): 3) Their second address was 201 Essex Street.
In an ad that appeared in December of 1859, the company is now listed as “B. & B. J. Lang,” and it mentioned that the “Senior Partner” had been selling pianos for twenty years. The ad continued that during the “brief” period of March-December 1859, “the large number of instruments disposed of by us, not one has failed to give satisfaction.” (Salem Register (December 5, 1859): 3) therefore, their warerooms were now replenished with new pianos ranging from $175 to $700, and second-hand instruments were $50 to $150. Pianos and melodeons were rented at $4 to $12 per quarter. “Concerts supplied with either a Grand or Square Piano, at an hour’s notice,” and there are numerous entries in B. J.’s Diary of moving pianos to various halls and then tuning them. (Ibid)
The Salem Register published in November 1860 five ads under “Musical.” (1) Mr. M. D. Randall was giving a course of 12 singing lessons for Ladies, (2) Mr. Manual Emilio was beginning a class on December 1 for Ladies and Gentlemen, (3) Mr. S. M. Downs from Boston was giving vocal lessons at Lang’s Warerooms, (4) Manuel Fenellosa was selling pianos, including Chickering’s new 6 and 1/2 foot model, and (5) Mr. Thomas B. Holden was tuning and repairing pianos at his residence 4 St. Peter Street. These ads are what appeared in just one day’s paper; Ann Bray, Mr. Henry Rooth, and D. B. Brooks & Brother music store would advertise their available pianos on another day as would the tuners Charles H. Towne and Mr. James R. Phelps and the singing teacher, Mr. E. Valentine Father Lang certainly had competition in all areas of his profession: piano selling, piano tuning and repair, piano teaching and vocal classes.
The partnership between father and son did not last. On October 1, 1860 Chickering published a notice that the Agency had been transferred to Mr. B. J. Lang. He was described as “a gentleman possessing unusually fine qualifications for purchasing” pianos. (Salem Register (November 1, 1860): 2) No thanks were given to Father Lang, in fact, he is not mentioned at all. The showrooms remained in the Downing Block. B. J. advertised that after Tuesday September 25, he would resume teaching in Salem on Tuesdays and Fridays. (Salem Register (November 1, 1860): 2) Who would be at the piano warerooms when B. J. was teaching?
After the death of B. J.’s mother in 1874, Lang Senior remarried again on June 17, 1880. He was then aged 63 and his new wife, Clara E. Wardwell was aged 36. (Marriage Certificate) Lang’s father was 79 when he signed the ”Guest Book of the House of Lang, New Boston, N. H., begun June 1895.” His entry, dated June 14, 1896: ”well done my boy, I’ve seen the farm, its hill and dale, and every charm. May heaven always bless you all.” (Lang Farm Guestbook)
B. J.’s father was a published composer. The Library of Congress has a copy of a Harvest Waltz by B. Lang published c. 1850 by Oliver Ditson. In the second section, in the relative minor, he uses the ”Scottish Snap” which may be a reflection of his heritage. Ditson also published in 1852 a song by Benjamin Lang entitled The Merry Sailor Boy, words by E. Jocelyn, Esq. When the song was first published in December 1852 it was described as “pretty and spirited.” The words were by a fellow Salem resident, Edwin Jocelyn, Esq. The review continued: “The accompaniment is very pleasing and the song well calculated to be popular…[the song] may be obtained at the Music Store of D. B. Brooks.” (Salem Register (December 2, 1852): 2)
Copy, Johnston Collection.
EARLY PIANO TEACHERS.
Lang senior found his best pupil in his own son. “He was a clever and precocious pianist at the age of 9.” (Herald Obit. (April 5, 1909): 1), and by the age of twelve, B.J. was already an accomplished enough musician to perform the A flat Ballade of Chopin which “astonished his auditors.” (Globe Obit. (Apr. 5, 1909): 1) The performance took place at a Sunday-school concert, where ten-cents was the exorbitant price of admission.” (Op. cit., Foote Clippings) His instruction at this time “was supplemented by the advice and tuition of Alfred Yale, who took the boy under his patronage, and gave him every encouragement and assistance in the prosecution of the study of the musical art.” (Ibid) Did Yale provide the money for Lang’s study in Europe? His next teacher was Francis G. Hill of Boston (Hubbard, 464). “Mr. Hill was among the first of Boston young men who went to Germany to study music. [He is not mentioned in Bomberger] He returned a really accomplished pianist, but his extreme modesty, ever inclined to underrate his own abilities, kept him from public performance. As a teacher, he was faithful and successful.” (Dwight (June 1, 1872) 247) During the past ten years [1853-63] Mr. Hill has numbered among his pupils a large number of the most accomplished amateurs who have obtained recognition in our city; and his style as well as his thoroughness in whatever pianism he undertakes, commend him to the consideration of all who doubt as to whom they had best employ teach their children.” (BMT (April 4, 1863): 22)
It would seem that Lang studied with Hill just after Hill had returned from his European studies. A short notice in the Folio mentioned that Hill’s death “on May 24th,  resulting from an overdose of chloral, will not only carry sadness to the hearts of many who knew him, but ought to serve a severe lesson to those like addicted.” (Folio, July 1872) Chloral was first discovered in 1832 by Justus von Liebig, and “its sedative properties were first published in 1869…It was widely used recreationally and misprescribed in the late 19th. century.” (Wikipedia “Chloral hydrate,” May 7, 2010) Mixed with alcohol it becomes a “Mickey Finn,” and “it has been speculated that it contributed to” the death of Marilyn Monroe. (Ibid) James Bond was drugged by it, and in Russia With Love, it was used to knock out Tatiana Romanova. (Ibid)
On January 1, 1852, at the age of fourteen, B. J. began a Diary that he would keep until 1855. He was very faithful in making entries every day. A typical day in 1852 would involve school in the morning, writing school in the afternoon and sometimes also the evening, and a musical/educational event at night. Sometimes he would attend an event at the Lyceum that ranged from musical performances to lectures by notables of the time, such as Harriet Ward Beecher (Diary, January 12, 1855) He also attended temperance lectures at the Tabernacle. (Diary, December 19, 1852, October 30, 1853, November 7, 1863) One evening he attended a Whig rally. (Diary, October 27, 1853) He also attended events in Boston such as the opera, February 7, 1853, a concert by Jullien (Diary, November 1 and 5, 1853) Jullien appeared in Salem, and B. J. and his father attended. (Diary, April 28, 1854) Once a week he would hire a horse and buggy or sleigh and meet Mr. Adams, who had come from Lynn, at the railroad depot, then pick-up his father and take then both to Danvers were Mr. Adams and Father Benjamin ran singing schools. B. J. would wait and then bring them back to Salem, and Mr. Adams would stay the night with the Lang family. Often B. J. would be the accompanist for his father’s sing class. (Diary, September 20, 23, 29 and 30, 1852) B. J. also accompanied his father to piano tuning jobs, thus learning the trade. On July 10, 1854 they tuned instruments in Essex, Hamilton and Danversport. (Diary, July 10, 1854)
In addition to his keyboard studies, B. J. also studied the flute. (Diary, March 1852) On a borrowed flute he was practicing his scales (Diary, March 6, 1852) When he mentions his church position, he often records that [I] “played all day at church.” (Diary, July 25, 1852) Thus he would use the time after service to practice for a number of hours. An entry in December 1852 mentions that his father was sick and that some of his pupils were transferring to B.J. His father continued in his piano tuning/rental business, but probably as a backup, his father taught B. J. how to tune. The entry for April 6, 1853 was simply “I tuned a piano; no mention of his father. (Diary, April 6, 1853) On April 12, 1853 he went to Boston and bought a Ladd square piano and a Chickering six-octave instrument. It would seem that he already had a buyer lined up for the Chickering piano. On April 18, B. J. wrote that Webber was going to purchase this instrument. Father’s firm was the primary piano rental store in the area-their main instrument was rented to the violinist Ole Bull for a concert on October 8, 1853. (Diary, October 10, 1853) Business was brisk: “sold a diagonal piano to Capt. Nutting for $400 with a trade-in fo $150 for ” his instrument. (Diary, October 27, 1854) The next day his father went into Boston and “bought an $800 grand piano from Chickering.” (Diary, October 30, 1854) The next day he bought a six-octave round piano. (Diary, November 1, 1854) A week later his father went into Boston to pay for the grand piano. “My [piano] seat, a present from J[onas] Chickering, came.” (Diary, November 29, 1854)
By 1854 B. J.’s lesson schedule was very taxing. Even on Christmas Day he gave lessons! (Diary, December 25, 1854) B. J.’s future wife makes her first appearance at this time. He noted that he “told Millard [?] I would teach Miss Burrage on Tuesday and Friday.” (Diary, December 27, 1854) New Year’s Day was just another regular day of teaching and performing: “Practiced at Mechanic Hall [Salem], gave a lesson, went to Boston at 12:15, gave lesson; Miss Burrage was away; back at 4 after practicing at Richardson’s; played at a concert that night.” (Diary, January 1, 1855) Three days later: in Salem “gave lessons; to Boston 12:15; had the number of the house wrong for Miss Burrage.” (Diary, January 4, 1855) in order to release the tension of such a schedule B. J. started going to a gym as early as January 27, 1853. (Diary, January 27, 1853)
B. J. mentions plans for his study time in Europe. In preparation, he began to study German. (Diary, April 20, 1854) He had put out the word that he was interested in European study, and he “found from Hill at Richardson’s [music store] that Americans were sometimes admitted to the Paris
1860 Boston Directory, 44.
Conservatoire.” (Diary, July 12, 1854) At this same time, he was forced to tell Mr. Hill, his piano teacher that “I must leave off lessons; he asked me as a favor to come the same as ever and there would be no charge.” (Diary. July 12, 1854) At the same time, he began violin lessons with Manuel Fenollosa “on a violin that father bought for me. ” (Diary July 28, 1854) Fenollosa was a fellow music instrument seller and instructor in Singing Classes in Salem. (Salem Directory 1869, 276) B. J. was a very serious student. Two days later he recorded: “practiced 7 and 3/4 hours on violin and piano.” (Diary, August 1, 1854) On September 11 he wrote that after teaching lessons in the morning, he “practiced 5 and 1/4 hours on the piano, and 2 [hours] on the violin as usual.” (Diary, September 11, 1854) One could take “as usual” to mean that he practiced this same schedule every week. Later His European plans were undermined by his father: “Yesterday father told me I could not go to Germany next spring and tried to prove that I cannot play the organ or piano, at all, well.” (Diary August 24, 1854)
At this period B. J. mentions his first composition. The first entry said: “wrote more on a piece I am composing.” (Diary, September 10, 1854) Thirteen days later: “Finished a Fantasia which I shall play at Adam’s concert.” (Diary September 23, 1854) The next day: “Father and I copied some of my Fantasia.” (Diary, September 24, 1854) A week later: [I] “saw Hill at 12 and we went to Lange’s [who would this be?] to show him my first composition; he said it was quite good.” (Diary, October 4, 1854)
BENJAMIN AND B. J. IN A JOINT CONCERT.
Lyceum Hall, 43 Church St.; two entrances; coming attractions board on the right. Courtesy of the Phillips Library, Salem, Ma.
On Thanksgiving Evening in 1852 the Lang’s, father and son presented a concert at Salem’s Lyceum Hall. The father Benjamin was one of two vocalists and Master B. J. was one of two pianists. B. J. played four duets with Mr. J. B. Whelton while his father sang two duets with Miss Lucy A. Robinson. Father Lang sang a solo song in the first half, and his own song, Merry Sailor Boy (see above) in the second half. In the first half, B. J. played a solo, Carnival of Venice by Jaell, and in the second half, he soloed with an Etude de Concert by Goria. B. J. was just shy of his 15th. birthday. (Salem Register. (November 22, 1852): 3, GB) They had stiff competition as the Salem Brass Band performed at Mechanic Hall with the added attraction of “three soloists from Boston.” The price for both concerts was $.25 (Ibid)
The following year the Band announced a Thanksgiving Eve “Vocal and Instrumental Concert” with two “distinguished” vocal soloists from Boston and “Master B. J. Lang, of this city, Pianist.” It seems that B. J. went over to the competition. Tickets were again $.25 and the concert was “Complimentary to their leader, Mr. J. H. Smith.” (Salem Register (November 21, 1853): 3)
BPL Rare Book Collection.
Mechanic Hall, 285 Essex St., taken from across the street. Two retail stores on either side of the entrance. Courtesy of the Phillips Library, Salem, Ma.
CHICKERING PIANO FOR MASTER LANG.
In an undated “Our Boston Letter” addressed to “My Dear Philharmonic Journal” the writer tells an interesting supposed story about B. J.’s youth. “Mr. Lang has always had the most powerful influences at work in his favor, from the time he was a boy, when he first walked into Boston from Salem [Ryan speaks about seeing him at work on harmony exercises on the train from Salem into Boston] eighteen miles, to take his music lessons. He went into Chickering’s one day when he occupied the old Masonic Temple, and after trying several pianos, Mr. Chickering asked him if he wished to purchase? ”No,” he said, ”I have no money, but wish I had one of your nice pianos.” Mr. Chickering asked him who he was, where he lived, etc., and after finding out his true circumstances said to him, ”Mr. Lang, I will send you the piano you may select.” ”But,” said Mr. Lang, ”I can’t have it, because I can’t either buy nor hire, for I have no money.” “Never mind, Mr. Lang, give me your directions, and I will send the piano to you without money, at my own risk and pleasure.” And the instrument was sent.” (Undated article among the Foote materials) So far the story seems to give credit to Lang and Chickering, but the writer continues with two snide comments. “Whether Mr. Chickering paid for Mr. Lang’s instruction when he was a pupil of Satter, I do not know, but presume he did. The Chickerings have always kept up their interest in him, and are now furnishing one of the best rooms in their building to him for teaching purposes, without cost, though Mr. Lang is rich and abundantly able to pay.” (Ibid)
It would seem that this generous act towards Lang was not an isolated example. “Jonas Chickering (1797-1853) would also win admiration for his benevolence to musicians, helping them financially when in need, and for his generous support of whatever enrichment of the Boston music scene was taking place.” (Tawa (Psalm to Symphony): 102) Is it possible that Lang received support from the Chickering family (Jonas had died in 1853) for the three years of study that he spent in Europe? Or, did the money come from Alfred Yale, who had taken B. J. under his wing when the boy was in his early teens?
ORGAN POSITIONS: EARLY.
An unsigned interview [from probably c. 1908 just before his death] with B. J. stated “I received my first musical instruction from my father, and at the age of fifteen secured my first appointment as organist.” (Clippings collected by Gould, HMA) However the Globe article on Lang’s 70th. Birthday had the quote: “I have been paid for going to church since I was 12 years old.” (Globe, (December 22, 1907): 33) The 1909 article in the Globe one day after his death mentioned that “In 1850 he was given his first organ [position] at a little church in Danvers, and less than a year later he became the organist at Dr. Cook’s church in Lynn.” (Globe, (April 5, 1909): 1) A handwritten note on the front of B. J.’s Diary states: “He had [an] organ position in Danvers when he was 13 years old.” (Lang, Diary) In 1878 B. J. took his wife and daughter, Margaret “to South Danvers, showing us the church where he used to play the organ.” (Diary 2, Spring 1878) The 1921 article in Grove’s said, “By the time he was fifteen old he held a post as organist of a Boston church.”(Grove’s Dic., 1921, 631) This agrees with the 1893 article by William Apthorp, which stated that “Young as Lang was, he already held a regular post as organist at Dr. Neale’s church in Somerset Street (1852-age 15).” (Music (August 1893): 347) Dr. Neale’s church was the First Baptist Church of which Dr. Rollin Heber Neale, DD was pastor from 1837-1877. The church contained the largest organ in the city at that time.” (from an article in the Transcript, May 1, 1909) It was a “Hook and Hastings instrument, built in the mid-1800s. Some of the pipes, however, were part of an instrument built by Samuel Green in England about 1790.” (Internet site for First Baptist Church of Boston) Lang was again to play for this congregation in 1907 when he played for the 10:30 AM and the 7 PM services to celebrate the 275th. Anniversary of the founding of the church.
It would seem that B. J. thought of this Boston job as his first proper organ position, but various writers have made mention of earlier positions. An 1893 article mentioned: “On a flying trip to Boston, when about sixteen, he played Rink’s [the spelling of the time] flute-concerto on the organ of the old Trinity Church in Summer street (the first organ he had ever played on that had a pedal-board running up to F) in the presence of Hayter, the regular organist of the church, and a few invited friends; his performance excited no little astonishment in those who heard it, all present agreeing that ”they did not know that that sort of thing could be done on the organ! Such were the notions of organ playing then current in Boston.” (Music (August 1893): 347)
Thus his early career might look something like this:
AGE DATE LOCATION
13 1850. Little church in Danvers. “He had Organ Position in Danvers when he was 13 years old. ” (Diary, note written on the cover.)
13/14 1851(?)-52. Dr. Parsons Cooke’s church: First Church of Christ, Lynn. B. J.’s Diary begins on January 1, 1852 and mentions this job immediately. He would go by train at 6:30 PM on Saturday and stay with N. A. Breed (his mother’s family) that night. He would then play on Sunday and probably practice and prepare the music for next Sunday during the afternoon, and then come back to Salem Monday morning on the 7:30 AM train. There is no mention of choir rehearsals at this church. Dr. Cooke would have been a formidable first boss for a beginning church musician. First, he “was not adept in music, and took no part in the choral portion of the service,” and second “he displayed a love of controversy,” and third his “natural wit” took the “form of sarcasm.” (Annals of Lynn, 475)
First Church, Lynn, 1850. Church on the second level. Two stores on either side of the front door.
14 1852-1855. June 20, 1852, first Sunday as organist of Crombie Street Church (Diary, entry for June 20, 1852) The November 6, 1852 Diary entry said: I resigned “because they have not kept the agreement.” No specifics were given, but later entries show that he continued to play at Crombie Street Church. B. J.’s father took over the organist position at St.
Peter’s Church in April 1853. (Diary, April 13, 1853) The previous month he had been house-bound with rheumatism for five weeks. (Diary, March 28, 1853) St. Peter’s Episcopal Church had an E. & G. G. Hook of two manuals and 18 registers built in 1844 (their Opus 56). (OHS Pipe Organ Database, accessed July 9, 2017) In September and October 1853 B. J. subbed at St. Peters when his father was on tour [piano tuning tour?]. Someone subbed for B. J. at Crombie Street. While his father was away, B. J. tuned a number of pianos in the Salem area. (Diary, October 19, 1853)
Rollin Heber Neale (ca. 1850). Wikipedia-Jan. 10, 2019.
February 1855 until mid-summer 1856. Dr. Rollin Heber Neale’s church: First Baptist Church of Boston on Beacon Hill’s Somerset Street. The church had just been built the year before and was their fourth church building. It was 94 feet long by 76 feet wide with 158 pews which would hold about 1,000 worshipers. The interior was decorated in the Gothic style and was lighted by gas. As the church was on the top of Beacon Hill, sailors would use its tall steeple to guide their ships into the harbor. However the church, in this location, did not prosper, and in 1877 the building was sold to Boston University. (Wood, 334-338) In 1877 The Globe Obituary says that “at the age of 18, after graduation from Salem High School, he came to Boston to become organist of the First Baptist Church…which contained the largest organ in the city at that time.” (Globe Obit. (April 5, 1909): 1) He was appointed on February 9, 1855. (Diary, February 9, 1855) The new church had just been dedicated on January 11, 1855. The previous organist, Mr. Bradford, had been asked to resign. Lang’s first Sunday, February 11th, had this entry in the Diary: “succeeded very well.” He previously had been part of the opening of the new organ at Dr. Neale’s church on January 20, 1855.
Lang had been looking for a new position. On January 18, 1855 he noted: “Had an application to play at Shawmut Ave. Church [different than the Somerset St. church].” (Diary, January 18, 1855) At First Baptist Lang had a very celebrated quartet under his direction; the tenor Charles R. Adams (who later had a European career which included roles at the Vienna Opera), Mr. and Mrs. Mozart and Mrs. Twichell. (NEC Foote Clippings)
Charles R. Adams. 1834-1900. NYPL Digital, accessed November 18, 2020.
Thomas Ryan in Recollections of an Old Musician gives a glimpse of the man that B. J. would become. “He is a man of marked character, a typical American, ambitious and industrious. I have known him since his boyhood, when he lived with his parents in their quiet home in Salem, Mass. I used to meet him frequently on the train for Boston (from Salem), where he went to take piano or organ lessons, and I noticed that he prepared his harmony lessons while en route. In this way, the youth grew up, systematically laying the foundation for his future usefulness.”(Ryan, 84)
This is the station in Salem that Lang would have traveled from on his way into Boston. It was built in 1847, and in spite of fire damage in 1882, it served as a “local landmark” until it was demolished in 1954. (Wikipedia article, February 6, 2013) Johnston Collection.
SALEM ACADEMY OF MUSIC AND SALEM CHORAL SOCIETY.
While still a high school student in Salem, Lang was gaining professional experience that would serve him well later in his career. Dwight reprinted a notice of the group’s Fast-Day Concert which had appeared in the Essex Co. Freeman. After noting that this was only the second public concert by the choir, mention was made of the organist, “Mr. B. J. Lang, a young, talented and growing musician.” (Dwight (April 15, 1854) 15) He had begun as the organist on December 15, 1853. (Diary, December 15, 1853) In May 1854 his success as organist for the Salem Academy of Music was recognized by the presentation of an elegant gold hunting watch and massive chain, and on the back was engraved the inscription, ”Presented to Benjamin J. Lang, Organist of the Salem Academy of Music, by his friends, members of the society, May 1854.” (Whipple, 117)(Salem Register (May 25, 1854): 2) He was then 16 years old. In his Diary he noted that the watch was worth $90, and the chain, which had been given by the ladies of the choir, was worth $20. (Diary, May 20, 1854.) In mid-December 1854 B. J.’s father was “getting names to a paper to eject Newell, the President of the Society” (also the conductor?) (Diary, December 14, 1854) On Sunday, December 17 the Directors of the choir voted to discontinue the group, but three of the officers did not resign, and the choir decided to continue. (Diary, December 17, 1894) On the following Tuesday, the choir met at father Lang’s music room and chose him the second conductor. His first concert was “A Concert of Ancient Music, mostly of psalm tunes,” which was given at Salem’s Mechanic Hall on Sunday evening, January 28, 1855. It was repeated on Sunday evening February 18, 1855, and the soloists were “Miss Bothamly, Miss Jenny Twichell and Mr. Mozart of Boston. Tickets were twenty-five cents.” (Whipple, Op. cit.) B. J. noted that the choir began rehearsals for Creation [Haydn?] on March 12, 1855. (Diary, March 12, 1855)
At the same time, Lang was organizing another vocal group. He proposed to give a series of “Home-Music Concerts” “with some of our best singers, who have placed themselves under the supervision and direction of our young [he was just about to be 17] and accomplished, Mr. B. J. Lang.” Their first concert was to be at Mechanic Hall on Christmas Evening. The paper predicted a full house. (Salem Register (December 14, 1854): 2, GB) This paper ran a detailed ad on December 25th. “Christmas Evening Concert, The ”Home Music Club,” will give a Grand Miscellaneous Concert Christmas Evening, Dec. 25.” (Salem Register (December 25, 1854): 3, GB) Lang was Pianist and Director and he was assisted by two soloists from Boston, a second pianist, “making in all twelve performers.” Lang played as a solo in the first half a Marche Triomphale by L. De Mayer, and in the second half, he improvised a Fantasie on Old Folks at Home. The “splendid Chickering’s Grand Piano” was used for the first time in Mechanic’s Hall. Tickets were only 25 cents and the ad ended with: “The design of the Club is to discourse Music that will PLEASE.” (Ibid)
In addition to conducting choral groups, Lang assisted with other musical organizations. A “Singing School” of 150 young singers organized by C. A. Adams gave a concert on Wednesday, September 27, 1854 at Salem’s Lyceum Hall where B. J. and J. Phelps were the two pianists. “During the evening Mr. Lang will favor the audience with one or more Piano Forte solos.” (Salem Register (September 21, 1854) 4, GB) Part of B. J.’s regular routine was to go to a stable, rent a horse and cart or sleigh, then go to the railroad depot to pick-up Mr. Adams who was coming from Lynn, then collect his father and take them both to the singing school in Danvers. B. J. would bring them back and Adams was a regular over-night guest that evening each week. C. A. Adams was the teacher of “one of the most popular and successful teachers of singing in Boston,” Lyman Warren Wheeler. (Howard, One Hundred, 192) Wheeler studied with Adams for four years, beginning at the age of ten.
In early 1855 B. J. was advertising himself as a teacher of, “Piano Forte, Organ, Thorough Bass, Singing, etc.” and his studio was in the “Music Rooms, in [the] rear of Lynde Block under Ladies High School, where he may be found day and evening.” (Salem Register (February 1, 1855) 3, GB)
During the spring of 1855, while B. J. was conducting the Academy of Music, a second group was begun called the Salem Choral Society. ironically the impetus for this group came from a meeting of “former members of the Philharmonic Society and the Salem Academy of Music at the music room [music shop] of Benjamin Lang [B. J.’S Father]. On February 5, 1855, the Salem Choral Society was organized. The object was declared to be ”To extend the knowledge and cultivate the performance of sacred music. It will be composed of the best available talent, and it is designed to give when prepared, occasional public performances of Oratorio, and compositions of a like character.” (Op. cit., 119) It would seem that this group did not last too long, as a meeting of men was held in November 1868 to organize a different choir that would “study the higher styles of music.” Carl Zerrahn was hired as the conductor of this new group with “entire control of its musical affairs,” and membership was set at $2 for men while women “were to be admitted free.” Within two years the choir had grown to 400 members, soloists were for the most part from Boston and New York, orchestral accompaniment became the norm, and the finances were in good order. When asked why the group had “gained such proficiency in Oratorio singing in so short a time, Mr. Z. answered, ‘Brains and Study.'” (Dwight (July 29, 1871): 66 and 67)
In addition to Salem ensembles, Lang was also involved in other local concerts. On Fast Day, Thursday, April 5, 1855 he was the assisting artist for a “Musical Soiree at Lyceum Hall where the two vocalists were Mrs. E. A. Wentworth, soprano and Mr. S. H. Millard, tenor.” Tickets were 25 cents, and the ad noted that “A Grand Piano of Chickering’s make will be used.” (Programs, GB) B. J. gave two performances on Thanksgiving, November 22, 1855. “He had engaged several favorite vocalists to assist him.” This same ensemble had given a concert the week before at which Lang played “one of Jacob Chickering’s [pianos], of great power and richness of tone, which, under Mr. Lang, appeared ‘as a thing of life.'” The article went on to say that B. J. “has recently performed to highly appreciative audiences in Portsmouth, Manchester, and Concord, N. H., and Newburyport, Fitchburg, Waltham and Lexington in this state, where he has been received with marked favor.” (Salem Register (November 22, 1855) 2, GB) It would seem that he was in no hurry to leave for Europe.
In the 1855 edition of the Boston Directory, under “Additions, Removals, and Corrections” was the entry: “Lang, B. J. music teacher, 20 Somerset,” which is located on Beacon Hill just two blocks from the State House. (Boston Directory, 1855, Preface) From this, it would appear that Lang had intended to establish himself in Boston-the decision to study in Europe may have been a hasty one. This, then, presents the interesting question of where Lang found the funds for his European study. Did his future wife’s family offer this support? Did the Chickering family give the funds as they had provided a piano?
BIBLE SONGS AND YOUTHFUL VOICES.
Bible Songs: courtesy1862 edition published by Oliver Ditson. Reprinted from the Harvard College Library. Johnston Collection.
In 1856 a collection of Sunday School songs entitled Bible Songs appeared with words by Marion Dix Sullivan and music by J. B. [sic] Lang. Sullivan was best known for her song The Blue Juniata, the first commercial hit in America written by a woman, originally for voice and guitar… The Blue Juniata is mentioned in Mark Twain’s Autobiography as well as in Little House on the Prairie.” (Songofamerica website, April 1, 2012) After Lang returned from Europe he completed the accompaniments for a second collection entitled Youthful Voices: A Collection of Hymns and Tunes For the use of Sunday Schools whose melodies were written by Marion Dix Sullivan. The collection was published in 1862, sponsored by the Boston Sunday School Teachers Institute and published by Walker, Wise and Co. There was a second edition in 1862, this time it was published by a music publisher, Oliver Ditson and Co. In the 1862 edition, there are four hymn texts by “F. M. L.” which could have been the initials of B. J.’s wife, Frances Morse Lang. They had married on October 10, 1861.
Taken from the above example.
EUROPEAN STUDY. THREE YEARS OR NOT?
Being a church organist was not enough for young Lang. “I desired the career of a pianist primarily, and was in Europe for about three years, from 1855 to 1858. There I studied with Jaell, Satter, and afterward with Liszt. I shall never forget my association with the greatest pianist of his time. He was most generous in his artistic advice, which always was given gratis, and I fear this generosity led many to impose upon his good nature, for their own ends. On my return to America, I began teaching and playing in Boston, and for fifty years I have been active. There was absolutely nothing in the way of a musical atmosphere here in those early days. I was successful from the start, perhaps owing to enthusiasm, with a natural aptitude for doing pioneer work at a time when things were ripe for musical development. My enthusiasm led me to carry through projects to which I had set myself to carry through, and felt they must succeed.” (Clippings collected by Gould, HMA)
This time period of “three years, 1855 to 1858” which is mentioned in many sources, including an interview which Lang gave late in his career, gave the impression that this was a continuous period, but as the next paragraphs will show, Lang was playing concerts in Boston and the area in all of these years. In November and December Lang’s name appeared in ads as “WITH MR. B. J. LANG” in large and darker type than any of the other performers. This was for a series of six “Concerts and Lectures” at the Music Hall sponsored for the benefit of the fund of “The Artisan’s Recreative Union.” (Herald (November 6, 1855): 3, GB) The main performing group was the Germania Serenade Band with assisting artists: Miss Adelaide Phillipps, Mr. Arthurson, Mr. Wetherbee and the “Popular Quartette” of Miss Bothamly, Miss Twichell, Mr. Adams and Mr. Mozart. Phillipps and Arthurson appeared at the opening concert on November 7; then the Quartette appeared at four concerts. Wetherbee sang a special concert: “Vocal Illustrations of Operatic Melody.” A single ticket for the course six concerts/lectures was only $1.00. “The lectures, which will be shortly announced, will be six in number, and given by gentlemen of the highest talent.” (Ibid) This same group, “The Artisan’s Recreative Union” gave concerts “Afternoons and Evenings during [the] CHRISTMAS HOLIDAYS” with the Germania Band, the Popular Quartette and Lang. They charged only 12 and 1/2 cents so that “the younger portion of the community” would have “innocent recreations during the Holidays.” (Herald (December 25, 1855): 3, GB) The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA has a broadside that advertises a concert at the Music Hall on Monday evening, December 24, 1855 organized by George Hill (City Cries) for which Lang acted as the accompanist. Also on the program was the “celebrated pianist” Gustave Satter. Then on Wednesday the 26th., he was the accompanist for one of the “Young Folks’ Concerts” which also featured the “Popular Quartette” of Miss Bothamly, Miss Twichell, Mr. Adams and Mr. Mozart. He had no solo mentioned in the printed program/ad. (Herald (December 26, 1855): 4, GB)
1856: An advertisement in the Traveler of March 21, 1856, 3 showed him as an assisting artist for a performance of “Dramatic Recitations” given at the Mercantile Library Association on Summer Street by William Hawes of Boston on Friday, March 21, 1856. This was Hawes’ second Mercantile Hall appearance, and he had recently appeared “with success” at Exeter, Newmarket, Portsmouth, Concord, and Dover, N. H. and Andover and Newburyport, Mass. (Traveler (March 20, 1856): 3, GB) Lang played an original piece in the first part, Fantasie Original. In the second half, he was to have another solo together with playing accompaniments for the violinist W. H. Schultze. (Traveler (March 21, 1856): 3, GB) Four days before he played at the Salem Lyceum in a concert organized by Miss Amanda Bailey using “his [own] Grand Piano.” Mr. Schultze was also part of this performance; he was the leader of the Germania Band. (Salem Register (March 17, 1856): 3, GB) Then on April 2nd. B. J. was part of the Third of Gustav Satter’s Philharmonic Soirees where they played two-piano arrangements of two Beethoven overtures. “Mr. Satter and his young friend, Mr. Lang, played them with passion, force and brilliancy, and the effect was quite imposing.” (Dwight (April 5, 1856): 6 ) Then the next week Lang and his quartet choir from the First Baptist Church donated their services for a concert at Tremont Temple to raise money for Dr. Grimes, who was the minister of the “Colored peoples'” church. (Dwight, Op. cit., 7) In June Lang accompanied Mrs. J. H. Long for a concert in Lowell; Mr. S. B. Ball, tenor, and Gustave Satter were the assisting artists. They had done the program the night before in Haverhill “where they had a large and crowded house.” (Lowell Daily Citizen (June 4, 1856): 2, GB) In mid-June 1856 a Salem paper ran the short story: “MUSICAL. Mrs. Wentworth, Mr. Arthurson, Mr. Krebs and Mr. B. J. Lang are regaling our neighbors of the British Provinces with a series of classical concerts. They Commenced at St. John, New Brunswick, and will continue their tour about three weeks. (Salem Register (June 19, 1856): 2, GB) Then, between the end of June and early December there is a break of “newspaper mentions,” but on December 4, 1856 Lang accompanied Miss Adelaide Phillipps at the Mechanic Hall in Salem and “also played several solos with his customary artistic excellence.” (Salem Register (December 8, 1856): 2, GB) Then, a week later, also in Salem, he appeared with Gilmore’s Brass Band acting as accompanist for a vocalist and a violinist and playing a piano solo, Banjo Fantasie by Gottschalk. (Salem Register (December 11, 1856): 2, GB)
1857: For the year 1857 there are Lang performances with the Salem Brass Band on January 19, 1857 (Salem Register (January 19, 1857): 3. GB); March 3, 1857 at the Peabody Institute to exhibit their “New Grand Piano” with four vocalists from Boston (Salem Register (March 2, 1857): 3, GB); March 23, 1857 with Gilmore’s Salem Brass Band at Mechanic Hall where his solo was Variations on America (first time) composed and performed by B. J. Lang (Salem Register (March 19, 1857): 3, GB); April 23rd. “Complimentary Concert” at the School St. Church for Mr. S. B. Ball, a tenor whom he had worked with often (Transcript (April 21, 1857): 3, GB); then on August 31st. he announced in the Salem Register that he would resume teaching on September 1st., but he would only be in Salem three days per week (Salem Register (August 31, 1857): 2, GB); and on December 23rd. he accompanied Mrs. Long at a concert in Jamaica Plains with Mr. C. R. Adams as the assisting artist (Boston Daily Bee (December 22, 1857): 2, GB).
1858: On January 21, 1858 Lang was the accompanist for selections from the opera Omano by the Boston composer Southard. Among the singers were his friends Mrs. Long and Mr. Adams. Then came the often mentioned first appearance with the Mendelssohn Quintette Club on February 2, 1858 where he played the Boston premiere of the Beethoven C Minor Trio. On February 20th. he volunteered his service for the Complimentary Concert for Alfred Hill, “late of the Musical Exchange.” Again his friends Mrs. Long and Mr. Adams also took part and Carl Zerrahn put together “a select and efficient orchestra, composed of the Mendelssohn Quintette Club, Germania Band, and other artists.” (Traveler (February 20, 1858): 3, GB) This may have led to Lang’s part in Zerrahn’s “Last Grand Concert” on February 27th. where he “assisted” along with “Mrs. J. H. Long, Soprano and Mr. W. H. Schultze, Violinist.” (Traveler (February 25, 1858): 3, GB).
Therefore, it would seem that Lang spent separate periods during the years 1855-1858 in Europe, rather than the whole period. He probably began during the summer of 1855, returning by November to play the series of six concerts with the Germania Band. Then, the next summer of 1856, there is a second break during the months of June through November when he might have been in Europe, then returning to play concerts with Adelaide Phillipps and the Gilmore Band in December 1856. Finally, a shorter period of May to August 1857 seems open for a final European trip, with his return demanded by his announcement that he would begin teaching on September 1, 1857. From then on he had concerts including one with Mrs. Long in December 1857 and then as accompanist for the opera Omano by the Boston composer, Southard, on January 21, 1858. This would then have given him plenty of time to reestablish contact with the Mendelssohn Quintette Club and prepare for the Boston premiere of the Beethoven Trio.
B. J. was among the first of over 500 Americans who studied in Europe between the 1850s and 1900-he was the first to study in Berlin. (Bomberger, 318) “Franz Liszt never gave regular piano lessons to anyone, but he did oversee B.J’s piano studies for some time.” (Ryan) The 1897 entry in The National Cyclopedia of American Biography states that Lang “was so fortunate to have the personal direction of Liszt while studying piano.” (430) The meeting of Liszt and Lang may have occurred over a card game when “One evening, at the whist table, he [Lang] had held all the trumps, and when suspected of being a card sharp found a supporter in Liszt. (Miller, Globe Margaret’s 100th-year article)
“Liszt took father to many concerts.”(Miller—Globe article) “During these years he [Lang] began a lasting friendship with Franz Liszt and Liszt’s daughter, Cosima. In later years this friendship with Cosima would provide him with an entrée into the circle of luminaries surrounding Richard Wagner.” (Cline, 9) He probably met Cosima’s husband, Hans von Bulow-if so, it would explain Bulow’s decision to hire Lang to conduct the world premier of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto in 1875.
Alfred Jaell, b. Mar. 5, 1832, d. Feb. 27. 1882. Wikipedia photo.
Among the three European piano teachers that Lang listed was Alfred Jaell. Lang had probably first heard Jaell when he had been the soloist in the Boston premiere of Mendelssohn’s Piano Concerto No. 2 in D Minor, Op. 40 with the Germania Musical Society at the Melodeon Theatre on February 19, 1852 conducted by Carl Bergmann. Jaell toured America during the years 1851-1854 and then returned to Germany to become the Court Pianist to the King of Hanover. B. J.’s Diary recorded that he “heard Jaell” on February 23, 1852. On November 22 of 1852 B. J. played for Jaell and Dressel and then on March 24, 1853 he heard Jaell, Dressel and ? (writing unclear) play at Chickering’s. Jaell’s friendship with B. J’s teacher is shown in that his Transcription Brillante on Home Sweet Home (1853) was dedicated to his friend “Mr. Francis G. Hill.” Early in 1853 Dwight wrote: “Alfred Jaell is now, we suppose, generally acknowledged the foremost pianist who has visited this country. Evident to anyone, who once hears him play, in whatever music, is the brilliancy of his touch, the liquid purity and smoothness and consummate finish of his passages, the well-conceived, clear, elegant rendering of the whole piece, with just regard to light and shade and fair proportion, and full bringing out of every point, and above all, the happy certainty and ease with which he does it…He certainly possesses the genius of execution. It is not any possible method or amount of practice that could place another by his side, unless equally gifted… In the two winters he has spent in Boston, he has interpreted to us a pretty long list of compositions of the nobler masters.” (Dwight (January 22, 1853): 124 and 125) Describing his performance of the Symphony Concerto by Littolf Dwight noted: “It was Jaell’s crowning triumph in the way of execution; octave passages of incredible rapidity, lightning-like leaps from bass to treble, and all sorts of difficulties were achieved, with only a little more air of determined concentration, but with his usual success… Mr. Jaell’s audience, though the Music Hall had the capacity for many more, was very large,-at least fifteen hundred persons,-which proved the high estimation in which he is held, seeing that he can be heard at every Wednesday afternoon rehearsal of the Germanians for an almost nominal price.” (Ibid)
This cartoon may be of the 1853 concert described above. NYPL Digital, accessed November 18, 2020.
“He is described by one who heard him in the sixties [1860s] as a short, rotund man, with a countenance beaming with good humour, and, in spite of his unwieldiness, full of life and energy. A drawback to his playing was the constant staccato of short fat hands, which made legato, such as was common in the playing of Henselt, Thalberg, and Liszt, impossible to him. But his tone was round, full, yet sweet and penetrating, -the very biggest, fullest pianoforte tone to be heard at the time.” (Lahee, 144)
OLD SOUTH CHURCH. 1859-1864.
New England Magazine, February 1890.
Organ has been removed. Johnston Collection.
Lang began as organist at Old South Church [Old South Meeting House at the corner of Milk and Washington streets] in 1859. While Lang was organist, J. Q. Wetherbee was the ”Conductor of Music in the Old South” and he had begun his service c. 1856. (letter of thanks dated January 3, 1865 printed in the BMT (February 4, 1865): 20) At Old South, the three-manual instrument of 22 stops by the English builder Thomas Eliot and installed in 1822 seemed not to please Lang. “Benjamin Johnson Lang, a strong-minded individual with a penchant for enlarging or replacing organs, had become organist, and in 1859 the noted Boston firm of E. & G. G. Hook was engaged to rebuild the organ at a cost of about $2,000. The rebuilt organ [of 45 stops] was ”opened” on April 30 with a concert of organ and vocal music, and the event duly reported in Boston’s’ leading musical journal.” (Owen, Eliot, 126) This instrument had three manuals. At each of the three churches Lang served from 1859 until his death in 1909, he designed a new organ. Unfortunately the “area in which the old brick meeting-house was located was becoming increasingly commercial, and the church members were moving away, many of them settling in the newly developed Back Bay area.” (Owen, Eliot, p. 127) In fact Old South bought land in this new area in 1869. Then, in 1872 was the Great Boston Fire which created “sufficient smoke and water damage during the fire as to make it unfit for occupancy, but used for troops to guard the burnt district.” (Owen, Eliot, 28) However, before this happened, Lang had moved to South Congregational Church and its new Hook instrument which he was able to design from scratch.
SOUTH CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH. 1864-1888.
Below: Photo by J. J. Hawes, sometime between 1862 and 1889. BPL, digitalcommonwealth.
The church is on the middle left, just above the street name, “Union Park St,” and the house the B. J.’s father owned was on the middle, bottom, “93 Waltham St” being the fourth house from the right, of the row under the word “St.” BPL Map Collection.
Lang served a 20-year tenure at Rev. Hale’s (Unitarian) South Congregational Church, Union Park Street. Dwight’s Journal of July 23, 1864 reported: “The Rev. Edward Hale’s church at the south end, is to have a new organ, built by Messrs. Hook at a cost of $12,000, and Mr. B. J. Lang is to be the organist. This will probably surpass any church organ in the city. The organ of the Music Hall is creating a demand for really noble organs all around us.” This instrument was Opus 349 of Hook and Hastings. therefore Lang was part of two major organ projects for Boston churches within five years.
The Nov. 1863 Dedication of the Walker Organ at the Music Hall listed B. J. as still being at Old South, but in July 1864 the Boston Musical Times announced: “Mr. B. J. Lang has been engaged to become the organist of the South Congregational Church, (Rev. E. E. Hale’s). The necessary money has been subscribed to build a new organ, under Mr. Lang’s special direction, and he also has carte blanche to secure the best quartette choir that he can find. The society is certainly to be congratulated upon these negotiations for their advantage, which go into operation on the first of August.” (BMT (July 2, 1864): 101) In December 1864, after four months in his new position, it was reported that ”Mr. Lang’s new organ at Rev. E. E. Hale’s church is a fine instrument, and gives great satisfaction to those whose subscriptions secured its purchase. Mr. Lang gives masterly performances each week. His quartette choir is a good one.” (BMT (December 3, 1864): 182)
This photo was taken around 1975 by Bob Cornell when a group from Fisk’s [including Barbara Owen] crawled all through the organ. They found it still completely intact, except for the amateur electrification job that thankfully even preserved the console. It had been unplayable for many years due to the failed action and the decayed bellows leather. (7) “The South Church organ is so jammed in that it’s hard to get around inside, and the bellows is outside, above the stairway to its left.” (8) Barbara also noted that Lang had a “perchant for [designing] organs bigger than the space available for them…This was [also] followed by his King’s Chapel Skinner, which had Pedal pipes sticking up into a hole in the ceiling and needed to have the casework widened.”
This new instrument was built in 1864 by E. & G. G. Hook and Hastings ”according to specifications of the organist B. J. Lang. It was the largest in any Protestant Church [in the United States] and had Great, Swell, and Choir manuals and Pedale, 38 speaking stops, 7 pedal stops, one a Bourdon with 32-foot tone, and 2260 pipes.” (Ayars, 169 quoting from Dwight’s Journal of Music Nov. 12, 1864 Vol. 24, 339-40 and November 26, Vol. 24, 351-2) Dwight gave further information about this ”thirty-two feet [sic] Bourdon Stop, giving tones low and deep, beyond the power of the ear to discriminate — which are felt rather than heard. It forms a foundation for the grand harmony of the whole, wonderfully pervading and sublime. The case, built by J. F. Paul, esq., is of Black Walnut, beautiful and elaborate, with emblematical decorations, elegantly carved, and enriched with gold. The front pipes are of a new composition, surpassing in richness and color anything before used. They are highly polished, giving a brilliant silvery appearance, in beautiful contrast with the dark woodwork.. many improvements in scales, voicing, and ”action” appliances are here used for the first time. This installation is located in the gallery and fills a space twenty-three feet high, eighteen and a half feet deep, with a total breadth of over thirty feet.” (Dwight (Nov. 12, 186): 348) The actual design of the “Beautiful and elaborate” case had been done by Hammett Billings who had just done the design for the Walcker instrument in the Music Hall. (Owen, 93) In 1857 the location of this new church on Union Park Street was described as being at “the centre of Boston bourgeois society.” (Chamberlin, 119)
Early photo-note the trumpets at the top of each side of the case. Barbara Owen thinks that they may be inside the case.
A year later it was noted: ”A prominent feature in the religious services at the South Congregational Church, both morning and afternoon, is the organ concert by Mr. B. J. Lang, in which he takes pleasure in exhibiting the capacity of the new instrument. The choir at this church is now well selected so that all the musical exercises there are worth listening to.” (BMT (December 2, 1865): 177) It was reported that “the best audience which attend any place of amusement, fill Rev. E. E. Hale’s church twice a month, on the occasions of Vesper service.” (BMT (December 1, 1866): 3) During the summer of 1866, while Lang was in Europe, “Mr. W. Eugene Thayer will preside at the organ, and conduct the fortnightly concerts at the South Congregational Church.” (BMT (June 2, 1866): 83) Thayer had just returned from a period of European study. (Ibid)
Rev. Edward Everett Hale began at South Congregational Church in 1856, and as he was “one of the most untiring workers among the clergymen of Boston, and whose literary work has made his name familiar all over the country;” within four years a larger church was needed. The original church had been built in 1827. The new church was begun on June 8, 1861 “in the midst of war and rumors of war,” and ”with remarkable promptness this beautiful church was finished in seven months and dedicated Jan. 8, 1862.” (King, 177); Lang began c. September 1863.
A typical selection of church music of the time is shown in the music list which Dwight published as being performed at the morning and afternoon services at South Congregational on Easter 1873:
Organ Voluntary — Hallelujah Chorus – Handel Anthem – Easter Morning, Canon trio – Schumann Anthem — The World Itself Keeps Easter Day – Lang Gloria – Lang Hymn – Lang
Easter Carol – Lang Selection from the Messiah – Handel Te Deum in E-flat [the same key that MRL would use for her Te Deum setting] – Lang
Lang is listed as organist and conductor, while the vocalists were: SOPRANO-Mrs. Julia Houston West; ALTO-Mrs. John F. Winch; TENOR-Mr. William J. Winch; and BASS-Mr. John F. Winch. (Dwight (April 19, 1873): 7 and 8) This same quartet had also been noted in 1871 and was still intact in 1876. (Dwight (May 27, 1876): 240) William and John Winch were often soloists with the Handel and Haydn Society. The same quartet performed St. Saens’ short Christmas oratorio Noel [Christmas Oratorio] with “Mr. Lang playing the accompaniment, the pastoral prelude, etc., on the organ. The music proved both edifying and artistically pleasing.” Arthur Foote speaks of taking organ lessons in 1874 at Dr. Hale’s church on Union Park Street.
Rev. Hale’s son spoke of the attitude that his father had toward worship as practiced at South Congregational Church, Union Park Street: “He liked to read the psalms alternately with the people, or sometimes alternately with the choir. He liked to feel that the choir were not merely strangers who had their Sunday work at his church, but were as much a part of the church as himself. It was partly this that made Mr. Lang, and Mr. and Mrs. Winch, Mr. John Winch, and Mrs. West so admirably representative of the spirit of the church.” (Hale, 216 and 217)
In 1884 the choir membership was: SOPRANO-Miss Elizabeth Hamlin who was newly arrived from Albany; ALTO-Miss Mary How; TENOR-George J. Parker, who was returning after a year abroad, having formerly sung at King’s Chapel; BASS-J. F. Winch. In about ten year’s time, the quartet had almost completely changed with only Mr. Winch remaining. However, this was a very fine group of singers with Miss How appearing in many Boston concerts as an assisting artist, Mr. Parker often the soloist with Cecilia and Mr. Winch singing for Lang performances and also Zerrahn’s choirs including the Handel and Haydn Society. (Journal (April 7, 1884): 3, GB) The next year there were two changes in membership. For SOPRANO Miss Emma Bockus came from the Harvard Church and William J. Winch returned as the TENOR. (Journal (March 30, 1885): 3, GB)
After twenty years in this position, Lang was offered the position of Organist of the Church of the Immaculate Conception. He refused it. (Diary 2, 1883)
The front of King’s Chapel as seen from the choir loft. Unused postcard, Johnston Collection.
KING’S CHAPEL. 1888-1909. In the fall of 1888 Lang became organist of King’s Chapel and remained there until his death in 1909 (Owen, 17 and 58). During his tenure, the choral music for the morning service was provided by a mixed quartet composed of some of the best professional singers in Boston. In 1887, the year before Lang began, the choir members were: SOPRANO-Miss Gertrude Franklin; CONTRALTO-Miss Harriet A. Whiting; TENOR- Mr. J. C. Bartlett; and BASS-Dr. C. W. Goddard; J. W. Tufts was Lang’s predecessor as Director of music. (Herald (December 26, 1887): 8, GB) At King’s Chapel in 1898-99 Lang initiated a well-received series of afternoon musical services where a mixed choir made up of singers from other city churches presented choral music of a high caliber. Although Lang also occasionally gave evening organ recitals, his best-remembered organ performances seem to have been the improvised postludes to the afternoon services that he always based on the final hymn.” (Owen, 58)
Just before his death, Lang had been able to design a new organ for King’s Chapel. It was developed with Ernest M. Skinner, “a friend of B. J. Lang,” and “the two had several consultations about the new instrument, and Mr. Skinner will carry out the wishes and suggestions by the former organist as faithfully as if Mr. Lang had been spared to supervise the work.” Skinner said that this instrument would be the only one in Boston to have an “orchestral oboe and English horn.” (Herald (July 24, 1909): 2, GB)
Thus the main appointments of his career as an organist were:
1859-1864 Old South Church
1864-1885 South Congregational Church-Dr. E. E. Hale
1888-1909 King’s Chapel
(A 1909 article about B. J.’s son, Malcolm Lang, reinforces this, saying that B. J. had been at Dr. Hale’s church for twenty years and at King’s Chapel for nineteen years.)
B. J.’S STUDIO ORGANS.
B. J. ordered three organs from Hook and Hastings for his teaching studios.
# 1173 1883 2 manuals and 12 registers.
# 1623 1894 2 manuals and 18 registers.
# 2087 1905 2 manuals and 14 registers. (VanPelt, 67)
Lang’s first studio organ was Hook and Hastings Opus 1173, 2 manuals built in 1883. The fate of this instrument is unknown.
This photo is of Lang’s second studio organ, Hook and Hastings Opus 1623, organ built in 1894. It is now at the Epiphany Catholic Church, 2712 Dumbarton Ave. NM, 20007 in Washington (Georgetown), D. C. In 1905 Lang faced eviction from his studio at 153 Tremont Street as the building was “to be torn down in 10 days.” He listed his studio instrument for sale: “New splendid church organ, built by Hastings for B. J. Lang’s studio. Is for sale at $950; unprecedented opportunity for a church; 2 banks of keys, 2 1/2 octave pedals, 18 registers; warranted in perfect condition.” (Herald (April 15, 1905): 14, GB). It was sold to a Catholic Church in Fall River, MA, and then moved to its present location c. 2004 when the MA church was closed. The colors of the pipes are not original.
B. J. at an unknown organ, but probably this is his third studio organ at 6 Newbury Street. A January 9, 1910 article mentions “its big pipe organ.” This is probably his third studio organ-Hook and Hastings Opus 2087, 2 manuals built in 1905. It resembles “Size No. 5” in the Hook and Hastings brochure c. 1905. (Van Pelt, Hook List, 223) In the 1871 brochure, this instrument is listed as having three stops on the bottom keyboard and four on the upper (Swell) keyboard. There was one pedal stop and the price was $1,200. (Ibid, 126) The difference is that the photo in the brochure has 14 display pipes while this photo has 24 pipes. The fate of this instrument is unknown.