BENJAMIN JOHNSON LANG: CHILDHOOD, TEENS, EUROPEAN STUDY, ORGAN POSITIONS.
Lang as a young man. Courtesy of the Trustees of the Boston Public Library/Rare Books.
Our Benjamin was the third Lang to have that name.
(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. 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 fifteen years. His 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, p. 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 baptised until August 9, 1846. This took place at Crombie Street Church in Salem and his sister, Henrietta Maria was baptised at the same time.
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) 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, p. 33) However, the marriage date was August 9, 1837 and B. J. was born 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 a part in age. 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, p. 2, Gen.B.) She would have been 15 years old. A report in 1899 mentioned that her married name was Mrs. Miller, and that she was “well known in musical circles.” [Lang Senior’s Murder Story on William Wardwell site]
(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
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.” (6764)
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. (see below)
EARLY PIANO TEACHERS.
Lang senior found his best pupil in his own son. “He was a clever and precocius pianist at the age of 9.” (Herald Obit., April 5, 1909, p. 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, p. 1) His next teacher was Francis G. Hill of Boston (Hubbard, p. 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, p. 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, p. 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.” (Wikepedia “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 Romanava. (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 performancecs to lectures by notables of the time, such as Harriet Ward Beecher (Diary, January 12, 1855) He also attended temperance lectures in 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 (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 B. J.’s father 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, Hanilton 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. 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 buy 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 lesson, went to Boston at 12:15, gave lesson; Miss Burrage was away; back at 4 after practicing at Richardson’s; played at concert that night.” (Diary, January 1, 1855) Three days later: in Salem “gave lessons; to Boston 12:15; had number of the house wrong for Miss Burrage.” (Diary, January 4, 1855)
B. J. mentions plans for his study time in Europe. In preparation he begins 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 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 Fenollosa (spelling) “on a violin that father bought for me. ” (Diary July 28, 1854) 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. mentiones 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.
On Thanksgiving Evening in 1852 a concert was given at Salem’s Lyceum Hall with the father Benjamin as one of two vocalists and Master B. J., his son, as 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. Also in the second half Master Lang soloed with an Etude de Concert by Goria. In the first half he had soloed with Carnival of Venice by Jaell. B. J. was just shy of his 15th. birthday. (Salem Register. November 22, 1852, p. 1, GenBank)
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 circumstanances 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 neither 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)
Jonas Chickering: From Wikipedia-August 19, 2013. “Said to have been painted about 1853.”
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, p. 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?
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, p. 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, p. 1) A handwritten note on the front of B. J.’s Diary sates: “He had [an] organ position in Danvers when he was 13 years old.” (Lang, Diary) However an article published in 1907 said that he was 16 when he served this church. The church building, and organ that Lang had played, had burned in 1870. (Herald, June 9, 1907, p. 10, GenBank) 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, p. 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).” (Article in Music, August, 1893, p. 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 1800’s. 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 10:30AM and the 7PM 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.” (Article in Music, August, 1893, p. 347)
Thus his early career might look something like this:
AGE LOCATION DATE
13 Little church in Danvers. “He had Organ Position in Danvers when he was 13 years old. ” (Diary, note written on the cover.) 1850
13/14 Dr. Parsons Cook(e)’s church: First Church of Christ, Lynn. 1849(?)-52. B. J.’s Diary begins on January 1, 1852 and mentions this job immediately. He would go by train at 6:30PM on Saturday and stay with N. A. Breed (his mother’s family) that night. He would then play on Sunday and come back to Salem Monday morning on the 7:30AM train. There is no mention of choir rehearsals at this church. 1849(?)-1852
14 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) In September and October 1853 B. J. subed for at St. Peters when his father was on tour [piano tuning tour?]. Someone subed 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)
17 Dr. Rollin Heber Neale’s church: First Baptist Church of Boston. He was appointed on February 9, 1855. (Diary, entry for February 9, 1855) The previous organist, Mr. Bradford, had been asked to resign. Lang’s first Sunday, February 9th, had this entry in the Diary: “succeeded very well.” He had also 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 Shawmet Ave. Church.” (Diary, January 18, 1855)
This church was the First Baptist Church. 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, p. 1)
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, p. 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 by the Academy which has 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, p. 15) He had begun as organist on December 15, 1853. (Diary, Decemebr 15, 1853) In May 1854 his success as organist for the Salem Academy of Music was recognized by the presentation of “a gold hunting watch, and a chain, the watch bearing the inscription, ”Presented to Benjamin J. Lang, Organist of the Salem Academy of Music, by his friends, members of the society, May, 1854.” (Whipple, p.117) 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.” There first concert was to be at Mechanic Hall on Christmas Evening. The paper predicted a full house. (Salem Register, December 14, 1854, p. 2, GenBank) 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.” 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 improvied a Fantasie on ”Old Folks at Home. The “spendid 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.” (Salem Register, December 25, 1854, p. 3, GenBank)
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, p. 4, GenBank) 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.
In early 1855 Lang 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, p. 3, GenBank)
During the spring of 1855 while B. J. was the Academy of Music, a second group was begun called the Salem Choral Society. Ironicly 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., p. 119) It would seem that this group did not last too long as a meeeting 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, pp. 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 assiting 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, GenBank) B. J. gave two performaces 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, p. 2, Genbank) 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,” a location 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 three years of European study. Did his future wife”s family provide this support? Did the Chickering family provide the funds as they had provided a piano?
Two paragraphs from here Lang is quoted as saying that he spent three years in Europe, 1855-1858. However, an ad in the Traveler of March 21, 1856, p. 3 showed him as an assisting artist for a performance of “Dramatic Recitations” by William Hawes. This concert at the Hall of the Mercantile Library Association on Summer Street had Lang performing solos and duets with the violinist W. H. Schultze. One of Lang”s solos was an original piece, “Fantastic Original.” In 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, p. 2, GenBank) Does this mean that he did not actually leave for Europe until much later than he originally planned; and, if so, why? Or, is it possible that the B. J. advertised was actually his father?
Before Lang left for Europe he completed the accompaniments for a collection of Bible Songs 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 actually published in 1856, but Lang must have been working on it during the spring of 1855. This shows that he had made a enough of a local reputation that Mrs. Sullivan would select him for this assignment. “Sullivan is 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) This hymnbook was 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.
Being a church organist was not enought for young Lang. “I desired the career of a pianist primarily, and was in Europe about three years, from 1855 to 1858. There I studied with Jaell, Salter, and afterwards 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) In Europe Lang probably also studied “organ, harmony, and composition.” (GROVES of 1921) However, 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, could possibly be incorrect. The American Antiquarian Society in Worcester, MA has a broadside that advertises a concert at the Music Hall on Monday evening, December 24, 1855 for which Lang acted as the accompanist. Also on the program was the “celebrated pianist” Gustave Satter. Also, there is an advertisement for “Dramatic Recitations” to be given at the Mercantile Library Association on Summer Street by William Hawes of Boston on Friday, March 21, 1856. Lang played an original piece in the first part, and in the second half he played another solo and accompanied the violinist W. H. Schultze. (Traveler, March 21, 1856, p. 3, GB) No listing of Lang on a ship from Boston after this time can be found, but probably as a young student, he traveled steerage-most steerage passangers were never listed on the ship”s records.
Liszt as Lang would have known him. 1858 Wikipedia photo.
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, p. 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.” (p. 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. (Boston Globe 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, p. 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. March 5, 1832, d. February 27, 1882.
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 premier 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. Early in 1853 Dwight wrote: “Alfred Jaell is now, we suppose, generally acknowledged the foremost pianist who has visited this country. Evident to any one, 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… [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, lightening-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 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.” (Dwight, January 22, 1853, pp. 124 and 125)
Alfred Jaell: Wikipedia Photo.
“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, p. 144)
OLD SOUTH CHURCH. 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, p. 20) At Old South, a 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, p. 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, p. 128) However, before this had happened, Lang had moved to South Congregational Church and it”s new Hook instrument which he was able to design from scratch.
Lang served a 20-year tenure at Rev. Edward Everett Hale”s D. D.(Unitarian) South Congregational Church, Union Park Street.” (Hale: b. 1822- d. 1909, served South Congregational Church even longer, from 1856 until 1901) 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.” (Dwight, July 23, 1864, p. 279) Therefore Lang was part of two major organ projects for Boston churches within five years.
SOUTH CONGREGATIONAL CHURCH. 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, p. 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, p. 182) 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, p. 169 quoting from Dwights Journal of Music Nov. 12, 1864 Vol. 24, pp. 339-40 and November 26, Vol. 24, pp. 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, 1864, p. 348) In 1857 the location of this new church on Union Park Street was described as being at “the centre of Boston bourgeois society.” (Chamberlin, p. 119)
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, p. 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, p. 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, p. 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, p. 177); B. J. Lang began c. 1863.
A typical selection of church music of the time is reflected 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
Easter Carol Lang
Mrs. Julia Houston West
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: Mrs. Julia Houston West, soprano; Mrs. John F. Winch, alto; Mr. William J. Winch, tenor; and Mr. John F. Winch, bass. (Dwight, April 19, 1873, pp. 7 and 8) This same quartet had also been noted in 1871 and was still intact in 1876. (Dwight, May 1876, p. 240) William and John Winch were often soloists with the Handel and Haydn Society. The same quartet performed St. Saen”s 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 to the attitude of his father 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, pp. 216 and 217)
King”s Chapel c. 1906. Collection of James W. Johnston.
KING”S CHAPEL. In the fall of 1888 Lang became organist of King”s Chapel, and remained there until his death in 1909 (Owen, pp. 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. At King”s Chapel in 1898-99 Lang initiated a well-received series of afternoon musical services in which 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 p. 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 suggestiions 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, p. 2, GenBank)
Thus the main appointments of his career as an organist would seem to be:
1859-1864 Old South Church
1864-1885 South Congregational Church-Dr. E. E. Hale
1885-1909 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. at an unknown organ, but probably at his studio at 6 Newbury Street. A January 9, 1910 article mentions “its big pipe organ.” Collection of Amy DuBois. 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, p.223) In the 1871 brochure this instrument is listed 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, p. 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.
Hook and Hastings Opus 1623, organ built in 1894. 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 spendid 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, p. 14, GenBank). 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.
Lang had two other studio organs. His first was Hook and Hastings Opus 1173, 2 manuals built in 1883. The fate of this instrument is unknown. His third instrument is pictured above.