GAINESVILLE 2011. UNIVERSITY OF FLORIDA XV INTERNATIONAL FESTIVAL OF WOMEN COMPOSERS.
Play the very beginning of the Tchaikovsky First Piano Concerto
WHERE WAS THE PREMIER OF TCHAIKOVSKY”S FIRST PIANO CONCERTO GIVEN?
WHO WAS THE PIANIST?
WHO WAS THE CONDUCTOR?
For this lecture we will be concerned mainly with MARGARET RUTHVEN LANG, born in 1867, just after the end of the Civil War and who died 104 years later in 1972, and her father, BENJAMIN JOHNSON LANG who was born in 1837 and died in 1909, aged 71. Benjamin Johnson Lang was born in Salem, MA. His father, Benjamin Lang, American born, was of Scottish descent; a piano maker or dealer, (Mathews) music teacher and organist of some prominence in the area. Lang senior found his best pupil in his own son, and by the age of twelve, B.J. was already an accomplished enough musician to perform the A flat Ballade of Chopin. His next teacher was Francis G. Hill of Boston (Hubbard, p. 464). In 1850, aged 13, he was given his first organ lesson at a little church in Danvers. 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. But 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.” (Clippings collected by Gould, HMA) Lang was among the first of over 500 Americans who studied in Europe between the 1850s and 1900. His selection of Berlin may have been influenced by the fact that his piano teacher, Frances G. Hill, “was among the first of Boston young men who went to Germany to study music.” (Dwight, June 1, 1872, p. 247)
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. This was remembered in 1968 by his daughter Margaret. (Boston Globe 100th year article)
She also revalled that “Liszt took father to many concerts.”(Miller-Globe article) “During these years [1855-1858] 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) Cosima might also be the link with Hans von Bulow (whom she married in 1857- in 1870 she married Wagner) who hired B. J. as his conductor for concerts in 1875 that included the world premier of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1.
When Lang returned to Boston after his three years of European study, he “made his first public appearance in Boston as a pianist in 1858 at a concert of the Mendelssohn Quintet Club, taking part in Beethoven’s C Minor Trio, Opus 1, No. 3. (its first performance in the city) Thus at his first appearance before a Boston audience, he already gave evidence of a tendency that has since become characteristic of him-a constant desire to introduce new works to the public.” (Apthorp Article in Music, August 1893) John Dwight”s review in his weekly Journal of Music said: “The piano part was played by Mr. B. J. Lang, with a precision, cleanness, and expression that would have done honor to far more experienced artists. We do not remember a more promising debut in this kind.” (Dwight, February 6, 1858, p. 359)
In addition to concert appearances, one of Lang”s main sources of income was piano teaching.”A teacher of incredible activity (when I knew him he was giving regularly lessons from 8.30 to 6).” (Foote, Auto., p. 45) Another source noted that he taught as many as fourteen lessons daily and claimed to have instructed over two hundred concert pianists.” His obituary mentioned that he: “Had Taught 5,000 Pupils.” (Globe, Apr. 5, 1909, p. 1) The building at 6 Newbury St. where he had his studio, is entirely peopled with his former students.” (Ibid) The singer Clara Kathleen Rogers (Clara Doria) wrote that Lang “had an unusually large following of devoted disciples… [His] pupils, one and all, adored him, and only awaited a sign from him to render willing service.” (Rogers, TWO LIVES, p. 146 and 147) As a piano teacher Lang was very well regarded. “His class of private pupils upon the pianoforte belongs to the very elite of Boston.” (Mathews p. 429)
Another important part of Lang”s career was founding and conducting two choral groups which still exist in Boston today. The older of the two, the Apollo Club, a male voice choir, was begun in 1871 with Lang as its first conductor, a post that he held for thirty years, until 1901. “The success of the Apollo, both musically and socially, was so great and so rapid that it soon had imitators all over the country. The general taste of the time was represented by the light part-songs of the lesser German Romantic composers, but B.J. favored larger works with orchestral accompaniment.Lang”s rehearsal methods also were not appreciated by some: Apthorp wrote-“Nothing like such drilling has ever been known before in Boston.His principle was that in chorus singing, as in every sort of musical performance, the indispensable basis is technique; without a solid technique nothing worthwhile can be done, and the technique can only be acquired through severe drilling.That arduous system of drilling to which Gericke subjected the Boston Symphony Orchestra, and which was so much commented on at the time, both favorably and adversely, as something utterly unprecedented by its severity, was really first applied to the Apollo Club and Cecilia by Lang.” (Fox, Lang Papers, p. 7)
In the spring of 1901 an insert in the May 1, 1901 concert program of the Apollo Club (their 171st. concert) noted that Mr. Lang “positively declines a renomination” as conductor. This final program appropriately opened with Sullivan”s The Long Day Closes followed by two choral pieces by Margaret Ruthven Lang, Alastair MacAllistair (Old Scotch Song) and Here”s a Health to One I lo”e Dear (Old Scotch Song) while in the second half, two of Lang”s own solo songs, The Lass of Carlisle and The Chase were sung by Mr. Clarence E. Hay. (BPL Lang Prog., Vol. 7) Just a short word about Lang as a composer-he regularly preformed his piano pieces in his concerts including concerts in Germany-he also programmed his solo songs and choral pieces with the groups that he conducted. But, except for one short piece, he never allowed his works to be published. In fact, in his will, he instucted his son to destroy all his manuscripts!
The second choral group that Lang founded was a mixed chorus called the Cecilia Society. This was begun in 1874, first as a part of the Harvard Musical Association Orchestral Concerts, but it soon became independent. The music critic Louis Elson wrote “The Cecilia has given more first performances of great works in its own city than any other Boston musical society, and these have extended all the way from Bach’s B minor Mass, to Massenet’s Fall of Jericho and Wagner’s Parsifal”. (Elson: History American Music, p. 82) The group’s internet site states: “It all began when B. J. Lang founded the Cecilia Society. A man of great force of personality, Lang’s boldness set the tone for what Cecilia was to become. He had a passion for ‘firsts,’ and presented the Boston premieres of 105 works that have now become standard choral repertoire, including perennial favorites like Brahms’ Ein deutches Requiem.” (www.bostoncecilia.org/about/about-us.html) This represents a massive amount of work: first, getting to know the new works; then deciding when and where they should be programmed; ordering the vocal scores, and then renting the orchestral parts from the individual publishers which would have been spread all over Europe!
Lang also performed as a solo pianist with the Harvard Musical Association and the first seasons of the Boston Symphony Orchestra. In fact “It was he (Lang) who first suggested the great series of Harvard Symphony Concerts; it was he who more than any other held the programmes up to their first high level. It was his influence which brought out in Boston for the first time the pianoforte concertos of Bach, and most of those of Schumann, Mendelssohn, and Beethoven, as well as the works of the newer school of Rubinstein, St. Saens, Bronsart, etc.” (Mus. Ob., 1884)
Another area in which Lang supported these concerts was through pre-concert lectures. Dwight praised him for “assembling a hundred or two of his pupils and their friends on the Thursday preceding that of each concert, and, with the aid of a brother pianist (Mr. Perabo), playing over the entire programme to them with historical and analytic explanations.” December 1868 was the third winter that he had been doing this. (Dwight, December 12, 1868, p. 367)
One of the most notable points in Lang”s career occured when he was asked to conduct the WORLD premier of Tchaikovsky”s First Piano Concerto. The pianist was Hans von Bulow whom Lang had probably met when strudying with Liszt, von Bulow had married Liszts” daughter Cosima (who, incidentally later left him to marry Richard Wagner). The well known New York conductor, Carl Bergmann had been hired to conduct-Dwight had called him the best conductor in America! But von Bulow recorded that “Bergmann had not taken as much interest in the concerts as he had in drinking beer, he had missed two meetings to discuss the concerts which forced Bulow to make suggestions to the orchestra himself, and then, while Bulow was beginning his solo pieces in one of the concerts, Bergmann audibly invited the musicians to ”go get some refreshments,” and brought six of them back half tipsy.” (Lott, p. 251) The Tchaikovsky premier was in the fifth of von Bulow”s series of Boston concerts. Von Bulow”s gratefulness to Lang extended to having him also conduct the sixth concert, and he also asked Lang to conduct the same work in Philadelphia. The recent critic Michael Steinberg mused: “I do wonder, though, what it all sounded like with B. J. Lang”s little orchestra with [just] its four first violins (Steinberg, p. 477)
At his death his estate was worth $600,000. What would that be today?
There are many connections between B. J. Lang in his era and Leonard Bernstein in a more recent era. Both were fine pianists; both were composers; both were educators; both were conductors; and both had a major impact on the musical life of their respective times.
Next we consider B. J.”s most famous child, MARGARET RUTHVEN LANG.
We will begin by hearing her most popular song, Irish Love Song for which she probably also wrote the text. This song uses a simple strophic construction well suited to it”s folk style. The text is addressed to ‘Mavoureen,’ which could be the woman being sung about-the word itself is an Irish Gaelic word meaning ‘my darling’. The popularity if this song is reflected in the number of copies sold. The total U. S. press run for was 120,835 copies, almost 20,000 copies more than for Edward MacDowell”s best-loved song, The Beaming Eyes.”(Cipolla, p. 91)
PERFORM IRISH LOVE SONG (No. 4 on George recording)
Margaret Ruthven Lang, eldest of three surviving children, was born in Boston on November 27, 1867. Her first musical instruction was piano lessons with a student of her father. He, himself later took over her instruction. (Downes, “Boston Post,” August 25, 1907) Her non-musical education was at private schools (Saerchinger, p. 356). “Her environment has been most helpful to artistic growth, for the Lang home is the rendezvous for gifted people and the informal ‘at homes’ very stimulating to higher thought and purpose. When a child of twelve,  Miss Lang used to play ensemble with two friends. It occurred to her to write something for this group, so she launched forth her craft. She humorously relates how her father helped her to ‘paw out’ the consecutive fifths and other startling intruders in well-ordered composition. But he wisely saw that her thought was of more value than its expression.”
In a letter dated May 22, 1893 she wrote: “I first studied harmony in Boston with my father, and the pianoforte and violin under various teachers…During a two years sojurn in Munich, I studied counterpoint and fugue and the violin under two different teachers. On returning to America I studied, in Boston, orchestration with Mr. Chadwick and the pianoforte with my father. During these years I wrote many songs, and after my return from Munich I published the first group of six songs at the advice and under the supervision of Mr. MacDowell.”(Scrapbook 1887-1904)
“Margaret Lang held great respect for her father’s teaching and continued to seek his advice after her career was well-established.”(Cline, p. 11) “Margaret Lang was raised in a cosmopolitan household. Visitors from overseas were welcome and frequently present in the Lang home. In addition, Margaret was accustomed to traveling abroad with her parents, making her first trip to Europe at the age of two. She was present, as a child, in the home of Richard Wagner, and knew the Wagner children as playmates. As she grew older and more aware of her musical surroundings she undoubtedly listened with interest to the music performed at the evening gatherings at Wagner’s home. These soirees, involving musicians of the magnitude of Liszt, Wagner, Von Bulow, Dvorak and Paderewski, certainly contributed to Margaret Lang’s sense of sophistication regarding the work of composition.” (Cline, p. 11)
The first public performances of Margaret’s pieces were given at the second of “Two Song-Recitals” sung by William J. Winch in Boston’s Chickering Hall on December 14, 1887. The reviews were consistently positive. The “Advertiser” singled out Ghosts,” …Mr. Winch has never sung better than in these fairy-like bits of melody which Miss Lang has made so signal.” The spring of 1889 saw the first of her songs published. A newspaper review of May 4, 1889 had particular praise for Ghosts. “Despite its simple character and musical structure, Ghosts was a song that helped establish Lang’s reputation as a composer. It was well received critically and was popular among Boston audiences, being performed many times from 1887 to 1896. Certainly, the song’s simplicity appealed to both the concert-going audience and the music-buying public. The critical response, however, was guided by gendered views. Reviewers notes its ‘sentiments soft, delicate and sweet.’ Rupert Hughes in AMERICAN COMPOSERS describes it as ‘elfin and dainty as snowflakes.’ In fact, he reprinted Ghosts as the only musical example of Lang’s work as a composer, while describing her music as ‘supremely womanly.’ Ghosts was perhaps the perfect example of what critics believed was an outlet for female composers, and hence they praised the work for its simplicity and unpretentiousness at the same time recognizing it as a legitimate art song.” (Blunsom, p. 218)
To show the growth of Lang as a composer, we will now hear a late song which also is concerned with SNOW. You will hear a much more sophisticated accompaniment and harmonic pallette.
PLAY SNOWFLAKES (No. 20 on George recording)
Soon after, she had first performances at the Manuscript Club which was “Formed in 1888, this club was founded to offer local composers the opportunity to hear their works performed before an intelligent audience. The date was January 19, 1888, and B. J. accompanied William J. Winch. The Manuscript Club performance was held at the home of Isabel Stuart Gardner at 150-152 Beacon Street.A year later, February 28, 1889, the Manuscript Club gave another performance at Mrs. Gardner’s home which included Ojala, sung by Mr. George F. Parker and accompanied by Margaret. It would seem that Mrs. Gardner became a good friend of the family as she gave to “the composer Margaret Ruthven Lang her much-prized harpsichord. The Guest Book of the Lang farm in New Boston, NH records visits from Mrs. Gardner in 1895, 1902, 1903 and 1907. Another indication of the Gardner-Lang friendship is reflected in the fact the Mrs. Gardner was in charge of arranging the floral offerings at B. J. Lang’s funeral in 1909. Locke also cites many letters from Margaret and B. J. to Mrs. Gardner, and suggests that she may have been “a regular sponsor of his several choral societies. (Locke, pp. 120 and 108)
Also in 1889 Margaret”s song Ojala was performed in Paris at the July 12th. concert in the Trocadero during the Paris World”s Fair Exposition. The American composer Edward MacDowell who played his own Second Piano Concerto in this concert, wrote to Margaret:
Dear Miss Lang,
I showed your songs to van der Stucken who says he will put Ojala on his programme. I expect to accompany it myself and hope to bring down the house. Concert is day after tomorrow. All Well. Kind regards to all.
E. A. MacDowell (Scrapbook)
PERFORM OJALA (No. 2 George recording)
The “Musical Courier” of January 25, 1893 announced that Margaret Ruthven Lang “will visit New York next month as the guest of Mrs. Winslow Homer, the wife of the well-known painter.It will be remembered that several receptions were given here last year in Miss Lang”s honor, Notably one at Dr. and Mrs. Gerrit Smith”s, at which several of the lady”s works were performed to the delight of all who listened.Similar receptions are being planned for her this season, in order that Miss Lang may meet as many as possible of New York”s prominent musicians and in order that the latter may have an opportunity of becoming acquainted with this gifted and beautiful woman.” (Scrapbook)
Thus, Margaret was, in 1893, a composer well known in here native Boston, and performed regularly in other parts of America and also in Europe. What would be next? Now aged twenty-five, she had her first large orchestral work was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra-the Dramatic Overture, Opus 12 conducted by Nikisch on April 7 and 8, 1893. This was the FIRST TIME THAT AN AMERICAN ORCHESTRA HAD PLAYED A PIECE BY AN FEMALE COMPOSER!! A description of the worked noted: “It has some strong contrasts, especially between the chief theme and the subordinate. The first is grim and medieval, the second tender and human. To place these two in juxtaposition in itself gives something of dramatic power, and the development of both is singularly unconventional.”(Elson:History American Music p. 306) Francis H. Jenks in his “Musical Herald” review described the work as “an ingeniously devised and constructed composition with evidences of thought at every turn.” Philip Hale reported that the overture was applauded, but the attempt to call the composer forward was in vain. Seventy-four years later Miss Lang remembered the incident well: “I crept up to the balcony and hid.” Hale’s specific comments were probably a trial for the young composer. He wrote: “Miss Lang’s overture is perhaps a creditable work for a young student. Whether it deserved a place in a Symphony concert is another question. Although Miss Lang in certain songs has shown in the past a pretty melody, the themes of the overture are not of marked originality or striking effect. There are ingenious passages in the detail, but there is a general lack of definite purpose in the conception and in the carrying out. As a result there is occasional piquancy, and there are pleasing measures, but this dramatic overture is a promise rather than a fulfillment.” (Scrapbook, Musical Courier, April 12, 1893)
In preparing to write her Dramatic Overture, Margaret was able to use her father’s standing in the Boston musical community and his connections for her own benefit. She recalled: “They told me…to take some Grieg to the orchestra (BSO) and hear how it sounded, so I could learn about orchestration. So I went to one of Nikisch’s rehearsals and they played for me. Things were so easy in those days.”(Miller-100th birthday interview) The more relaxed standards of the time are reflected in a story recorded by Leichtentritt. “A scene I witnessed at a rehearsal of the Berlin Philharmonic Orchestra years later [after his Boston years] showed Nikisch’s habitual practice. A complicated new work by Max Reger was to be rehearsed for the first time. Nikisch stepped to the conductor’s desk with his customary aplomb. When he opened the printed score before him, it turned out to have uncut leaves, a sure proof that he had never looked at it before. He became acquainted with a new work only as he rehearsed it, relying on his amazing musical instinct and his vast experience as a conductor. Studying scores at home as a preparation for the performance did not appeal to him.” (Leichtentritt, p. 368)
As Margaret destroyed all her instrumental works and all her unpublished works, we only have brief descriptions to help us imagine what the piece sounded like. The critic, William Foster Apthorp, who was also writing the Program Notes for the Boston Symphony, sent a letter to Margaret concerning his study of the score in preparation for writing the note. “Where did you get the idea of reinforcing the effect of those jumps from C major to E minor, and E major to A minor, by that Scharfrichter’s rhythm? I don’t know when I have heard that ‘Meyerbeer’ snap of the two short notes and a long one sound so new, and so little as if Meyerbeer had written it. I have also great hopes for the place where the third horn comes in against the twiddle-twiddle in the violins. And how stunning of you to have kept your trombones and trumpets for the preaching, and made your big crashes without them! I hope Nikisch will follow his native bent, and give the final ‘pa-pa-pum——-PUM!’ as it looks in the score. Ever so many thanks, yrs., &c., &c., &c.” (Scrapbook)
A second aria, Armida for soprano was performed by the BSO on January 13, 1896 with Gertrude Franklin as the soloist and Emil Paur conducting. The critic Louis Elson, who was usually very supportive, wrote: “The setting is by no means as dramatic as its poetic subject, and the composer seems to have missed the majestic power of the great death-scene.” Margaret also wrote a third aria for baritone which was entitled Phoebus’ Denunciation of the Furies At His Delphian Shrine that probably was never performed.
St Paul”s CathedralDec. 2412:10PM
First Church, UnitarianDec. 244:30PM
Harvard Musical ClubDec. 249:30PM
King”s Chapel (B. J.s last church) Dec. 2511AM
A note in the Scrapbook said that Margaret attended all four of these performances!
The previous Sunday six area churches had performed the work.
PLAY ST. JOSEPH”S VIGIL FROM OPUS 52 THIRD TRACK (2:00)
Margaret stopped composing c. 1920. The musical world was changing-Stravinsky, Schoenberg and even early Copland where far different from her musical style. When asked why she stopped composing, her answer was: “Why did I stop, I had nothing to say.”
Margaret obviously kept up with new musical styles-not only those that she heard at the BSO Friday afternoon concerts, but also such composers as Charles Ives. There are two notes from Margaret in “The Charles Ives Papers” at Yale which thank Ives for sending her copies of his pieces. A card dated 7 March 1921 says that “I shall take great pleasure in playing it through, at the earliest opportunity,” while on 16 August, 1922 Margaret wrote that “Miss Lang begs to thank Mr. Ives for his very interesting + original music so kindly sent, + just received.” (MSS 14, The Charles Ives Papers in the Irving S. Gilmore Music Library of Yale University)
From 1927 until 1939 Margaret self-published from her home at 8 Brimmer Street a series of leaflets entitled Messages from God which she distributed at her own expense. In a biographical note written in 1960 she describes the project thus: “My music writing stopped soon after The Heavenly Noel’s many performances in many places; much-involved housekeeping took place during my mother’s last housebound years. At this time I obeyed a very strong spiritual call, and began to write, print, send forth, and reply to wide requests for spiritual religious messages-to which I gave my time and money-my life’s best work-over many years, anonymously [underlined twice], but with deep devotion; taking form in privately printed paper tracts. They were used by churches, far and wide, in the United States, England, Canada, and even one in Egypt.” (Lang Scrapbooks, Vol. 17) Each one was 8-10 pages.
1927 – Intercession1928 – A Gift for Almighty God1928 – The Communion of Silence
1932 – Our Continuing City1934 – Our Father’s House1939 – Christmas and the Cross
Another aspect of Margaret’s character is reflected in the fact that she “had been raised to visit the sick and the ill, and visited Mass General Hospital every week. She wrote to a World War French war orphan until the end of his life. She was also a very practical person who never signed her birthday or other holiday cards ‘so that you could reuse them again!’” (Amy DuBois Interview)
With the release of Donald George”s two CDs, both the sounds and the scores for about 50 of her toal of 130 published songs will be available. The first musical CD had a companion CD with all of the scores of the songs so that any interested singer can immediately download the printed music for any piece that they might want to perform. One Doctoral Dissertation has been written about Margaret-“Margaret Ruthven Lang: her life and Songs,” 1993 Washington University, and Margaret is also part of a Brandeis Dissertation completed in 1999 by Laurie K. Blunsom entitled “Gender, Genre and Professionalism: The Songs of Clara Rogers, Helen Hopekirk, Amy Beach, Margaret Lang and Mabel Daniels, 1880-1925.” Another Brandeis work is the a recent Masters Thesis entitled “How to appreciate that which no longer exists: A case study in the life and lost works of Margaret Ruthven Lang.” I also maintain a website on the Lang family which can be found by searching under the name of “Margaret Ruthen Lang.” It is usually the third or fourth entry, and its title is “Margaret Ruthven Lang and Family.” All the information there is available to anyone who might want to use it, and I welcome any enquiries.