HANDEL AND HAYDN SOCIETY

HANDEL AND HAYDN SOCIETY

B. J. Lang began his long association [as organist from October 1859 until June 1895: as conductor from June 1895 until May 1897] with the Handel and Haydn Society on October 1, 1859 with rehearsals for Handel’s Samson. An entry in the Society’s History dated October 1, 1859 notes: “Mr. J. C. D. Parker being obligated by pressure of manifold professional duties to resign the place of organist…Mr. B. J. Lang was chosen his successor.” Parker had only served one season. Lang seems to have gotten off to a positive start as in was noted that later in that first season “The organ voluntaries of the young new incumbent Mr. Lang, were well chosen and effective.” (Perkins/Dwight, History, p. 194) In February 1860 the Society was part of “Mr. Zerrahn’s third Symphony Concert, singing in Beethoven’s Choral Fantasia, of which Mr. Lang plays the pianoforte part.” (Op. Cit., p. 195) “His raport with Zerrahn was complete and among the countless references to Lang in the annals of the Society and in the Press there is not one that fails to express confidence, approval, and gratitude for the presence of so sterling a musician. He played the Great Organ in Music Hall throughout its being there and ”made do” with the inadequate instrument that came after.” (Johnson, Hallelujah, p.167) When the Society moved to the newly opened Music Hall in 1853, it brought along its own pipe organ-a three manual and pedal instrument built by Thomas Appleton in 1832. “Originally installed in Boylston Hall, the society and its organ moved in 1839 to Melodean Hall. As relocated a second time to the Boston Music Hall, the organ stood in the niche behind the screen of the stage. The Boston Music Hall Association rented this organ for $240 a year, and eventually purchased it.” (Methuen Memorial Music Hall website, 11/26/10, p. 1)

The “inadequate instrument that came after” the Walker was removed was “a very large one-manual Geo. S. Hutchings” instrument. “While having only one manual, the organ provided the widest possible range of accompanimental nuance from a delicate whisper to a thundering tutti. To distinguish this from its noble predecessor, it was opined that it would be known as the ”little” organ (28 stops, 38 ranks.)” The full list of stops was given in an unknown newspaper article dated December 16, 1884 which stated that its first use was in the December 1884 Handel and Haydn Messiah performance. The instrument did have a Contra Bourdon at 32 feet, and six of the stops were enclosed within a swell box.” (Huntington, pp. 32 and 33)

On September 30, 1860 “rehearsals began in the beautiful hall of the new and spacious warerooms of Messrs. Chickering & Sons, on the corner of Avon Place and Washington Street, made free to the Society with the characteristic liberality of the proprietors.” (Perkins/Dwight, History.  pp. 195 and 196)

The early 1860s saw a low point in the finances of the Society. The debt of the 1861-62 season was so great that both Zerrahn and Lang “readily agreed to retain office without fixed salary and be content with whatever small balance might remain in the treasury after the expenses were paid. (At the end of the year, July 1, 1862, they got $41.68 each!).” (Perkins/Dwight, History, p. 199) In contrst, Mr. Muller who was organist for the 1857-58 Season had received $250. (Handel and Haydn Archives, rare Book Room, BPL) One positive note was the election of a new President of the Society. “After the unanimous nomination of Dr. J. Baxter Upham for the office of president, the meeting was adjourned to June 4, when Dr. Upham – a gentleman of culture and large public spirit, a graduate of Dartmouth College in 1842, and of the Harvard Medical School in 1847, a gentleman to whom Boston was indebted more than to any other for the enterprise which built the Music Hall, and secured the noble organ which was soon to adorn it and complete it, and from whose enthusiasm the cause of music in our public schools was still receiving such an impluse – was elected president, with no change of other officers.” (Perkins/Dwight, History, p. 199)

Other costs to the Society at this time were-$15 per night for the use of the rehearsal room at the Music Hall/Lecture Hall and $75 for the use of the Concert Hall. The orchestra players each received $5 per performance, and on April 1, 1858 Dennis Ryan Sr. received $11 in payment “For Filling the Bellows of the Organ at 11 Concerts.” (Handel and Haydn Archives, bills for 1857-1858).

At the Tuesday morning, May 23, 1865 50th. Anniversary Concert of the Handel and Haydn, a chorus of 600 with an orchestra of 100 performed Mendelssohn”s Hymn of Praise with Lang as organist. Other concerts that week included Haydn’s Creation on Tuesday night, orchestral and vocal concerts on Wednesday and Thursday afternoons, Handel’s Israel in Egypt on Thursday night, orchestral and vocal concerts on Friday and Saturday afternoons, Elijah on Saturday night and Messiah on Sunday night. Lang also gave a solo organ recital Saturday, May 27 at noon as part of the Festival.

In the June 1874 Annual Report of the choir Lang’s role as accompanist was noted. “The pianist who is willing to devote his time to the dry study of the intricate choruses of any new and difficult work with a society of amateurs like ours, who stumble at every step, requiring the closest attention on his part to aid them in their work, most assuredly must be induced to do so from love of the compositions and from the advantages which must thereby accure to the cause of art, and in this his chief recompense is found. Mr. Lang has not only shown a self-sacrificing spirit in all this, but he has in no small degree contributed his powerful and valuable support to the chorus from his obscure position behind the Beethoven statue, [at the Music Hall] through the instrumentality of the superb organ under his control. One less skilful than he might have jeapardized many a performance, however able the hand which wielded the baton.” (Dwight, June 13, 1874, p. 244)

For the 1890-91 Season Lang”s salary as “organist and pianist” was $300. Zerrahn was promised $750 “and such further sum not exceeding two hundred fifty dollars ($250) as the Society may be able to pay out of the curent receipts of the season.” (History-1911, p. 7) For the next season, 1891-92 Zerrahn was promised $1,000 while Lang remained at $300. (Op. Cit., p. 15) These terms were the same for the 1894-95 Season. (Op. Cit., p. 45)

After having been the organist for the Handel and Haydn Society for thirty-five seasons, he succeeded Carl Zerrahn as conductor for two years 1895-1897, but this was a period when the group was at a low ebb and torn with dissensions. During the season before he became conductor, Lang had the chance to conduct the Feb. 3, 1895 concert of Handel’s Israel In Egypt as Zerrahn had had an accident. With no rehearsal, Lang conducted a brilliant performance. President Browne’s annual address included these words of praise: “Mr. Lang conducted. He had no time for rehearsal with the chorus, but he held them so firmly and conducted with so much coolness and intelligence that it was a notably good performance.”(History-Vol. II, 47) Secretary Stone wrote: “Under such circumstances Mr. Lang was the center of interest, and covered himself with glory. He held command of the situation throughout. His depiction of ”There was not one feeble person” was sublime: an amazing revelation of the possibilities of the passage. The chorus worked hard. Its performance was somewhat uneven, but always powerful and vital. The reserve power which was flung into the final chorus carried it out with a sweep and rush that was new in the story of the Society….It was voted that the cordial thanks of the Society should be extended to Mr. Lang for his invaluable services, generously rendered without charge, in conducting the performance of Israel in Egypt.” (History-1911, pp. 46 and 47) The critical response was very favorable: the Globe critic was very complimentary. Secretary Stone noted: “A most interesting event of the evening was the appearance of Myron W. Whitney, father and son. Mr. Whitney senior seemed restored to his old greatness, and the son showed himself a youth of noble promise.” (History-1911, p. 47) Louis Elson wrote: “Probably no audience has ever before heard ”The Lord is a man of war” given by father and son, and the result was something that both might be proud of.” (Ibid)

Lang had also conducted the Society almost twenty years before. At its April 12, 1876 concert at the Music Hall he conducted Mendelssohn”s Hymn of Praise (their 12th. performance of the work) and the Rossini Stabat Mater (their 20th. performance). J. K. Paine had been the organist. (BPL Lang Prog., Vol. 2) Perhaps Zerrahn needed a rest or had an ingagement with another group, as he had conducted the Society in Bach”s St. Matthew Passion on Palm Sunday April 9, 1876, just four days before!

At the June 25, 1895 meeting of the Board, President Browne read a letter from Carl Zerrahn saying “that I will withdraw at any time from the candidacy of the conductorship.”(History, Vol II, p. 54) The letter had actually been written a year before, May 1894 and probably reflected the mood of the Board at that time when “the opposition was so great that Mr. Zerrahn was not as usual elected at the early meetings of the board of 1894 and not until Sept. 10, 1894 when he was elected conducted at a salary of $1,000 and Mr. Lang organist at a salary of $300.” (History-Vol. II, p.55) Therefore it probably was not a surprise when the June 25, 1895 meeting decided to accept Zerrahn’s withdrawal as a candidate for conductor. At the same meeting B. J. Lang was elected as conductor at a salary of $1,000 by a vote of nine yeas and three nays.

President Browne later wrote that, “With his (Zerrahn’s) retirement came, for the first time in forty years, the necessity of choosing a conductor, but hardly a question as to who it should be. The excellent musician who has been our organist for thirty-six years, and had, as conductor of the Cecilia and Apollo clubs during a quarter of a century, abundantly shown his high capacity in that regard, was, of course, the choice of the board…It might have been expected that a feeling of unfamiliarity because of the change in conductorship would operate to the disadvantage of the chorus singing, but nothing of the kind was shown. There was no falling off in attendance or interest at rehearsals or as have his skill and success in instruction, so that in some very important respects the chorus improved during the year.” (History-Vol. II, p. 63) Thus with the success of his conducting debut with this group and his long connection as organist, Lang began leading the major choral group of Boston. Tara described Lang’s era: “Lang nursed back to health a Handel and Haydn Society that was almost moribund.” (Tara, Foote, p.41)

The repertoire for Lang’s first season included two performances of Messiah in December (the 92nd. and 93rd. time the group had sung this work). One writer said of the first concert, the 701st. by the choir: “As Conductor Lang walked up to the platform warmly applauded by the immense audience that completely filled Music Hall, one could not feel that it was a case of ‘Le Roi est mort; vive le Roi’; for there in the foremost row sat Carl Zerrahn in the audience. As he watched the every motion of the man who now conducts his beloved Society, many an eye grew moist at the deep suggestion of the picture.” (History-Vol. II, p. 57) It is ironic that he would have to begin his conductorship with this work as “Mr. Lang regarded the singing of Messiah by the Handel and Haydn on Christmas week so many consecutive years as having really no fitness for that season. He viewed as the most fitting music for that season the Christmas Oratorio by John [sic] Sebastian Bach. Bach he considered the greatest name in Protestant church music.” (Transcript April 5, 1909) The Globe wrote of the first evening: “The performance was generally good without any marked features of excellence. The solo singing was uneven in quality, the work of the chorus was commendable and there were but few variances between the orchestra and the singers.” (Globe, December 23,1895, p. 4) It would seem that “variances” had come to be expected. The review also noted another custom that had come to be expected: “The effect of the closing ”Amen,” as usual, was marred by the departure of uneasy auditors.” (Ibid) This review listed the soloists for the second Messiah performance which were completely different from the first performance. Certainly this would produce rehearsal problems, and as the vocal demands of the Messiah are not too great, it would seem that this tradition also could be changed if the conductor thought it worthwhile to suggest.

The Verdi Requiem was performed on Feb. 2, 1896 (for the fifth time) to mixed criticism. Part of the problem was that three of the soloists were last minute replacements!  The Globe wrote: “The choruses were well sung as a rule. The contingents were well balanced, and the gradations from forte to piano were given without too sudden contrasts of tonality…The orcherstra work was generally smooth.” (Globe, February 3, 1896, p. 6) Of the soloists, the Globe had generally favorable comments. “The quartet ”Domine Jesu” called forth great applause from audience and chorus, and the trio for tenor, alto and bass was also deservingly applauded.”  (Ibid) On Good Friday, April 3, 1896 Bach’s St. Matthew Passion was presented (for the thirteenth time), also to mixed critical response and a very poor house which led the Society’s Secretary Charles W. Stone to predict the “doom” of this work as an annual feature in the Society’s programming. Only two days later, on Easter Sunday, Haydn’s Creation was given (the sixty-sixth time since 1819) to a full house that produced a profit of $1,282.80. The soloists were well received, the chorus performed well, and Lang was lauded by the critics.

On Sunday evening April 12th, an orchestral program was given at Bumstead Hall featuring works of Bach and Handel; Lang, Foote, and Tucker played the Bach Concerto for Three Keyboards, Lang played a Prelude in C Major by Bach and an Allegro in C Major by Handel on a harpsichord furnished by Chickering and Sons, and Bach’s Coffee Cantata was also performed. A footnote in the program stated, “Except in some portions of the cantata, for which Mr. Lang will play accompaniments from Bach’s figured bass, the original instruments will be used.” The final event of the season was an entertainment held on June 30th.

The Annual Meeting held on May 25, 1896 was described as “stormy.” It was demanded that the correspondence between President Browne and Carl Zerrahn be read to the full meeting. The meeting was continued until June 8 and continued again to July 1 at which time Lang was elected conductor for the next season. The program was to be Messiah in December, Elijah in February, and Horatio Parker’s Hora Novissima in April.

For the December concerts Lang was unable to conduct because of pneumonia, and, without rehearsal, George W. Chadwick conducted. The February Elijah performance was called a “triumph” for Lang, and even Philip Hale said “It is only just to say that the performance as a whole deserves hearty praise.” (History-Vol. II, p. 69)

The Bach Passion was not presented this season. The Easter Sunday, April 18th. performance included Lang leading Mendelssohn’s Overture to St. Paul and Hear My Prayer together with J. C. D. Parker conducting his own Redemption Hymn and Horatio Parker conducting his own Hora Novissima.

At the Annual Meeting of the Handel and Haydn Society on May 24, 1897 nine of the thirteen board members elected were seen as “Anti-Lang men”. This board then elected Zerrahn conductor again, and, disregarding precedent, created an executive committee that did not include the Vice-President and Secretary. It also removed from the President the duties of appointing the voice committee and superintendents. The result was that the four major officers of the Society resigned. In a story dated June 23, 1897 in the “Boston Record” the various officers were quoted. Ledbetter summarizes the story-

“The four principal officers of the Society were older men, while new members of the board in 1897 were younger. Nonetheless, these younger fellows preferred Zerrahn to Lang, feeling that his personal magnetism and familiar ways of conducting were more healthful than the stricter discipline immediately imposed by Lang. Lang was at a disadvantage with the orchestra and had difficulty in holding all forces together in concerts. The younger men felt that the older Zerrahn had not outlived his usefulness and wanted him back again…After two years under B.J. Lang, Carl Zerrahn returned to the Society in triumph with audiences giving him cordial, but not tumultuous applause…Mr. Zerrahn served out the season and then was given an honorable and eloquent farewell.” (Hallelujah Amen, pp.167, 168 171)

“This unfortunate situation explains why Elson refers to Lang as a musical ”admirable crichton,” after the sixteenth-century Scottish scholar who was attacked one night by a party of armed and masked men. Crichton recognized one of them as his pupil and offered him his sword, and this young prince of Gonzaga immediately ran him through with it. Lang must have felt acutely the betrayal of the young Boston musicians.” (Fox, Papers, p. 11)

“The conflict rocked the town, and the Press gave the Society its most complete coverage to date. The Record showed a large drawing of the decrepit Zerrahn leading an orchestra of baldheaded men while disgruntled officers with large portfolios headed toward the Exit sign, above which, in a coffin, rested B. J. Lang on the shelf. The title was Why Do the Heathen Rage? Letters of a most confidential nature were gleefully printed in full in the Journal, and officers, behaving like primadonnas were interviewed…There was even hidden treasure! A rumor ran widespread that a wealthy man in another city intended to contribute about $150,000 to an organization which would use it effectively and that he had communicated with B. J. Lang. Mr. Lang talked it over with the President and Secretary of the Society, Mr. Hagar and Mr. Stone, giving the implication that the long desired building might become a reality. Thus had the air of being a bid for the conductorship of Mr. Lang…Charges and countercharges upset the musical boat as the newspapers used the words ”row,” ”fight,” ”factions,” ”strife,” ”clash,” in protesting that both sides held Mr. Zerrahn in affection but that the dissenters felt that he had last his ”vital fluid,” and they preferred Lang in perfect health at sixty years of age….The final meeting of September 29, 1897 proved to be quite tame, for the Lang forces withdrew, Zerrahn was ”vindicated,” and an unconvincing attempt made to gloss things over.” (Johnson, Hallelujah, pp. 169 and 170)

 Zerrahn”s return lasted only one year, and after a May 2, 1898 “testimonial concert of Elijah-the work he had first led for the Handel and Haydn on December 3, 1854-combining these three choruses [Handel and Haydn, Worcester Chorus, and the Salem Chorus] with similar groups from Lynn, Lowell, New Bedford, Hyde Park, Chelsea, Quincey, Waltham, a vast throng of 1700 voices with soloists headed by Johanna Gadski, the great Wagnerian prima donna,” Zerrahn retired to Germany. However he spent only five years there, and then “returned to Milton, Massachusetts, where he enjoyed eleven years (1909) of comfortable retirement at the home of his son.” (Ibid, p. 171) Thus Zerrahn and Lang died in the same year.

B. J.: DRAWING FROM 1895 BY WINSLOW HOMER (see Owen p.59)

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *