Margaret Ruthven Lang, eldest of three 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. “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 who came in for this delightful phase of musical work. 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, a far seeing vision which belongs to what is termed the ”new education.” But which, new or old, is truth. So the study of musical form was at once enjoined. The steady diet of harmony and counterpoint was fairly loathed by this young girl who, however, daily walked into her Sahara, believing that she would gain a certain facility by this exercise. She had from a child, studied piano and violin. During a sojourn abroad she continued composition and after her return to this country entered an orchestration class.” (Crosby-article, p. 169)
Cline states that after this first attempt at composition she became a student of her father. “For the next seven years she was his pupil in composition and piano. B. J. Lang was a demanding, yet devoted teacher, believing that technique was the basis for excellence in music&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)
She studied violin with Louis Schmidt in Boston, and then at age nineteen (together with her mother) she spent a season (1886-87) in Munich where she studied violin with Franz Drechsler and Ludwig Abel and composition and fugue with Victor Gluth, a professor at the Royal Conservatory.
Ludwig Abel: b. 1835- d. 1895. Pupil of Ferdinand David; member of the Gewandhaus Orchestra at Leipzig, the Weimar Court Orchestra (1835), leader of the Court Orchestra at Munich (1867), teacher in and (1878) Inspector of the Royal Music-School then managed by von Bulow; 1880 Royal Professor; retired on pension, 1894. Violin-virtuoso of high rank, and an excellent orchestra conductor; wrote a good Violin Method, also studies, variations, etc. (Baker-Bio. Dic, p. 2)
After she returned from Europe, she continued her work for a time with Professor John K. Paine of Harvard and J.C.D. Parker, finishing her orchestration studies with George Whitefield Chadwick, and composition with Edward MacDowell (who lived in Boston for eight years beginning in 1888 at the suggestion of B.J.) (Howard-Our Am Music p. 393). “It was Lang”s eloquence that convinced MacDowell to return to the USA in the autumn of 1888.” (Groves”s, p. 419) Further, Lang arranged for MacDowell to appear at an Apollo Club concert on Dec. 10 at the Boston Music Hall, and then recommended to the BSO conductor William Gericke that MacDowell perform his new Second Piano Concerto during the spring of 1889. However, before this concert, MacDowell performed the work in New York City under Theodore Thomas (see his photo under Opus 10) that then led to an invitation from Frank van der Stucken to perform the concerto at a concert of American music at the Paris Exposition Universelle on July 12 (a concert which included songs by Margaret).
James Cutler Dunn Parker. b. 1838 in Boston. Studied law in Boston 1848-51, and music in Leipzig 1851-4 under Moscheles &organist and choirmaster of Trinity Church 1864-91, and for many years organist of the Handel and Haydn Society (? – when)&Translated Richter”s Manual of Harmony; published an original Manual of Harmony (1855) and Theoretical and Practical Harmony (1870). (Baker-Bio Dic, p.437-38) Howe (One Hundred) has Parker born in 1828 and graduating from Harvard in 1848; then law study; then Europe, graduating from the Leipzig Conservatory and returning to Boston in 1854. Was soloist in Harvard Musical Association concerts; long a teacher at the New England Conservatory; his Redemption Hymn first performed by the Handel and Haydn Society in 1877 was described as a “national property, and is held in universal favor.” (And was programmed by Lang during his second season as conductor of the H and H)From Elson, p. 232
From G. L. Howe A HUNDRED YEARS OF MUSIC IN AMERICA, 1889.
The first public performances of Margaret”s pieces were at a recital given by Myron W. Whitney in Boston”s Chickering Hall on December 14, 1887, just a few months after her turn to Boston from a year of study in Europe. Five songs were programmed and the reviews were favorable (Block-Norton/Grove p. 265). Cline cites the singer as Mr. William Winch, and quotes from a review in the “Boston Home Journal ” which describes the composer as a “highly promising song composer,” and then goes on to say the “Miss Lang writes for the voice as though she throughly understood its requirements and she sympathetically responds thereto with an abundance of talent and originality, not to mention the piquancy and refined quaintness that in the present instance she has shown, in her treatment of words, and with all the musical feeling of a genuine tone poet.” (Cline, p. 13)
Soon after, she had first performances at the Manuscript Club which was “Formed in 1888 under the direction of Evelyn Ames, this club was founded to offer local composers the opportunity to hear their works performed before an intelligent audience. At the first meeting the program consisted of music by Clara Rogers, Clayton Johns, Owen Wister, Margaret Lang, and Arthur Foote.” (Knight-Loeffler, p. 69) The performance was held at the home of Isabel Stuart Gardner. 1889 saw her song Ojala performed in Paris at a concert in the Trocadero during the Paris Exposition; this concert featured American works. The conductor of this concert was the American composer/conductor Frank Van der Stuchen who programmed one of his own pieces at this concert together with works by Dudley Buck, George W. Chadwick, Arthur Foote, John K. Paine, Henry Holden Hess, songs by Margaret accompanied by Edward MacDowell and MacDowell as the soloist in his own Piano Concerto No. 2. (Chase-Am Mus., pp.350-51) “Ojala” was part of the Inauguration Concert for the Lincoln Concert Hall in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 1890. In 1892 the New York soprano Mrs. Garrit Smith “gave the first of many all-Lang concerts.” (Block-Norton/Grove, p. 265)
Frank Van der Stucken was born in Texas Oct.15, 1858 and when he was eight years old (18669 his parents took him to Antwerp where he studies with Peter Benoit in Antwerp; during 1876-78 resided primarily in Leipzig where he studied with Carl Reinecke, Grieg and Langer; later traveled in Europe; was active in Paris 1880- 81; 1881-82 was engaged as kapellmeister at the Breslau Stadt Theater; in 1883 met Liszt (to whom he had been introduced by Grieg) at Weimar who arranged for him to present a concert solely of his own works; moved to New York in 1884 where he succeeded Leopold Damrosch as conductor of the Arion Society, a male chorus, which he conducted until 1895; gave a concert with this group during the 1884-85 season devoted exclusively to American works; during the 1887-88 season he gave a series of five concerts devoted entirely to American composers; at the July 12, 1889 concert at the Paris Exposition included songs of Margaret. “Upon the whole, it is not too much to say what(sic) at the present time of writing Mr. Van der Stucken is the most promising young conductor in this country.” (Howe-One Hundred, p. 694) (PHOTO) He served as conductor of the Cincinnati Symphony Orchestra from 1895-1907; from 1906-1912 he conducted the biennial Cincinnati Music Festival, returning every two years from Europe where he went to live in 1908.”) Mus. Am. Article, Nov. 25, 1922) He then spent most of his time in Europe until his death in Hamburg in 1929. He did return to the United States to conduct the May Festival in 1923 and then served as its music director in 1925 and 1927. The Mus Am article says that he returned to America in 1917.
From G. L. Howe A HUNDRED YEARS OF MUSIC IN AMERICA, 1889.
In July of 1892 B. J. Lang wrote to Theodore Thomas concerning a major work that Margaret had composed which might be performed at the 1893 World”s Columbian Exposition in Chicago for which Thomas was the musical director.
“If at any time in your busy life you can look at a musical work in three parts, say twenty-five minutes long, for solo voices, chorus and full orchestra, words ”The Wild Huntsman” by Scott, music by my daughter Margaret Ruthven Lang, you will I am sure be surprised and pleased at seeing a work of great picturesqueness and originality. The thing is scored with, what seems nowadays to be so common, great apprehension of orchestral color. I do wish you”d look at it but I”ll not send it excepting of your bidding”. (Feldman-“Being Heard”)
Probably because of her father”s standing in the Boston musical community, Margaret was able to use 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)
Arthur Nikisch from Elson, p. 57
When she was twenty-five her first large orchestral work was premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra-the Dramatic Overture, Opus 12 conducted by Nikisch opened the concert on April 8, 1893 (and 21st. rehearsal April 7 at 2:30PM). This was the first time since its founding twelve years previously that the BSO had played a work composed by a woman. Her work was described as having strong contrasts between the principal and subordinate themes. “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.”
Ryan, p. 179, plate page 85. Probably from the mid-1890s.
From Elson, p. 296
There seems to be no record of Thomas seeing the Dramatic Overture, Opus 12 but her overture Witichis, Opus 10 was chosen (along with two others) from among twenty-one works presented for consideration to be performed at the World”s Columbian Exposition in Chicago. One interesting aspect was that B.J. Lang was a member of the reviewing committee! Theodore Thomas conducted the work at one of the regular concerts (verses concerts in the Women”s Building) with “an orchestra of one hundred” at two concerts in July and August 1893, and it was included at a third concert under Bendix. A third overture entitled Totila, Opus 23 was composed in 1901.
Mrs. Crosby Adams reported in 1896 that Margaret found it difficult to work at home without interruption, so she rented a room in the area to use as a studio. It held a shelf full of rejected manuscripts. During this time she also went to see various members of the BSO to discuss the capabilities of their instruments so that she might write better for them.
Three concert arias were composed in the mid 1890s. Sappho”s Prayer to Aphrodite for alto was performed in New York in 1896. Another, Armida for soprano was performed by the BSO on January 13, 1896 with Gertrude Franklin as the soloist and Emil Paur conducting. Elson felt that this was “made from aversion that deals rather too freely with Tasso. 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.” A third aria for baritone was entitled Phoebus” Denunciation of the Furies At His Delphian Shrine. In 1899 Ryan stated that Margaret had “attained a position which places her among the four foremost female composers of the world, the other three being Chaminade and Holmes of Paris, and Mrs. Beach of Boston.” (Ryan, p. 86) Her orchestral Ballade in D minor, Opus 36 won much success at its premier in the concert entitled “Women in Music Grand Concert” given by the Baltimore Symphony March 14, 1901. (New Grove, 2001) Wind, Opus 53 for double chorus of women”s voices with a text by John Galsworthy was commissioned and performed by the St. Cecelia Club of New York in 1914 and 1915 at the New York Philharmonic concerts. (Musical America, Aug. 2, 1919) The Heavenly Noel (1916) Opus 57″ with words by Richard Lawson Gales was performed by the Choral Music Society of Boston in 1917; this was a work for mezzo-soprano, women”s chorus, organ, piano, harp, and string quartet.From Ryan, p. 178, probably c. 1898.
From Hughes Contemporary American Composers, p.520 published in 1900, and Mathews The Great In Music.
In spite of her successes in the orchestral field, Miss Lang is best remembered for piano pieces, choral pieces. and over 200 published songs. Myron Whitney gave the first public performances of Margaret”s songs in December 1887-she was just twenty years of age and recently returned from her European studies. In January 1888, at the first meeting of the Boston Manuscript Club five of her songs were sung. Among the five was Ghosts which was published the following year. (Fuller-Pandora Guide, p. 171) Soon after her songs were heard outside ofBoston. In 1889 Ojala words by George Eliot was performed at a concert of American music that was part of the Paris Exposition; the same song was sung as part of the March 26, 1890 concert for the inauguration of the Lincoln Concert Hall in Washington, D.C. The famous singers of the day such as Ernestine Schumann-Heink, Alma Gluck, and John McCormack soon took up her works, and in 1892 Mrs. Gerrit Smith gave a song recital in New York City devoted completely to Margaret”s works. Her Irish Love Song was one of Ernestine Schumann-Heink”s favorites, and was often sung by this artist as an encore. (See Discography) Elson describes Irish Mother”s Lullaby, Lament, and Ghosts as masterly. She chose poems with great care for her texts and was careful to avoid the norm of her era which tended to “rate gush as feeling and gilt as gold.” Hughes described her harmonies as having “the appearance of spontaneous ease, and the elaborateness never obtrudes itself upon the coherence of the work.” He added that the songs are “singable to a degree unusual in scholarly compositions,” and he placed two or three of her songs “among the chief of their manner.”
Under the baton of her father, The Cecilia presented three world premiers of her works-In a Meadow (Feb. 1, 1889), Love Plumes His Wings for women”s voices (Jan. 25, 1893), and Bonnie Ran the Burnie Down (May 6, 1897).
In his chapter “The Women Composers” in CONTEMPORARY AMERICAN COMPOSERS Hughes stated that “When I find Miss Lang”s work supremely womanly, I would not deny that quality to the sex which Joan of Arc and Jael were not uncharacteristic members.” David Horn writes that Rupert Hughes, who, besides being a music critic, was also known as a novelist, was a great supporter of American contemporary composers. In the forward to Contemporary American Composers of 1900 he states that “lo, these many years! That some of the best music in the world is being written here at home, and that it only needs the light to win its meed of praise.” (Horn-p. 85) Horn mentions that this 1900 edition was the result of the author”s own research, which he gathered by contacting the composers involved, and of the author”s own analysis of published and unpublished scores. At this same period Hughes also wrote Love Affairs of Great Musicians(1903), Songs By Thirty Americans (1904) and a two-volume musical encyclopedia (1903) that was revised in 1939 by Deems Taylor and Russell Kerr as the Music Lovers” Encyclopedia, a work that has been reprinted many times. His career then moved to Broadway and then Hollywood with nearly fifty movies being made from a Hughes story or novel, but he was also known for his three-volume life of George Washington. He is also credited with being a mentor to his nephew, the reclusive industrialist Howard Hughes.
Hughes describes Margaret”s song “the Maiden and the Butterfly (is) as fragile and rich as a butterfly”s wing. My Lady Jacqueminot is exquisitely, delicately passionate. Eros is frail, rare, and ecstatic. Ghosts is elfin and dainty as snowflakes. The Spinning Song is inexpressibly sad, and such music as women best understand, and therefore ought to make best. But womanliness equally marks The Grief of Love, which is in every sense big in quality; marks the bitterness of Oh, What Comes over the Sea, the wailing Gaelic sweetness of the Irish Love Song, and the fiery passion of Betrayed, highly dramatic until its rather trite ending. Nameless Pain is superb. Her Lament I consider one of the greatest of songs, and proof positive of woman”s high capabilities for composition. Miss Lang has a harmonic individuality, too, and finds out new effects that are strange without strain.
My Turtle Dove, among the Five Norman Songs, is fearlessness and harmonic exploration shows two of the strongest of Miss Lang”s traits. Her recherches harmonies are no pale lunar reflection of masculine work. Better yet, they have the appearance of spontaneous ease, and the elaborateness never obtrudes itself upon the coherence of the work, except in a few such rare cases as My Native Land, Christmas Lullaby, and Before My Lady”s Window. They are singable to a degree unusual in scholarly compositions. To perfect the result Miss Lang chooses her poems with great taste all too rare among musicians, who seem usually to rate gush as feeling and gilt as gold. Her Oriental Serenade is an example of weird and original intervals, and A Spring Song, by Charlotte Pendleton, a proof of her taste in choosing words.
Her Opus 32 is made up of two songs, both full of fire and originality.Opus 33 is a captivating Spring Idyll for the piano, for which she has also written a Revery, of which the exquisiteness of sleep is the theme. The music is delicious, and the ending is a rare proof of the beautiful possibilities of dissonance.
Personally, I see in Miss Lang”s compositions such a depth of psychology that I place the general quality of her work above that of any other woman composer.It is devoid of meretricious ness and of any suspicion of seeking after virility; it is so sincere, so true to the underlying thought, that it seems to me to have an unusual chance of interesting attention and stirring emotions increasingly with the years.(Hughes-Contem Am. Com., p.433-438)
Also in 1900 Karleton Hackett is quoted by Mathews as saying: “To the songs of Margaret Ruthven Lang we turn with special pleasure, for in them we find that flowing melody and sympathetic harmonic development which a song demands.There is to be found no daintier bit than Ghosts, no lovier song than Marvoureen. She catches the spirit of the poem and so infuses it into the music that we feel its beauties with redoubled force.Her songs have not as yet struck a deep note, but in their kind thay are perfect and we promise ourselves a richer harvest in the future.” (Mathews. The Great in Music, p. 277)
In 1912 Ethel Syford evaluated Margaret’s gifts as a song writer: “It would be useless to dwell here upon Miss Lang”s individual gift for melody or even upon the enormous popularity which her songs have for studio and concert use. Perhaps the most remarkable quality which we can note concerning her is the way she insists upon striding on beyond her former self, the unfailing growth which she constantly works for and demands for herself. With her it is a question of on and on, ever reaching for one more last word of light and truth. It is an attitude of high seriousness as regards her demands upon herself. She makes no effort to make an ”effect” to gain for herself quick, warm response. She has thrown that to the winds and follows the mood, the truth of the words; is faithful to the moods of the words and devoutly aims to make her music as beautifully a servant of the truth of those words as she can.” (Syford-article, p. 23)
The 1919 “Musical America” short biography of Margaret lists that “She is a composing member of the New York Manuscript Society, an Honorary Member of the Musical Art Club of Boston, and Honorary Vice-President of the American Music Society. (Etude-Aug. 2, 1919)This pose is very much like the 1935 “Etude” photo.
From 1927 until 1939 Margaret self-published from her home at 8 Brimmer Street a series of leaflets which she distributed at her own expense. Under the overall title of Messages from God, the titles were: Intercession Dec. 1927, 8 pages, A Gift For Almighty God October 1928, 9 pages, The Communion of Silence November 1928, 9 pages, Our Continuing City October 1932, 9 pages, Our Father”s House the Gate of Heaven-a Thanksgiving November 1934, 10 pages, and Christmas and the Cross November 1939, 9 pages. 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, with orchestra; with piano; and once at request, with organ, piano, and harp; – for 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)
In 1924 Malcolm was appointed conductor of the Cecilia Society after a period of decline that he was able to reverse by creating a connection with the Boston Symphony that lasted until 1948. Malcolm”s years were 1924 until 1929 when he passed the baton to Arthur Fiedler who served from 1929 until 1945.
During his senior year at Harvard, Malcolm wrote both the words and the music for the 1902 Hasty Pudding show, Hi-ka-ya. His directorship of the Harvard Alumni Chorus continued at least through the mid-1930s as Spaulding”s Music at Harvard describes the group as having members who “meet several times each month to indulge in the tonic pleasure of singing music for its own sake and they give a number of concerts during the winter for various clubs and organizations in the neighborhood. For many years they have sung at the Commencement Exercises in June. Their music furnishes a welcome contrast to the somewhat ponderous political and academic speeches which are a necessary part of these proceedings. On a hot afternoon in June circa two o”clock people are not in an ideal state of mental receptivity, were Chrysostom himself to address them. But they can be roused from their post-prandial stupor, and are, by the charming and rhythmically vital singing of the Chorus.” (Spaulding, p. 251-2).
The Lang family had long been Unitarians, and it was quite a surprise when Margaret embraced the Episcopal faith. Malcolm said of his sister that she “had enthusiasms.” His family described him as a very private person who walked everywhere. He was one person in letters (warm), but another in person, sometimes very sharp. Malcolm continued the tradition of the Sunday afternoon salon begun by B.J. Interest in music has continued in the Lang family with Malcolm”s daughter, Helen Lang Hooper passing on her musical interests to her daughter, Ann Hooper, who in 1986 was the Personnel Manager of the Pro Arte Orchestra in Boston. Malcolm”s other daughter was named after his sister: Margaret Lang Spencer.
2 thoughts on “Margaret Ruthven Lang 1867-1972”
Just curious how and what idea that she composed the Ghost?
I wish I could answer your question. This poet was used very rarely. You probably already know all about the song so I will not repeat its details. At one time there were many diaries of her mother in the Rare Book Room of the Boston Public Library, but for this period (first performance Dec. 1887, published 1889) all we have are 1876, 1991 and 1892. Everything in between the family kept or it was lost. However, there are 26 separate diaries to be read-I’ve done some and it is great to read about “Isabella Stewart Gardner popping in for tea.”
What is your interest in the Langs?
All the best Jim Johnston email@example.com