MARGARET RUTHVEN LANG: CHILDHOOD AND EARLY CAREER TO 1893. SC. 6693 words.
This unsigned article written about Margaret is housed in the Rare Book Room of the Boston Public Library. It very succinctly gives the main points of Margaret’s life and her accomplishments.
“Fire and passion, an elusive spirit of caprice, a delicious nonsense that bubbles over with laughter-provoking humor, are the characteristics of Margaret Ruthven Lang’s music. Much of her larger work is still unpublished. Two of the three overtures, however, have been performed, her Dramatic Overture in Boston by the Symphony, and Witichis in Chicago at three concerts by the Thomas orchestra. Think what a triumph for a young girl, to have such public recognition given spontaneously. When Miss Lang, who is a daughter of B. J. Lang, of Boston, had completed her overture in 1893, Mr. Nikisch said to her, ‘Would you not like to hear how it will really sound? If so, send me the sheets, and I will have the men look it over, and you shall come and hear it.’ This was not refused; but still later, when the music had been rehearsed, the director found it of such merit that he asked the young author to allow him to present it at a regular concert. No songs, unless those of Nevin’s, are in greater demand than Miss Lang’s. The womanly quality is so dominant in those for one voice, that I am upheld in my earlier statement that it is this which to inspire the great composer among women musicians. Another markedly feminine trait is the versatility of her genius. What a range in her Spinning Song of penetrating pathos, Betrayed, of fiery desolation, the harmonies of the Norman Songs, the elfish music of Ghosts, or the delicious fun of her setting of Edward Lear’s Jumblies, for male voices, as sung by the Apollo Club of Boston. The mass of Miss Lang’s unpublished work is only rivaled by the amount that is out. She has over forty songs alone, besides arias for alto and one for baritone. Of the concert aria Armida, given January 1896, at a symphony concert, Mr William Apthorp, that fearless critic, said, ”Much of the melodic writing is very broad and noble, and the whole treatment of the orchestra admirable. It shows that Miss Lang appreciates that modern orchestration means something finer and more subtle than the mere massing together of numberous musical instruments.” From the scores mentioned, it would seem that this article was written about 1898. In 1909 Stella Reid Crothers wrote in Musical America: “Endowed with exceptional talent, which has been guided and developed by the best instructors, Margaret Ruthven Lang, of Boston, is recognized not only as one of the foremost women composers of the day, but one whose work bears the unmistakable stamp of genius.” (Musical America (June 19, 1909): 15) Genius!
Margaret Ruthven (pronounced Rih-ven; Amy Dubois Interview) 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) In 1872, when she was four years old, her mother said to her, “O Maidie, I hoped God would send me a good little girl.” “And he hasn’t,” said Maidie. (Diary 2, Summer 1872-Rosamond) Her non-musical education was at private schools (Saerchinger, 356). Her mother’s Diary mentions: “Miss Margaret Ruthven called here to-day,” but no other infor- mation is given about this woman for whom she was named. (Diary 2, March 1878) In the summer of 1878 B. J. took Margaret, then aged 11, to South Danvers to show her “the [first] church where he used to play the organ,” and the next summer they visited Salem to see “the Church on Columbia Street [Crombie Church] where he used to go when a little boy.” and where he was organist during his teenage years. (Diary 2, Summers 1878 and 1879) “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. She began violin study in September of 1879-“She is very fierce.” (Diary, Fall 1879) 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, 169) In a letter from Margaret to her mother dated July 19, 1883 (she would have been 15) she talks about composing a piece for a friend: “I would write her something for the piano or violin, and I have written a page of a scherzo in B flat major which is so hard that I can’t play it myself.” (Ms. Lang, vol. 24, item 2B) In a 1907 interview Olin Downes noted: “Miss Lang began to compose at a very early age. A quintet, in one movement, for piano and strings, and a piano quintet, usually a terrible pitfall, appeared in her 12th. year, as well as several songs.” (Downes, Post, August 25, 1907) Frances noted in her Diary during the summer of 1881 when Margaret was 13, “Maidie’s Quintette comes on apace.” (Diary 2, Summer 1881) It “was played privately at her father’s summer residence.” (Musical Courier, January 1895)
In a letter to Mr. Krehbiel 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 with Prof. Victor Gluth, and the violin under (first) Louis Drechsler and then Prof. Abel. 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…I have composed a string quartette and violin obbligatos to three Preludes of Bach, a Cantata for chorus, solos and orchestra, and two overtures for full orchestra.” (Scrapbook 1887-1904) In an interview dated February 11, 1905 for the Lewiston Maine Journal she added to her usual bio. “and when Mr. MacFarell [MacDowell] was in Boston I used to go to him for criticism of my work. His musical judgment is extraordinary.” “Miss Lang spends the morning until 1 o’clock in work and study, having a studio where no one can interrupt her.” (Musical Courier, January 1895)
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, 11) In his 1924 Dictionary Eaglefield-Hull also adds the name of Philip Scharwenka as a piano teacher (Eaglefield, 287). ) Another source also lists Philipp Scharwenka (1847-1917) as a piano instructor in addition to her father. (Ebel, 81) This is possible as Scharwenka spent the year 1891-1892 in New York City, (Baker, 515) and had his symphonic poem Fruhlingswogen, Opus 87 played by the BSO on October 28, 1892. (Leichtentritt, 374)
“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, 11)
The painter Winslow Homer was a family friend as shown by the pencil drawing of B. J. playing his studio organ done in 1895. In late November 1884 he had been invited him to an event-possibly a family musical performance, or the Sunday open house, that could have included an early piece of Margaret’s. He answered:
Lang autograph collection. The Lang family and nurse Ellen Sheehan sailed for Europe June 13, 1885 on the S. S. CATALONIA from Boston. They went to Belgium, Germany and Switzerland. Then in October they met with Cosima Wagner when she was in Munich. (Frances M. Lang’s Note Book Excerpts, 7) There is a passenger “Ben I. Lang” who arrived in NYC from Liverpool on September 21, 1885 on the ETRURIA. His date of birth was given as about 1839, but the occupation can not be read. (ETRURIA Manifest) There are no other Lang family members listed on that ship as Frances and the rest of the family were to stay the winter in Munich so that Margaret could study there.
RMS ETRURIA, accessed Wikipedia, March 2, 2019.
The First Atlantic Liners by Peter Allington and Basil Greenhill. Accessed Wikipedia March 2, 2019.
Margaret wrote to her grandmother in 1885 about meeting Liszt. “I saw – -WHO do you think? LISZT. Mamma and I and Vivie (Thompson), hearing he was in town for the day, caught at the chance, and determined to call on him, knowing how very old and feeble he was and therefore he might not live long. We three went to his hotel and after sending in our cards and waiting for some time, were ushered into his presence in a little bed-room. He was stately, beautiful, not very tall, with long soft silver-white hair. Mama spoke of Papa and Bayreuth, and Liszt seemed to remember. We shook hands all around three times, and as I tried to open the door the latch stuck, whereupon Liszt taking hold of the handle said, looking me straight in the eye all the time, ‘It is more pleasant to open the door for you to come in, than it is to let you out.’ Think of that, all to myself. V. and I later brought two photographs of him in the front of which he wrote his name.” (Frances Diary, 2, Fall 1885) This would have taken place at the beginning of Margaret’s study in Munich. “Maidie and I [Frances] went to call on Frau Wagner. And as we rather expected, she doesn’t see callers. However her daughters, Eva and Isolda welcomed us cordially.” (Diary 2, Fall 1885)
She studied violin with Louis Schmidt beginning in 1883 aged fifteen (Schmidt, who was a Boston Symphony member together with Loeffler who described him as a “simpleton” (Knight, 36), and then at age nineteen (together with her mother) she spent the winters of 1886-87 and 1887-88 in Munich (Ryan, 86) where she studied violin with (first) Franz Drechsler (1862-1934)(he would have been only five years older than Margaret) and then Ludwig Abel (1835-1895)(friend of Hans von Bulow with whom he played chamber music) who was Concertmaster of Hermann Levi’s Court Theatre of Munich Orchestra. (Engel, 449) Levi had conducted the world premier of Wagner’s Parsifal at Bayreuth on July 28, 1882. (Grove 1921,Vol. F-L, 687) When interviewed at age 101 she said that “she studied it in Munich, but not seriously,” and gave it up “when she left Munich.” In the same article she recalled that “she took up the violin because her friends were studying it, and learned by watching them play.” (Herald (July 20, 1969): 6, GB) In this same article is mentioned that in Munich she “also studied composition and orchestration.” (Ibid) For counterpoint and fugue she studied with Victor Gluth (1852-1917), a professor at the Royal Conservatory. George Chadwick had studied at the Munich Hochschule fur Musik beginning in the fall of 1879 where he had also worked with Ludwig Abel who was the “concertmaster for the Wagnerian conductor Hermann Levi.” (Yellin, 38) For the summer of 1887, B. J. joined them in Europe.
Photo from IMSLP/Petrucci site, accessed February 1, 2019.
Below: The Munich Conservatory as Margaret saw it. Built in 1846, destroyed in the war, 1944. Gluth was the Director here for two years before his death. (Hochschule fur Musik und Theater, Munchen, accessed February 2, 2019)
Lang found lodgings for Frances and the children in Munich at No. 46 Brienner Strasse which “proved to be the most satisfactory. It is a Pension, and the food is served to us, in our own dining-room, very good indeed. In the evening to the Opera…We go to the Opera most every other night…Continuous Concerts, Theatres and Operas.” (Diary 2, Fall 1885) In the spring of 1886 Frau Cosima Wagner and her daughters came to stay at this Pension as the Frau was consulting an eye doctor. (Diary 2, Spring 1886)
After she returned from Europe in 1888, she continued her work for a time with Professor John K. Paine of Harvard and J. C. D. Parker, (but these names were not mentioned in her 1893 autobiographical entry prepared for Mr. Krehbiel),From Hughes, 210.
finishing her orchestration studies with George Whitefield Chadwick (who had also been a student in Munich from 1877-1880, studying with Rheinberger). Blunsom, based on Diary entries from 1892, writes that her lessons with Chadwick “took place at her maternal grandmother’s home,” which would have been at the Burrage home. (Blunsom, 74) However, Frances notes in her Diary late in February 1888: “Today it was 10 below zero. Maidie took her first lesson from Mr. Chadwick.” (Diary 2, Winter 1888) She also showed her compositions to Edward MacDowell (who lived in Boston for eight years beginning in 1888 at the suggestion of B.J.). However, Margaret made it clear in a letter to William Apthorp, that she did not study with MacDowell-he had mentioned this fact in his BSO program note for her Dramatic Overture. “It was [B. J.] Lang’s eloquence that convinced MacDowell to return to the USA in the autumn of 1888.” (Grove’s, 419) Further, Lang arranged for MacDowell to appear at an Apollo Club concert on Dec. 10 at the Boston Music Hall. “There is no evidence of the length of time Lang studied with any of her teachers, aside from the continued supervision of her father until his death in 1909.” (Cline, 12) After returning from Europe she did continue her piano study with her father (Autobiographical note for Mr. Krehbiel).
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. O Roemerin (O, Roman Maid)(published as Lied der Nebenbuehler or Song of the Rival Maid in 1889), Ghosts-1889, Song in the Twilight-1889, Lebe wohl (Farewell) and Der Sommer (Summer), the last two were never published. For this concert, B. J., in addition to being the accompanist for the songs, on one hour’s notice substituted the Chopin Scherzo Op. 31 for the material that Mr. Whitney, the assisting artist, who was ill, was to have sung.The reviews were consistently positive. Cline 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 thoroughly 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, 13) The Advertiser singled out Ghosts, “and the single stanzaed, half recitative Songs In the Twilight …Mr. Winch has never sung better than in these fairy-like bits of melody which Miss Lang has made so signal.”The Saturday evening edition of the Gazette ended its review with: “The young composer is to be complimented sincerely on the excellence of her work and congratulated on the immediate appreciation that attended them and the deserved success they achieved.” The Brookline Chronicle said: “The group of German songs, by Margaret Ruthven Lang were exquisite, not only in their were lyrical beauty, but in the unison between the sentiment of the words and that of the music.” Finally, the Courier said: “There was in them all evidence of that delicacy of poetic sentiment to which young American composers seldom aspire.The Songs In the Twilight is a gem.” (Scrapbook 1887-1906) In a letter to Krelbiel dated May 22, 1893 Margaret stated that she published her first group of six songs “at the advice and under the supervision of Mr. MacDowell.” Certainly this was a very positive beginning to her public career.
Soon after, she had first performances at the Manuscript Club which was “Formed in 1888 under the direction of Evelyn Ames [an amateur musician, Blunsom, 69], 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, 69)The date was January 19, 1888, and B. J. accompanied William J. Winch in O Romerin, Ghosts, Lebe Wohl, Songs in the Twilight, and Der Sommer. The Manuscript Club performance was held at the home of Isabel Stuart Gardner at 150-152 Beacon Street.“On Mrs. Gardner’s programme are the autographs of all the composers. This was her way of humanizing records and of giving her friends the pleasure of knowing that she believed their achievements would one day make them famous.” (Carter, 113) A year later, February 28, 1889, the Manuscript Club gave another performance at Mrs. Gardner’s home which included Oh, What Comes Over the Sea, Ojala, and To Tonight sung by Mr. George F. Parker and accompanied by Margaret.“Again Mrs. Gardner secured the autograph of each composer with the opening bars of one of his compositions. A few other concerts were given in other places, but unfortunately the Club had only a brief existence.”(Carter, 114) 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 (in remembrance of Lang’s father, the noted organist and conductor B. J. Lang).”(Locke, 107) However, as the thank-you note from Margaret is dated May 14, 1905, the phrase “in remembrance” would not be correct as B. J. was still living. (Date given by Locke, 119) The Guest Book of the Lang farm in New Boston, NH records visits from Mrs. Gardner on September 28, 1895, July 19, 1902, July 24-29, 1903 and August 6-8, 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, 120 and 108) The first contact between the two families may have come as a result of the fact that Mrs. “Gardner’s musical passion found its primary outlet in concert going. After settling in Boston (early 1860s), she faithfully attended the concerts of the Harvard Musical Association” and further contacts may have been made in the 1880s as “Isabella and Jack had become pilgrims to the Wagner Festival at Bayreuth (they went together four times, and she went one other time without Jack).” (Locke, 93)
The New York Herald mentioned in their March 11, 1888 edition that Boston seemed very gay considering that it was Lent. The previous Sunday “was given over to half a dozen brilliant receptions and musicales, all of them largely attended by notable gatherings of prominent people. (New York Herald (March 11, 1888):9, GB) Mrs. William F. Apthorp gave a dinner party which was followed by an evening of music. The parties continued on into the following week with “several teas and musicales on Monday. One of the pleasantest was that given by Mrs. David P. Kimball in the afternoon from four to seven o’clock (music at five), in honor of Miss Margaret Ruthven Lang, the daughter of Mr. B. J. Lang, who has recently made her debut into society.” (Ibid)
At the May 10, 1888 concert of The Cecilia at the Music Hall, Mr. George J. Parker sang four of Margaret’s solo songs: My Lady Jacqueminot, Sing Birdling Sing, Nameless Pain and Songs In the Twilight. The review in the Gazette written by Mr. Woolf said: “Miss Lang’s four songs…charming little fancies, delicately artistic in treatment, were sung by Mr. Parker with rare finish of style and tenderness of sentiment, winning for his really beautiful interpretations, some of the heartiest plaudits of the evening.” (Scrapbook 1887-1906) The Chronicle of May 11 said: “Some of them have been heard here before, and a second hearing only confirms the excellent opinion we formed of their merit. The Songs In the Twilight is one of the most beautiful lyrical songs we ever heard.” (See another review in the “Cecilia” section) (Scrapbook 1887-1906)
The spring of 1889 saw the first of her songs published. A newspaper review of May 4, 1889 covered My Lady Jacqueminot, Ojala, Nameless Pain, Ghosts, In the Twilight, and Song of the Rival Maid. “Miss Lang’s capacities as a composer have been lately displayed in public on several occasions, and these exhibitions have included both songs for a single voice and part songs. They have always proved interesting and sometimes pleasing. It may be said, in a general way, of the songs named, that they reveal an earnest desire to take the words at their full value; or rather to return, in musical expression, all that the words convey or suggest. It results, as in the case of Schumann, that the themes are sometimes wanting in the roundness of form which are characteristic of songs composed more for the sake of the music than the words. Liking for this little group, therefore, will largely depend on the taste of the individual.” Particular praise for Ghosts follows (see under the entry for this work), and the review ends with-“A fancy for changing the rhythm, for a few measures, has governed the young composer in several of the others. These changes seem justified for the sake of strengthening the faithfulness of the translation of words into music, but at times they disturb the flow of the melody.” (Scrapbook 1887-1906) “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, 218)
Songs were not the only pieces that Margaret was writing. An undated article c. 1888 stated: “Miss Lang is said to have recently completed a highly interesting and effective piece of music for French Horn and piano, and will probably be heard in public for the first time at one of the ensuing concerts of the Kneisel quartette.” (Scrapbook)
At their January 31, 1889 concert, Cecilia presented In a Meadow-many favorable reviews appeared. The Herald reviewer felt this quartet to be a “prominent success” of the evening, while the Gazette described it as “ a pretty, graceful and effective bit of writing, with some interesting harmonies and a charming piano accompaniment.” The Courier said that “although some of the solo phrases sound thin, it has moments of great power.It is melodious in an unwonted degree, and its grace and daintiness (admirably suited to the words) together with the excellence of its execution… made it one of the best appreciated numbers of a programme which was rich in good things.” (Scrapbook 1887-1906) One of the music magazines felt that “it proved to be one of the most earnestly listened to of the evening’s selections.” (American Musician, February 16, 1889) The Globe review described the work as having three verses “differently set, two being led off by the soprano, while the intermediate one is divided between the bass and tenor voices. There is a diversified and sparkling pianoforte accompaniment, which Mr. Lang played with paternal care and artistic grace.” (Globe, undated and unsigned)
Also in 1889 her song Ojala was performed in Paris at the July 12th. concert in the Trocadero during the Paris World’s Fair Exposition; this concert featured American works. The conductor 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, and Henry Holden Hess; Margaret’s song was accompanied by Edward MacDowell and MacDowell was the soloist in his own Piano Concerto No. 2. (Chase, 350-51) Whereas other countries had multiple concerts, this concert was the only one devoted to American works-the full program was:
American Concert, 12 July 1889. Soloists: Edward MacDowell (piano), Willis Nowell (violin), Maude Starvetta (mezzo-soprano), Emma Sylvania (soprano), and The Orchestre de l’Opera-Comique.
In the Mountains, overture, Op. 14 (1886) Arthur Foote Concerto No. 2 in D Minor for piano Edward MacDowell Three Songs: In Bygone Days George Whitefield Chadwick Milkmaid’s Song Arthur Foote Where the Lindens Bloom Dudley Buck La Tempete, orchestral suite, Op. 8 Frank van der Stucken
Melpomene, dramatic overture (1887) George Whitefield Chadwick Romance et Polonaise for violin and orchestra Henry Holden Huss Oedipus Tyrannus, incidental music, Op. 35 (1881) John Knowles Paine Prelude Carneval Scene, Op. 5 (1887) Arthur Bird Three Songs: Moonlight Frank van der Stucken Ojala, text by George Eliot (1889) Margaret Ruthven Lang Early Love Frank van der Stucken Festival overture on Star Spangled Banner Dudley Buck
“Van der Stucken was apparently invited sometime in May to conduct the July 12 concert, forcing him to act quickly in choosing repertoire and soloists.One of his first invitations went to Edward MacDowell, the rising young American pianist and composer who had lived in Europe from 1876 to 1888…according to Otto Floersheim of The Musical Courier, van der Stucken was allowed to use the auditorium free of charge…The orchestra was that of the Opera Comique, one of the best in Paris.They had a total of five rehearsals, during which Floersheim reported that they were put through the wringer:” Also did they take Mr. Van der Stucken’s not always very complimentary remarks and his frequent criticism with the utmost good nature and followed all of his instructions in the most careful and minute manner.”…None of the works received its premiere in Paris, as the conductor opted for a program of ”chestnuts” from the recent American repertoire.To the French critics, though, all the works were unfamiliar…The program was subject to change until a few days before the concert, as indicated by the postcard from MacDowell to Margaret Ruthven Lang in Boston:
10 July Paris
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)
“The concert was eagerly anticipated by the American community in Paris. An anonymous letter to the editor of the Paris edition of the New York Herald spoke in glowing terms of Miss Sylvania, one of the featured singers….At this period in French history, American singers were enjoying disproportionate success on the operatic stage, so it is not surprising to learn that the performance of the two vocal soloists was very well received.Both of them used stage names for this performance, but Floersheim identifies them as Mrs. Starkweather of Boston and Miss Walters of Philadelphia.” (Bomberger, 46-52) Mrs. Starkweather used the stage name of Mmd. Maude Starvetta while she was in Paris as a pupil of Mathilde Marchesi. (Bomberger, “Concert Americain”) An undated review described Miss Sylvania as “a young artist with a brilliant future.She has a voice of great purity, fine and penetrating, that traveled to the limits of the vast hall in the most piano passages. She sang well, and will certainly be heard of again before long…Miss Margaret Ruthven Lang’s Ojala is also a pleasing composition, that reminds one somewhat of Virginia Gabriel.” Another review mentioned that the singer was not yet 20. The French reviewer for Le Monde Musical penned “what may be the worst review ever published of a concert of American music. (Bomberger, Review) Brument-Colleville missed the opening overture and left before “the last two sets as well,” and thus had no comment on Margaret’s’ song. (Ibid) But he certainly had opinions on what he heard: “Not one of these gentlemen, neither MacDowell, nor Van der Stucken…nor Huss, nor Bird, not one I say, had three measures that belonged to him, truly to him. There is some of everything in this music, a filet of Mendelssohn with a salami of Schumann, some hors-d’oeuvres from here, from there, from Wagner or from Brahms, not a few nebulosities, and for dessert, boredom and monotony…The notes come…but the ideas…!!!” (Ibid) Special scorn was saved for MacDowell’s Second Piano Concerto: “Up to the end (two eighth notes on the fourth E-A) everything is pastiched, copied, repeated.” (Ibid) However, Chadwick’s overture Melpomene was seen as a piece “That is grand, wisely and seriously conceived and it is art (very German art, to be sure) but it is art in every sense of the word.” (Ibid) MacDowell must have considered this to be an important concert as his only fee was to be expenses. MacDowell’s father wrote to his son: “If you would go, he would want you to start about the end of June [from Boston where he was currently living], to be one week in Paris, and all he could offer would be your actual expenses of travel there and back and hotel expenses for the week. If he made any profit over & above the expenses he would share precentage with you which can not be counted on.” (Bomberger, 46)
Ojala was also part of the Inauguration Concert of American Composers at the Lincoln Concert Hall in Washington, D.C. on March 26, 1890. This concert was organized and conducted by Van der Stuchen, and Ojala was placed among three songs just before the finale (Buck’s-Festival Overture on the Star-Spangled Banner), which was the same placement as used for the Paris concert the year before. Miss Eleanor Warner Everest was the soprano. Unfortunately there was no information about the composers of the three songs in the sixteen page program which otherwise gave full composer information and details of each piece for the instrumental works to be played! The concert was promoted by Mrs. Thurber, founder of the New York City National Conservatory, and used an orchestra of 40 from New York. This was the first of a series of concerts featuring American composers that was to be presented throughout the country,(Dvorak was the head of this conservatory from 1892 until 1895).
In 1890 and early 1891 various singers were beginning to program her songs. Miss Clara E. Smart in 1890 sang My Lady Jacqueminot, Eros, In the Twilight, Ghosts, and Ojala. The Transcript review by Apthorp said: “Each one of these lovely little bits is perfect in its way and a second hearing finds nothing in them of the irksomeness of the merely ”sweetly pretty” tune. ” (Scrapbook 1887-1906) Mr. George J. Parker programmed Ojala, My Lady Jacqueminot, and In the Twilight when he appeared as an assisting artist at an organ recital given by Henry M. Dunham on January 3, 1890, and repeated these songs when he assisted in Arthur Foote’s concert at Gill’s Hall in Springfield on June 6, 1890. A month before, May 8, 1890, he also assisted Foote in a “Piano-forte and Song Recital” at Perkins Institution for the Blind where the same three songs were sung together with Eros and O What Comes Over the Sea. (Scrapbook 1887-1906) He included Deserted in his January 11, 1891 recital at the St. Botolph Club, and on March 18, 1891 he sang Deserted, My Lady Jacqueminot, In the Twilight, and Beautie’s Eyes (with cello obbligato) at the Lasell Seminary.At the January 19, 1891 meeting of the “Fortnightly Club” the Boston Symphony conductor Mr. Nikisch accompanied his wife in Ojala and Meg Merriles, and on February 28, 1891 Mr. G. W. Dudley included A Spring Song in his recital at Chickering Hall.At the Thursday, May 14, 1891 concert of the Cecilia, My Lady Jacqueminot, In a Garden, and Night were sung by Gertrude Franklin.Fame was becoming international; Miss Louise Laine performed Ghosts and Ojala at her recital in Halifax, Nova Scotia on January 21, 1891. Most of these songs had only been published less than two years before. Margaret was the vocalist at an open house given by Mrs. Apthorp when the special guest was Mr. Courtenay Thorpe. She sang “the Christmas song that she composed.” (Herald (December 27, 1891): 23, GB) That was mostly likely Opus 8, No. 2, Christmas Lullaby with text by J. A. Symonds.
At the January 27, 1892 concert, the Cecilia Society performed In a Garden. On January 20, 1892 the New York soprano Mrs. Caroline Garrit [Gerritt] Smith “gave the first of many all-Lang concerts.” (Block-Norton/Grove, 265)(Glickman, 184)”In all, fourteen songs by Lang were performed at this concert, including five settings of Edward Lear limericks, works which would remain unpublished until 1905.” (Cline, 14) One newspaper story referred to the event as an “informal musical reception” given at Mrs. Smith’s studio, 573 Madison Ave. that was “comfortably filled with society people.”Another story, entitled “They Sang Their Songs,” listed the singers as Miss Winant, Mr. Clarke, Mrs. Smith herself, and MISS LANG-certainly one of the few vocal performances given by Margaret. A letter from Mrs. Smith asked Margaret to sing the Nonsense Songs.Mrs. Smith continued to sing Margaret’s songs: Ghosts and Meg Merriles on February 18, 1892 and Ghosts again on March 19, 1892.Others in New York City were also including Lang compositions: at the February 16, 1892 recital of pupils from the Purdon Robinson and Victor Harris Studio, Mrs. Anna Mooney-Burch (soprano) sang Ghosts, Nameless Pain, and In the Twilight. Mrs. Gerritt Smith’s husband was an organist at the South Church in NYC, professor at Union Theological Seminary, and President of the Manuscript Society (Baker, 549-550).
Margaret’s songs were also performed within the family circle. Blunsom notes a November 24, 1892 Diary entry that mentions “Three ladies came & dined…We talked & Maidie sang her Nonsense Songs & Heliotrope & Olaf” while Frances herself performed in late July. “It came up without my being able to help it that I sang Maidie’s songs-Ojala, Twilight, Lady Jaquemont, Night, Harbor of Dreams, Ghosts. The accompanist is not mentioned. On another occasion Frances recorded: “This evening we played Whist until Miss Silsbee and Miss Mitchell came. Maidie sang delightfully a dozen songs beginning (by request) with the Nonsense Songs of Lear.They were enchanted.” Within the Lang social circle Margaret’s songs were very favorites. “Maidie went to Gretchen Franklin’s reception. Miss Little sang. Miss F. sang Maidie’s Night…To Alice Jones to a tea for Mrs. Laurence Hutton where I met many interesting people. Mrs. Matthews sings Maidie’s songs delightfully.” (Blunsom, 139 and 140)
“Margaret Lang’s style in general is grounded in late nineteenth-century German musical language, with rich harmonies, dense textures and complex chromaticism. Most notable is the obvious influence of Wagner’s musical language on Lang: she often relies on Wagnerian harmonic progressions even in her most straightforward songs.However, she is also eclectic: at various points she utilized features of various styles, including impressionism, orientalism and folk tunes…Chromaticism, dominant 13ths and augmented 6ths are prevalent, especially in their [Lang, Beach, Rogers, Daniels and Hopekirk] art songs.” (Blunsom, 187 and 188)
As to the texts set, women tended to set poems by women. “Amy Beach used women’s poems in 48% of her songs, Margaret Lang 35% and Mabel Daniels 42%. Arthur Foote, as a comparison, set poems by women in only 16% of his songs…Texts on the subject of love make up the overwhelming thematic majority…The common themes of nature, night and the sea, however, also appear as non-love songs…The German lied served as the primary model for the American art song…Interestingly, the German songs of Lang…were written early in “her career.” (Blunsom, 189, 190, and 191) Interest in things French “was steadily gaining favor in Boston: the city had a French Library and a women’s French society club…At the Chromatic Club, for example, French songs were invariably well-represented…Lang’s Lament, for example, was one of her most critically successful songs.Its style is not based on dense chromaticism or complex harmonic movements, but on the clear texture and open, sonorous harmonies with a fluid melodic line…Lament is the song noted by Rupert Hughes as her best song.” (Blunsom, 192)
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”). Margaret herself had some input into the programming for the Exposition as she was a member of the “Advisory Council of the Women’s Branch of the World’s Congress Auxiliary on Music” effective September 15, 1892 by Mrs. Potter Palmer, President. (Scrapbook)
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) 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, 368)
On Wednesday, January 18, 1893 the Apollo Club gave the premier of the Boatman’s Hymn at the 2nd. Concert of their 22nd. Season. This work had been written for the group, and the soloist was the baritone Mr. T. E. Clifford. It was placed just before intermission to end the first half of the concert (The work was repeated at the May 8, 1895 concert were it opened the program). A few days later, January 25 and 26, 1892 The Cecilia Society included In a Garden sung by the wife of the Boston Symphony conductor, Mrs. Arthur Nikisch as part of the second concert of their 16th. Season. A year later the Cecilia did her Love Plumes His Wings for female voices on January 25, 1893 (the work was repeated at the January 16 and 17, 1895 concerts). The review by Louis C. Elson in the Advertiser said: “The other work is one by Miss Lang; it is entitled Love Plumes His Wings (the words being by Louise Chandler Moulton) and is the best I have yet heard by this composer.It is charmingly melodic, has enough of imitative treatment in the voices to keep up continuous interest from the harmonic or contrapuntal side, and its unaffected grace and daintiness appeal to musician and non-musician alike.It received most abundant and continued applause (and deserved it, too), but an encore was denied.” (Scrapbook) Philip Hale in the Journal of January 27, 1893 complained that the overall mood of the concert was “gray,” but that this “work stood out in delightful relief and it was heartily applauded.” (Scrapbook) A month later the group repeated this work at a concert on February 8, 1893 in Salem, MA that also included the solo song Meg Merriles sung by Miss Harriet S. Whittier.
Earliest image of Margaret. Found in the Ladies Home Companion, October 1896; in The Century Magazine, March 1898 (facing left); and in the Home Journal, May 7, 1898.
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)