MUSIC HALL AND ORGAN (SC)
Word Count-5,762. 01/01/2020.
“Interior View of the New Music Hall, Boston.” Johnston Collection
The Great Organ In The Boston Music Hall 1866, facing the title page.
On November 2, 1863 Lang was one of the organists who played at the inauguration of the E. F. Walcker organ at the Boston Music Hall; he had been instrumental in procuring the instrument. “It took the Walckers five years to build an instrument containing 89 registers and 5,474 pipes. When finished in 1862, the $60,000 organ had to be transported to this side of the Atlantic. Successfully evading Confederate vessels, it arrived safely in Boston and, after seven months of installation work was fully ensconced in the Music Hall. It was a handsome instrument, with a casing splendidly carved by the New York firm of Herter Bros. [The case design was by Hammatt Billings (1818-1874) who were by Boston architects. he also designed the case for Lang’s E. & G. G. Hook 1864 instrument at South Congregational Church (Owen, 37)] With a glorious sound, it was then the largest specimen of its kind in the United States and fourth largest around the world. As with the Music Hall itself, the [Harvard Musical] Association had quietly but effectively made a valuable contribution to music in Boston.” (Hepner, 40) Nutter gave greater credit to the Association; he noted that in 1850 Dr. Jabez Baxter Upham had urged the Boston Musical Fund Society to build a concert hall worthy of the city, but nothing came of their efforts. Dr. Upham then turned to the Harvard Musical Association, of which he was a member, who received the idea enthusiastically. “A committee (again chiefly Dwight) examined four possible sites and chose Bumstead Place, now Hamilton Place…To purchase this estate and to warrant beginning the erection of a hall $100,000 was necessary. It was raised in the astonishing period of sixty days…The building rose quickly, watched by an interested and excited populace…its outer walls still stand but they view a scene ludicrous in contrast [at least to Nutter writing in the 1960s].” (Nutter, 10 and 11)
At the Monday November 2, 1863 Dedicatory Concert Lang played the Sonata #3 by Mendelssohn and was the organist of Old South Church and the Handel and Haydn Society. Dwight reported that: “This ”Great Instrument” complete now in its majesty and beauty, and flooding the Music Hall with harmony, has swept into its strong, sonorous current nearly all the musical interest of the past week or two. The subject is so much more interesting than any other that can just now come up to us, and is at the same time so large, as necessarily to almost monopolize our columns. In spite of ourselves, therefore, and at risk of being called the organ of the Organ, we make this an Organ number of our paper… We have first of all to put on record the incidents of the Inauguration, which embraced a whole week of festivities, public and private, musical or social.” (Dwight (November 14, 1863): 132 and 133) The “Private Test” was performed on Saturday evening, October 31 “in the presence of the subscribers and the stockholders of the Music Hall Association, members of the city government and other invited guests, numbering about a thousand gentlemen.” When the guest entered they saw only a huge green curtain that covered the entire organ, “All eyes are wandering with pleasure over the renovated walls and ceilings of the hall, for years so dingy and discolored.” The gas lighting system had been updated, the seats newly upholstered, and the hall now held 2654 seats with orchestra seating and two balconies. The concert began with soft sounds from the organ for fifteen minutes that then grew into a crescendo. The curtain descended, “revealing first the full length of the cherubs with their gilded instruments surmounting the domes of the two central towers; then the chaste beauty of the ribbed and rounded domes; then the triple columns of huge silvery pipes, with St. Cecilia throned in beauty on the summit of the arch between; and so little by little the whole breath and grandeur of the superb façade, with its grand caryatides, its figures, heads, and wealth of carvings…. From the work to the author; three cheers were called for, rousing ones, and given with a will, for Dr. J. B. Upham, to whose first suggestion, enthusiasm, wise and persistent energy, in the face of one may imagine how much incredulity and worse, for seven long years, the whole enterprise, now crowned with such complete success, is mainly due.” The music opened with Mr. Morgan of Grace Church, NYC playing the William Tell Overture. Then came a speech by Dr. Upham thanking all who should be thanked, including the builder, Mr. Walcker and his son and shop foreman. Then, B. J. played “a sweet Andante by Mendelssohn, and part of Rink’s [sic] flute concerto, tickling the ear of the curious.” (Dwight (November 14, 1863) 133)
The official inauguration was on Monday, November 2 with tickets at “three dollars (it might safely have been five) performed to a full house. Reminiscent of Handel’s Messiah premier in Dublin, ladies were requested to appear in demi-toilette-“presumably to avoid taking up too much space with oversized hoop shirts, bustles, and hats.” (Owen, p. 51) Organists and music-lovers from almost every State were present.” After an ode recited by Miss Charlotte Cushman, and a speech by Friedrich
Ryan. Recollections, facing 20.
Walcker, son of the builder, the concert began with the sounds of Bach’s Toccata in F. Lang played Mendelssohn’s Sonata in A-No. 3 upon which Dwight commented that “Mr. Lang’s choice of stops in the Mendelssohn Sonata was most appropriate, and revealed rare beauties in the organ as well as in the composition; it was richly enjoyed.” (Dwight (November 14, 1863): 132-135) Also performing at the dedication were John H. Wilcox (born in Savannah, Georgia in 1827: his chief work was done in Boston), John K. Paine (Music Professor at Harvard: 1839-1906), Eugene Thayer (1838-1889), Dr. S. P. Tuckerman (born in Boston, studied in England, returned to Boston, organist at St, Paul’s Church, later the Cathedral), and G. W. Morgan (born and trained in England, his main work was in New York City after 1853).“This was probably the most famous gathering of organists that had ever assembled in America.” (Elson, 262)
Lang was also involved in the Handel and Haydn Society “Grand Choral Inauguration of the Great Organ at the Boston Music Hall” concert on Saturday, Nov. 28, 1863. The Society donated its services with the purpose that “the proceeds of the evening be devoted toward extinguishments of the Organ Debt.” The program included Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise with orchestra (again, probably a Lang suggestion), and in the first half Handel’s Ode to St. Cecilia’s Day (first American performance) was performed with Lang playing his own transcription of the orchestral parts on the new organ “and Lang’s registrations were praised.” (Owen, 64) If Lang played with the orchestra in the Mendelssohn he would had had his first introduction to the problem of playing with Boston orchestras of this time who regularly tuned to the old English pitch of around A-449 while the organ had been built in the new French pitch of A-435. Probably the remedy Lang used was to transpose his part a half-step higher, which “was surely a tribute to his fabled musicianship.” (Owen, 74) This concert was repeated by request on Sunday Dec. 6.
After the inaugural recital given by six organists, a series of Second, Third, Fourth etc. “Grand Organ Concerts” were given. Less than a week after the Monday, Nov. 2 dedication a “Third Grand Organ Concert to Benefit the Organ Fund Concert” was shared by Lang and John H. Wilcox. B. J. opened the concert with Bach’s Prelude and Fugue in C Major, and finished the first half with his transcription of Beethoven’s Overture to Egmont. In the second half he played the Pastoral Symphony by Handel and the Flute Concerto in F Major by Rinck. This work was to be a favorite with Lang; he programmed it in sections or in its entirety throughout his career-it appears as late as 1883. This sixteen-minute work “is in fact close to Viennese classical style, with variations more akin to the early Romantic. At first sight the concerto looks like an organ or piano reduction of an orchestral composition, something certainly intended by Rinck, who does not hesitate to use techniques normally considered unsuitable for the organ, such as octave tremoli. The florid, virtuoso and sometimes amusing passages for the flute make a pleasant contrast to the generally short and energetic statements from the “orchestra”. Rinck understands well how to adapt the characteristic idiom of the flute to the organ. The very accessible Rondo, with its perpetuum mobile type of broken chords, in particular, has made this the most popular of Rinck’s organ compositions. (Lohmann, 4)
At the “Fourth Grand Concert” on Sat. Nov. 14 Lang opened with the Grave from Bach’s Fantasia in G (full organ), repeated the Overture to Egmont so well “that one missed the orchestral fire and crispness thereof less than he had thought possible,” and ended with just two movements of the Rinck. He shared this concert with Mr. Willcox. Both men appeared also at the “Fifth Grand Organ Concert” on wed. Nov. 18 where Lang opened the concert with Mendelssohn’s Sonata in A (four movements) and ended the first half with a transcription of Weber’s Der Freischutz. “Mr. Lang gave an organ imitation of the Freyschutz overture, which sounded more like the orchestra than either of the overtures thus far attempted. The unearthly great bassoon and trombone of this organ, its warm clarionet-like Corno-bassetto stop, its full, mellow flute tones for the horn passage, and its stringy violin tones, told well in this wild, romantic, mystical overture.” In the second half he played He Shall Feed His Flock by Handel and ended the concert with the March of the Israelites from Costa’s cantata, Eli. Forthe “Sixth Grand Organ Concert” Mr. J. C. D. Parker (1828-1916) joined Lang and Willcox on Sat. Nov 21 in a program that mixed original organ works by Schumann and Mendelssohn with transcriptions from Mendelssohn, Weber, Hummel, and Haydn. Lang did not play in the seventh, final concert. Dwight wrote that these recitals “have been generally quite well attended, the Hall being half full at least, which is a great audience for an organ concert, and at the dollar price must have eked out the fund not a little.” (Dwight, November 28, 1863, p. 143)
For the Christmas Evening concert in 1863 which was shared by Dr. S. P. Tuckerman and Lang, the advertisement in the Herald was large enough to list individually the nine selections and who would be playing each one. Tickets were 50 cents, and this concert was one in a series given during Christmas Week “In Aid of the Organ Fund.” (Herald (December 25, 1863): 2, GB)
In 1896, William Apthorp writing an “Entr’acte” article for the February 14th. and 15th. BSO concert program book referred back to the dedication of the organ thirty-three years before: “Speaking of the Great Organ reminds me of a bogus story that went the rounds soon after it was set up in the Music Hall, to the effect that a mouse had been blown through one of the huge thirty-two-foot pipes, and came to a violent death by being hurled against the ceiling.” (Apthorp, BSO program book for February 14th. and 15th., 1896, 527))
Dwight reviewed a concert played just over two months later in early February 1864. “Mr. B. J. Lang’s Sacred Concert, on Sunday evening before last, was one of the most successful, both in the large attendance and the amount and quality of musical enjoyment. One of the few organ concerts which were not, and did not seem, too long.” The Bach Fantasie in G opened the program, and other assisting artists were a soprano, Miss J. E. Houston, the violinist Mr. Eichberg, and Mr. Willcox at the organ. “The little Prelude by Bach (the first in the well-tempered Clavichord), begun by Mr. Lang simply as Bach wrote it on the piano, the violin entering later with Gounod’s melody, and then the Organ (delicately managed by Mr. Willcox) stealing in with low under-tones and swelling to a climax, seemed really illustrated by this exceptional treatment. It had to be repeated.” (Dwight, February 20, 1864, p. 191) Dwight’s review of Lang’s February 20th. concert in the same month did take him to task for selecting a boring Bach Concerto that “is rather a matter of historical curiosity for musicians…(but) Mr. Lang displayed his usual fine tact in the selection of stops, and finished execution in all his pieces.” The success of the February “Sacred Concert” led to an almost exact repeat performance with the same assisting artists on March 6th. For that concert Lang was praised for “his solo performances and his accompaniments.” (Dwight (March 19, 1864): 207) The program of this Second Sacred Concert included:
Allegro, from Concerto in G – Bach B. J. Lang
Song, “The Quail” Beethoven sung by Miss J. E. Houston
Religious Meditation for Violin and Organ by J. Eichberg performed by the composer and Lang
Grand Offertoire in F – Lefebure Wely by Mr. S. A. Bancroft
Song, “Tears of Sorrow” – Beethoven sung by Miss Houston
Selections from the Hymn of Praise – Mendelssohn which displayed the Vox Humana and Bifra stops
Trio, for Violin, Organ and Pianoforte – Bach and Gounod played by Eichberg, Willcox and Lang
“Jerusalem, thou that killest the prophets” from St. Paul – Mendelssohn
Grand Symphony, from the Hymn of Praise arranged for two performers at the organ – Mendelssohn played by Parker and Lang
“Let their celestial concerts all unite” from Samson – Handel Full Organ
(BMT (April 1864): 54)
In addition to organ solo concerts, other groups made use of the instrument in their own concerts. During the tenth season of the Orchestral Union conducted by Carl Zerrahn, at the fifth concert of the season Lang played “a good sterling Prelude and Fugue in C by Bach, one which we have not had before, and played it well and won applause.” He also played the Adagio and Allegretto from Rinck’s Organ Concerto in F (with flute solo)(Dwight (February 20, 1864): 190). Soon after, on Wednesday afternoon March 30, 1864, “B. J. Lang, The Distinguished Organist Will make his Second Appearance in these concerts.” After an opening overture by Mendelssohn (Der Heimkehe aus der Fremde), B. J. played an organ solo Let their celestial concerts all unite from Samson. Then Beethoven’s Pastoral Symphony was followed by B. J.’s transcription of selections from Hymn of Praise, and the orchestra ended with Invitation to the Waltz by Weber and Wagner’s Finale from Tannhauser. B. J.’s advocacy of Mendelssohn would continue throughout his career as would his devotion to Wagner: “For the next three decades [from the 1860s] Wagner remained a fundamental part of his career.” (Briggs, 53) The year that he died, “in 1909, Mr. B. J. Lang, himself a musician of note and active in introducing to Boston for the first time selections which have since become familiar to us, volunteered and gave a talk on Mendelssohn and played from his compositions, on the hundredth anniversary of his birth. This was a special occasion [for the Harvard Musical Association], not at a regular Friday evening, and it drew a large audience to hear a sympathetic and illuminating talk.” (HMA, Bulletin No. 2)
In addition to his solo organ concerts and his appearances with other organizations, Lang also promoted his own “Grand Sacred Concerts.” Early in February 1864 on a Sunday evening he presented a program that “was one of the most successful, both in the large attendance and the amount and quality of musical enjoyment. One of the few organ concerts that was not, and which did not seem, too long.” He opened with Bach’s Fantasie in G Major, and other selections were presented by Miss J. E. Houston, vocalist and Mr. Eichberg, violinist who played his own Religious Meditation for violin and organ. “Contrary to our expectation, the effect of violin with organ was very beautiful. Mr. Eichberg played it in a chaste and noble manner.” More popular pieces in the program were the Hallelujah Chorus as a finale, and Bach’s First Prelude from the “well-tempered Clavichord begun by Mr. Lang simply as Bach wrote it on the piano, the violin entering later with Gounod’s melody, and then the organ (delicately managed by Mr. Willcox) stealing in with under-tones and swelling to a climax, seemed really illustrated by this exceptional treatment. It had to be repeated.”(Dwight (February 20, 1864): 191) On Sunday evening Mar. 6, 1864, another Lang “Grand” concert had five assisting artists. The first half of the concert ended with “Selections” from Hymn of Praise displaying the Vox Humana and Bifra (?) stops. In the second half B. J. and J. C. D. Parker performed an organ duet arrangement of the “Grand Symphony” from the same work, and the program had the note, “as given at the Old South Church.”
Others also followed this model. This same Mr. Willcox, who was organist of the Church of the Immaculate Conception, presented a Sunday evening concert of Catholic music a week later which included organ solos, vocal solos (he also used Miss J. E. Houston and together with others), and choral pieces, and he “was honored by a very large attendance.”(Dwight (February 20, 1864): 191) Dwight also mentioned that a new series of organ recitals, limited to one hour, were to begin on Saturday afternoons at 4 o’clock.
The “Grand Organ Concerts” continued with Lang being a regular performer. In some months, he did as many as three recitals. The pattern was three concerts per week-on Wednesday and Saturday and Sunday at 7PM. Lang was the only one to regularly program Improvisations. For a “Grand National Concert” on Washington’s Birthday, Monday February 22, 1864 Lang opened with the:
Star Spangled Banner
French National Airs
Improvisation on a Holland National Hymn
Variations on America
Improvisation on a Russian National Hymn
English National Hymn
However the more typical program was like the one given on Saturday June 25, 1864 at 12 noon.
Prelude and Fugue in C: Bach
Overture-A Midsummer’s Night: Mendelssohn
Selections from Lobgesang: Mendelssohn
Overture-Der Freischutz: Weber
a. Minuet and
b.Chorus-Let Their Celestial Concerts: Handel
The cost was 50 cents, but even though the audience had paid to attend, it was necessary to print this note at the bottom of the program: “The audience is respectfully requested to preserve the utmost silence when the Organ is playing.” As many pieces were repeated, often within a short time, it would seem that new audiences were expected for each event. As this was a new instrument, and possibly the audience was not too familiar with what an organ could do, Lang presented a balanced program of original organ works and transcriptions. His Transcription of Themes from Tannhauser was part of his 1865 repertoire; also in 1865 he played his Transcription on a Theme from Faust and Transcription of Themes from Don Giovanni. Another transcription that often ended his concerts was that of Handel’s Hallelujah Chorus. He also included instructional pieces such as those that would display the Vox Humana stop; he did this with original pieces and also with improvisations. The three concerts that he played in September of 1865 all had Vox Humana improvisations. Dwight complimented Lang’s taste in a November 1864 review by saying: “He still utterly abstains-he only besides Paine-from the French Offertoires; which is refreshing.” (Dwight (November 26, 1864): 351)
But not everyone had the same taste. Apthorp, writing about thirty years after the event, remembered that the “organ concerts came thick and fast; almost every organist in the city and suburbs had his turn at the big (and unwieldy) instrument. After a while it began to form part of the most adventurous combinations; I remember one evening when a fantasia on themes from Wallace’s Maritana was played as a duet for mouth-harmonica and the Great Organ, a combination, as the program informed us, ‘never before attempted in the history of Music!'” (Apthorp, BSO Program March 20 and 21, 1896, 670 and 671)
In his July 9, 1864 issue Dwight reviewed the repertoire played during the previous season. Orchestral works, chamber music, cantatas and organ music were included in the list-the organ repertoire was only from the Music Hall concerts. Included were the works played by seven Boston organists, plus Mr. G. W. Morgan of New York, and the “three brothers Carter, from Canada.” A review of this list shows that B. J. repeated items more often than most: Mendelssohn-Sonata No. 3, four times; Bach-Prelude and Fugue in C, four times; Rinck-Flute Concerto, six times; Beethoven-Overture to Egmont, four times; Mendelssohn-Symphony from Hymn of Praise, six times. Only one other performer repeated more often- W. E. Thayer with his own Offertoire for Vox Humana, played seven times! (Dwight (July 9, 1864): 271) Dwight mentioned that most of the programs were aimed at first time attendees, and he suggested that some programs “be strictly Organ-like and classical, consisting wholly or mainly of the works of Bach.” He continued that since the summer audiences were rather small, “Is it not probable that quite or nearly as many people would resort to the Music Hall now and then, who have as especial desire to learn more of Bach, if they could be assured of a programme made for them.” (Dwight (July 9, 1864): 271)
Not every Dwight review was a rave. About a recital in July 1864 Dwight said that “Mr. L. also improvised acceptably,” but then he did end with, “and altogether his concert seemed to give great pleasure.” (Dwight (July 23, 1864): 279) For the summer months of 1864 recitals were played only at mid-day on Wednesdays and Saturdays. The heavier recitals on Sunday nights resumed in the fall.
Dwight’s comment on B. J.’s August 13, 1864 recital was that it was “one of the most happily varied and agreeable of the mixed programmes of the season.” The program was:
Prelude and Fugue No. 31: Bach
Overture: Midsummer Night’s Dream: Mendelssohn
Overture: Le pardon de Ploermel: Meyerbeer
Chorus: Be Not Afraid (Elijah): Mendelssohn
The Bach was from Book Two of the well-Tempered Clavichord that seemed “to gain by being transferred to the organ…Mr. Lang’s Cradle Piece was but a breath, fine-drawn and delicate, truly melodious. Such breezy pine-tree murmurs are surpassingly rendered by the Dolce in the Swell of this instrument.” The compliments continued with “The overture to Meyerbeer’s romantic pastoral opera surprised us by its effectiveness on the organ; we felt the poetry of it more than we have done in the opera house.” (Dwight (August 20, 1864): 295)
A month later Dwight reported that the “great Organ has been doing very well of late. Better and better, in fact; the crowds of visitors in Boston, of travelers en route mountainward or homeward, at this season, gladly avail themselves of these Wednesday and Saturday ”noonings,” when they may sit in the cool Music Hall, face to face with the majestic ”huge house of the sounds,” with the still more majestic forms of Bach and Beethoven, and be piped to by its pastoral reeds and flutes, sung to by its sentimental Vox Humana, roused by its trumpets, roared to by its billowy basses, or lifted up and flooded away beyond all consciousness of earth and meanness by its great fugal surf of harmony.” (Dwight (September 17, 1864): 310)
Dwight had an extensive article concerning the organ concerts in his September 30, 1865 issue: “Throughout the summer, and still continued every Wednesday and Saturday noon and every Sunday evening, the performances on the Great Organ at the Music Hall have furnished thus far about the only public music of much account as music, -that is to say, as Art. The organ front has recently been cleaned, so that all shines again, enhancing the attraction as an object of sight. The attendance, for such quiet and frequent occasions, has been larger than in past seasons, and indeed seems steadily increasing at a moderate rate…These are audiences of strangers, summer visitors who seek out the ”lions” of the ”hub’; a totally new set of faces every time…But it is also clear that whoever is drawn into its sphere enjoys being there and turns his back on it reluctantly…The greater is the wonder, therefore, that our own people, those who live under the very shadow of this great temple of exhaustless harmonies, should appear so indifferent to the rare privilege of having ”in their midst” one of the greatest, possibly the most perfect, organ in the world, with constant opportunities of hearing plenty both of the real and great organ music (Bach, etc.) and of the lighter and more fantastical sort.” Dwight bemoans that the locals don’t take advantage of the concerts-after over twenty concerts attended he notes, “Our eyes have scarcely lit upon a person whom we knew even by sight.” He had mentioned earlier in the year that the audiences for the three times per week recitals were “small, to be sure, but often numbering two or three hundred people, mostly visitors drawn by enthusiasm or curiosity to see and listen for the first time to the wonderful instrument. Each time you see for the most part new faces; and it is pleasant to observe the rapt attention and radiant expression.” (Dwight (February 4, 1865): 390)Dwight reviewed the repertoire presented during September 1865 as given by Mr. Paine, Mrs. Frohock, Mr. Whiting, Mr. Willcox, Mr. Carter, and B. J. “Mr. Lang has given us on various occasions, of Bach: that same Fantasia in G (as also played by Mr. Paine), a Concerto in G (three comparatively small movements), and the lovely Pastorale in F; of Mendelssohn: that Third Sonata (in A), which he has made so peculiarly his own, in transcriptions of March in Athalia, of Nocturne in Midsummer Night’s Dream music, and overture to the same; of Beethoven, the Quartet in Fidelio; of Weber, Oberon overture; of Meyerbeer, the Dinorah overture, which lends itself well to his very felicitous tact in fanciful and delicate combinations and contrasts of stops; he makes re—-quite a poetic and little dream of it. All these things he has played repeatedly before, but he always offers some new shade of refinement in the treatment, more especially the coloring. His one new thing, and about his most remarkable effort in the way of transcription, has been his arrangement of themes from Tannhauser.” (Dwight (Sept. 30, 1865): 110 and 111)(Grammar and use of italics as done by Dwight)
There are Lang solo organ programs for May, June, September of 1865 January 10 and 17, February 7, March 7, 14, 24, and 28 and Nov. 21 and 28 of 1866; the November 28 concert included a first performance of his transcription of Liszt’s Les Preludes which he
Courtesy of the Massachusetts Historical Society
noted in the program was made from the orchestral score. Dwight’s review of Music Hall organ recitals covering October 1865 through June 1866 noted that the price was still 50 cents, the audience mainly tourists numbering from 50 to 300 per recital, three recitals were given per week for a total of about 130 recitals in that nine month period. Lang is listed as a “Resident Organist” together with Mr. G. E. Whiting, both having given 19 recitals during the period covered. Lang’s repertoire was listed-the usual Bach works, most of the Mendelssohn Sonatas, and Rink’s Flute Concerto being played three times, the usual transcriptions, and “frequent improvisations in free style.” None of the others recitalists included improvisations. (Dwight (June 23, 1866): 262 and 263)
Lang also played concerts in May, June, July, September, October, November and December of 1867; February, March, June, July, September, and December of 1868; March, June, July and August of 1869. In the summer of 1868 Dwight wrote “The Great Organ is still played every Wednesday and Saturday noon, to larger audiences this summer than ever before.” (Dwight, September 26, 1868, p. 319) Lang’s program for July18, 1868 began with Mendelssohn’s Sonata in B falt major, Pastoral by Kulick arranged by Best, a Chorus from Beethoven’s Mt. of Olives, an Improvisation, and finally Bach’s Fantasie in G major.
Lang had heard Best play two year’s before. In August 1869 Dwight added: “The Great organ we have always with us. It still plays, or is played with, every Wednesday and Saturday noon for an hour. If the noble instrument always fulfilled its fuction as worthily as when we listened there last Saturday, it would be a comfort to true music-lovers and a gain to music. Mr. Lang played, …Another point of interest was an original Prelude and Fugue in D Minor by an amateur of this city, a gentleman deeply read and practically well versed in music, as this first publicly disclosed specimen of his work shows, Mr. Josiah Bradlee. After a spirited arpeggio prelude, a regular Fugue is built on a theme resembling that of Handel’s “And With His Stripes,” followed by a second subject also well worked up, with episodes, the whole ending in a Chorale richly harmonized. It made a very good impression.” (Dwight (August 28, 1869): 95) By 1879 W. J. D. Leavitt was the main recitalist. Lang’s last performance on this instrument was May 14, 1884-soon before it was removed from the building.
Lang’s program for Saturday Sept. 11, 1869 at noon included Mendelssohn’s Organ Sonata in B Flat Major (four movements), a transcription of Liszt’s Preludes, the “Chorus-Loud the Mighty Wind” from Mendelssohn’s Elijah, an Improvisation, and ended with a Fugue on Bach by Schumann. The program mentioned that “The audience is respectfully requested to preserve the utmost silence while the Organ is playing,” and that organ recitals were to be held every Wednesday and Saturday noons. The program also mentioned that “Books descriptive of the Organ, may be had at the Ticket Office” and also at the Ticket Office were “Lithographs and Photographs of the Organ, also a fine Photograph of Beethoven, from Crawford’s celebrated statue in Music Hall” (HMA Program Collection).
Cities other than Boston were quick to deflate what they considered Boston’s attitude that “good music is so thoroughly appreciated as it is in Boston” [amd not other cities], and these other cities were always looking for ways to illustrate that attitude. The organ recitals at the Music Hall were one example that they used; “At a recent concert of the Big Organ by Mr. Thayer, a very grand ‘full organ’ passage was flooding with harmony the purlieus of Brmstaed Place, Beacon Street, Winter Street, and oozing in diluted sweetness across Tremont Street, and out on the Common-that magnificent park so admired by all the dwellers in Hubville. Notwithstanding the difficulties of converstion in such harmony-laden atmosphere, two ladies occupying prominent seats in the Music all were at the same time absorbing Bach and imparting to each other certain details of Household affairs. Just at a critical period, the organ suddently subsided to a whisper, and the audience were delightfully informed in a shout by one of the ladies referred to, that ‘WE FRIED OURS IN BUTTER.'” (From 1869 Chicago Independent, April 1869, reprinted in The Keraulophon (January 1978): 4, GB)
“The history of the great instrument may be very briefly recited. Some of its stops were beautiful beyond compare; its mechanism was less excellent. It spoke rather slowly, and the organist had to keep well ahead of the conductor’s beat when accompanying. When the Boston Symphony concerts began to crowd Music Hall, it was found that the organ took up too much room, and it was sold, in 1884, to Hon. William Grover, who presented it to the New England Conservatory of Music, hoping that institution could build a hall for it. Before it was taken down, Frederick Archer gave a concert that proved the instrument to be still a marvelous one. It became, however, a white elephant; the conservatory found it impracticable to build a hall as vast as such an instrument would require, and finally the great organ that was to stand for “centuries” was sold, thirty-four years after it had been set up, for the sum of $1,500, as old metal and lumber!” (Elson, Hist. Am. Mus., 262) Today this instrument exists as rebuilt by Aeolian-Skinner in the Methuen Memorial Music Hall in Methuen, MA., and can be heard in recital every Wednesday night during the summer.
Boston Music Hall Organ
“Frederic Archer gave the last performance on the ”Great Organ” in the Boston Music Hall on Wednesday evening, May 14, 1884…Completion of the dismantling of the ”Great Organ” and its removal from the Boston Music Hall was accomplished prior to the required date of Tuesday, July 1, 1884. The components of the organ were placed in storage in a rough frame building in the yard at the rear of the New England Conservatory of Music.” (Methuen Memorial Music Hall website, 11/26/10, 3) Henry Lee Higginson “and his associates [had] purchased a controlling interest in the Boston Music Hall during the summer [of 1881], when preparations were being made for the debut of the orchestra.” (Ibid)
Many years later Frances Lang noted in her Diary of April 1897: “Lel went to the Auction of the Music Hall organ. Later he told me he had hoped he might buy it for $500. But it sold for $1500.” (Diary 2, Spring 1897) Back in 1895 she had noted that “Mr. Higginson is arranging to have a new organ for the Music Hall,” (Diary 2, Spring 1895) but once he decided to build a new hall, this idea was transferred to that hall.
It soon became obvious that the hall would need some type of organ, if only for the oratorio performances of the Handel and Haydn Society. It was to become known as the “little” organ in contrast to the “big” organ built by Walcher. However, this new “little” instrument, Opus 138, was in fact a very large one-manual built by Geo. S. Hutchings having 28 stops and 38 ranks, including 9 in the pedal, and it did produce a range of sound “from a delicate whisper to a thundering tutti.” (Huntington, 32) The removal of the Walcher instrument and its magnificent case had given more space on the stage for the Boston Symphony, but it left a large hole behind the stage which had been filled “with a cheap-looking drapery” which was greatly criticized. “It is placed in a room over the green room, a little above the level of the second balcony on the left side of the hall. An archway has been cut in the wall, and a balcony thrown out in front, as has been seen by every one who has been in the hall this season. This elevated position will necessarily destroy much of the effect which the instrument would produce if more advantageously placed, but Mr. Hutchings says that it is a powerful organ.”(Tracker, Vol. V, No. 3, April 1961, 5) The instrument was first used at the Handel and Haydn Messiah performances, played by B. J. Lang, in December 1884. The specification is as follows: