THIRTEENTH CECILIA SEASON. 1888-1889.
At the December 3, 1888 Music Hall concert the choir sang one of their more important premiers, the first Boston performance of the German Requiem by Brahms. This was the first half of the concert, with a repetition of the Patriotic Hymn by Dvorak as the second half. The soloists were Miss Elizabeth Hamlin and Mr. Eliot Hubbard with Arthur Foote as the organist and a full orchestra accompaniment. The Boston Transcript December 5th. review written by William F. Apthorp noted: “Here is a composition to find the like of which we must go back to the soulful conventionality of the oratorios of Handel and Haydn, back to the inspired technique of Mozart’s Masses and Requiem and search among the works of the preacher of the musical gospel, Sebastian Bach.” (Transcript, Cecilia Reviews) The review in the Herald recorded: “The merits… failed to fully appear, the composer having apparently a somewhat indefinite idea of an idea not readily grasped by the forces engaged in its presentation. While it shows the hand of a skilled musician, its vagueness and fragmentary themes do not offer much satisfaction. The soloist[s], chorus, and orchestra appeared to be alike in doubt as to a full understanding of the score and the ill success attending its presentation was about evenly shared by all participants.” (Herald, February 12, 1888 as shown in Johnson, 87) Johnson lists the first American complete performance as one given by the Oratorio Society of New York, conducted by Leopold Damrosch on March 15, 1877 in Steinway Hall. The New York Times of March 16 noted: “It is exceedingly scholarly, but its length and its monotonousness are such that it is scarcely likely to impress any but students.” (Johnson, 86) Warren Davenport writing in the June issue of the Folio noted: “Brahm’s [many made this apostrophe placement mistake at this time] Requiem proved to be a work of great contrapuntal value exhibiting this learned composer in a most classically scientific light. At one hearing it seemed to lack in spontaneity and as it proceeded became monotonous in its effect upon the listener. The chorus parts are quite difficult and consequently the singers had a hard struggle with the work and had it not been for the happy thought of Mr. Lang to put a piano among the singers to assist in taking up the leads it is doubtful what might otherwise have been the result. The Club deserves credit for the general effectiveness of the effort. Mr. Lang conducted with his usual care and held the forces well together… Dvorak’s Patriotic Hymn, a warm, effective composition, brilliantly scored, was finely rendered by the Club and brought a strange dull concert to a pleasant conclusion.” (Folio, Cecilia Reviews) Davenport had been a bass in the Apollo Club in the early 1880’s but was no longer a member in 1891. The Traveler review felt that “The eminently sympathetic results of the initial presentation of the Brahms Requiem is due in a large measure to Mr. Lang’s intelligent rehearsing of the work in private, and to his splendid hold upon his forces through its performance. The orchestra, made up of Symphony players, was excellent; but its unfamiliarity with the music was apparent more than once.” (Traveler, Cecilia Reviews) This review also noted that there was only one rehearsal with orchestra!
The headline of the Globe’s review by Howard Malcolm Ticknor was: “SUPERB CHORAL WORK,” with smaller headlines of: “First Acquaintance of Bostonians with This Charming Piece” and “Large Audience is Delighted by the Performance… It is only just and reasonable to say [that this work] could not have been heard but for this society… The performance was a triumphantly successful one, and it was but rarely that there was anything like reluctance in taking up the leads or uncertainty in following them.” This review also mentioned the piano among the singers to provide “unobtrusive help.” Other reviews had mentioned various problems of the soprano soloist, and Ticknor finished his piece by saying: “One fundamental thing she has yet to learn, however [she had just returned form study in Europe], before she can be accepted for a first place among singers, and that is enunciation; I caught some single syllables, but not one solitary entire word reached me in an intelligible form.” (Globe, Cecilia Reviews) The Journal noted how difficult the piece was, but wrote: “Mr. Lang was evidently not to be staggered by the intricacies of harmony or the difficulties in the way of its rendition, and the result is a triumph for Mr. Lang and the club, and a critical and intelligent musical audience heard this work for the first time.” (Journal, Cecilia Reviews) The Transcript also noted the difficulties of the work: “To undertake a performance of it is no light matter for any choral society; its difficult is so exceptional that none save the finest choral forces can dare to face it… Of the composition itself one can speak only in reverent admiration. If ever Brahms has shown himself to be truly great, it is here, in this stupendous work… Dvorak’s Patriotic Hymn was superbly given, and outdid even the fine impression it made when the Cecilia first sang it here.” (Transcript, Cecilia Reviews) The choir never sang this piece again until its performance on March 16, 2003 at Jordan Hall, New England Conservatory. (Cecilia program Note by Steven Ledbetter) In President Coale’s Report of June 1889 he quoted a review by “a well-known critic” who called the choir “fine, vigorous, and wonderfully impressive” in a work “many pages of which can be hopefully met by only two classes of singers, the professional choristers of England and the Continent; or such intelligent, earnest, and well-equipped amateurs as the Cecilia can boast.” (Cecilia Clippings, President’s Report June 1889)
The Thursday evening, January 31, 1889 concert at the Music Hall included Margaret’s In a Meadow sung as a quartet. Mr. E. Cutter, Jr. and Mr. G. W. Sumner were the accompanists. (Cecilia Reviews) This was the second time that her works had been preformed by the group. One review noted: “Miss Lang’s piece, a good deal developed in form, is new evidence of a gift for composition from which something of real moment is likely to come. She handles the voices with certainty, considers their range like a sympathetic craftsman, while she infuses a charming melodic manner in a form which is harmonically pure.” (Traveler, Cecilia Reviews) Another review called Margaret piece one of two “prominent successes of the evening,” (Cecilia Reviews) and another described the piece as “a pretty, graceful and effective piece of writing, with some interesting harmonies and a charming piano accompaniment.” (Cecilia Reviews) “Much commendation must be given to a quartet by our young composer Margaret R. Lang. It is entitled In a Meadow and, although some of the solo phrases sound thin, it has moments of high power.” But then the reviewer continued: “It is melodious in an unwonted degree, and its grace and daintiness (admirably suited to the words) together with the excellence of its execution, by Mrs. Galvin, Miss How, and Messrs. Want and Wellington, made it one of the best appreciated numbers of a programme which, as will be seen, was rich in good things.” (Cecilia Reviews) Another review made about the same comment. “Miss Lang’s new composition, In a Meadow, proved to be a very graceful and refined vocal quartet, which was only weak in some of its solo phrases” (Cecilia Reviews) Possibly both were written by the same pen-one for the daily press and the other for a music periodical. “Miss Lang’s quartette was enthusiastically received by the audience. It is extremely well written both in voice and piano parts, and one only misses the logic and richness of construction which thought and experience will bring.” (Cecilia Reviews) It was noted, “that with fatherly care Mr. Lang played the piano accompaniment” of Margaret’s piece. (Cecilia Clippings, American Art Journal, February 1889)
The third concert was on Thursday evening, March 28, 1889 at the Music Hall with orchestra and Mr. E. Cutter Jr. and Hiram Hall as organists. The featured work was the Stabat Mater by Dvorak which one reviewer describes as “undoubtedly a very great one” but monotonous due to “adherence to minor keys… The performance, though creditable in some respects, was rough and crude in many essentials.” Other problems were cited and traced to the reviewer’s view that all the problems were traced to shortcomings of the conductor. “The soloists were scarcely efficient to do the highest justice to their tasks,” but then Mr. Parker’s major solo “was sung by him with fine grace and tenderness,” and “the best solo work, however, was done by Mr. Babcock, who may be commended unstintedly for the largeness, the nobility and the clearness of his singing throughout. His rich, warm voice was used with splendid effect in his solos, and afforded steady and strong support in the concerted numbers. A large audience was present, and, though not over-cordial, it was appreciative.” (Cecilia Reviews) This review may be the work of Benjamin Woolf in the Evening Gazette. The Post also found the work gloomy, but noted: “The excellent work of the orchestra should not be passed over, which, under the careful leadership of Mr. Lang, was in every way commendable.” (Post, Cecilia Reviews) The Transcript noted that this was the third time that the Cecilia had presented this work: first, some selections in January 1884 , “and afterwards, the entire work, several years ago.” [January 15, 1885] The reviewer mentioned that after the concert he consulted what he had written about these two earlier performances which had “left a very strong and fine impression upon” him while the current performance he found “upon the whole, rather dreary. All we can say is that we are rather thunderstruck at finding ourselves half bored, half nonplussed, by a composition which once filled us with delight. The performance certainly could not have been at fault, for it was one of the very finest the Cecilia has ever given. The chorus sang admirably from beginning to end, and in some passages of the final chorus, gave out the most superb volume of choral tone we have yet heard in the Music Hall. The solo singers, too, did excellently well… The orchestra was adequate, and Mr. Lang may well feel proud of achieving so fine a performance of a work, the difficulties of which are both many and serious.” (Transcript, Cecilia Reviews) This reviewer was probably William F. Apthorp—he never did give an answer to his opening question of why this performance didn’t move him. The Home Journal singled out one of the soloists—”On the whole we are inclined to regard the most laudable achievement of the performance as unquestionably with Miss How. She was not only in her best voice, but throughout she sang in a noble sympathetic style that was simply charming in its relation to the music of her part. Mr. Lang was fully master of the difficulties the work presented to his lead, and the honors of the Cecilia’s success with the choruses belong largely with him.” (Home Journal, possibly by Philip Hale, Cecilia Reviews)
The season ended on May 16 with a miscellaneous program that President Coale called “more successful than previous” such concerts. The most interesting part of the concert was “a new set of Gipsy Songs by Brahms” performed by the Brahms Quartet”—Mrs. Allen, Miss Edmands, Mr. Parker, and Mr. W. L. Whitney with Lang as accompanist. This was a Boston first performance, and “Mr. Lang’s playing of the piano-forte part will long be remembered for its beauty and delicacy. It was a real treat in itself. The members of the Brahms Quartet deserve our thanks for their kindness in singing at this concert in a work which required so much study as this book of songs.” (President’s Report, June 1889) This concert was the 68th. given by the club and ended its 13th. Season. But, just before the final concert, the club received a letter from the BSO conductor Wilhelm Gericke asking it they would sing at his May 23rd. Farewell Concert selections from Wagner’s Parsifal. They did, and then received a very kind letter of thanks calling them “so splendid a chorus.” (Ibid)
This photo was used by Mathews in A Hundred Years of Music in America, 427, copyright 1889. This signed copy is from the Johnston Collection. In this book Lang was described as “hale and hearty, a young man [though he was then in his early fifties], albeit thinly thatched with white and gray upon the top of his well rounded skull…He is happily married and lives in elegance.”
SINGING WITH THE BOSTON SYMPHONY.
“In Boston it [the Cecilia Society] has rarely sung except to its own associates, the most notable instance being in 1885, when it joined with the Symphony Orchestra in doing honor to the memory of John [sic] Sebastian Bach.” (Courtesy BSO Archives-100th. Concert Program) The Cecilia, prepared by Lang, also performed with the BSO during the ”89, (Parsifal, mentioned above) “92, “94, “99, “00, “09, “10 and “11 Seasons. Prepared by Malcolm Lang, they appeared in the “25, “26, “27, “28 and “29 Seasons, and prepared by Arthur Fiedler, they sang in the “30 and “31 Seasons. Other choral groups also appeared during this period- a BSO Chorus appeared in the “86, “92 and “93 Seasons, and prepared by Stephen Townsend they appeared in the “18, “19 and “20 Seasons, and also in the “21 and “22 Seasons. (Howe, BSO, 246) The Boston Singers Society appeared once during the “91 Season as did the Boston Choral Art Society who appeared once in the “03 Season. The Handel and Haydn Society sang once in “04 prepared by Emil Mollenhauer while the Thursday Morning Musical Art Club appeared once in each of the “03, “06, “11 and “16 Seasons. Lang-prepared choruses supplied most of the voices for the BSO during Lang’s connection with the groups and even beyond. (Howe, Op. cit., 246-260)
The Annual Report of the Cecilia President for June 1889 noted: “only six members” had withdrawn during the previous summer leaving “an unprecedentedly small number of vacancies” for new members. He described the Brahms Requiem concert as “one of the important, if not the most important, of the musical events of the year,” and noted that two other Boston choirs had previously scheduled the work but not brought it to performance. The President noted the death of Dr. E. C. Bullard “one of the organizers of the Club.” (President’s Report June 1889)
HYMN OF PRAISE FOR CHARITY.
Lang returned to South Congregational Church for a performance of Mendelssohn’s Hymn of Praise on Saturday, April 7, 1889. The building was now the Union Park Street Synagogue-it had been sold after the merger of the South Congregational congregation with the Hollis Street Church. The performance, which was in aid of the South End Industrial School, “enlisted the services of the singers of the leading quartet choirs of the Unitarian city churches, making a chorus of about 40 voices,” and it used organ accompaniment by Lang (Herald (April 8, 1889) 5, GB) The church was full, mainly of people from the area who had looked upon this edifice as their home church. “A handsome amount was realized for the object benefited.” (Ibid) This performance was 27 years after Lang had given the Boston premier of this work at Old South Church in January 1862, but at that time he was only able to organize a quartet choir of 16 singers.
ARTHUR NIKISCH. Postcard of an autographed photo done by Dreyfoos in New York – the card was printed in Germany. Johnston Collection.
Leichtentritt described the BSO audience of the early 1890s as being Boston’s most exclusive society, the residents of Back Bay, with additional forces from Brookline and Cambridge [who] set the tone. In this festive assembly of dignified ladies and gentlemen, the socially unimportant little music lovers in the second balcony and the standing room [of which, as an undergraduate at Harvard, he was one] only served to heighten by contrast the general picture of rank, wealth, and proud self-consciousness. Arthur Nikisch, the conductor, seemed to be especially created for this Boston Symphony audience. The handsome man with his raven-black hair and artistically shaped beard, the pallor that made his face even more romantic, his slim figure with its perfectly tailored dress suit, was elegance itself. As he raised his fine hand, overshadowed by broad snow-white cuffs, with an inimitable wave and the most graceful bend of the wrist, with a nonchalantly protruding little finger crowned by a sparkling diamond ring, and as his long, tapering baton gave the sign for the orchestra, one could feel in the air the pent-up admiration of the ladies – one almost expected a loud acclamation of bravos and enthusiastic applause. The faux-pas was, however, averted at the last moment by the sounds emanating from the orchestra. So far Nikisch might have been taken for a Hungarian count, a fascinating hero of the salon. But as his baton seemed to draw the music out of the instruments – now caressing, now beseeching, now commanding – he was transformed into a true artist, a musician filled with the ecstasy of the creator, and at the grand climaxes he carried the orchestra away to an irresistibly brilliant dash, a frenzy of passion that never missed in its effect on the audience. With his wonderfully keen sense of orchestral color Nikisch often produced real marvels of sound. (Leichtentritt, 368) He was thirty-three years old when he came to Boston. “Nikisch was hypnotic, a poised Svengali with fathomless eyes. ”He does not really conduct,” Tchaikovsky later testified. ”He resigns himself to a magical enchantment. ”(Horowitz, 56 and 57) He brought his family with him and settled in Mrs. Scully’s house on High Street in Brookline. He was pleased with everything, very amiable and gracious to everybody, complimentary to the orchestra and everybody thought he would be an improvement on the humdrum Gericke. “The new broom swept very clean for a little while, but before very long we began to hear some queer tempi in familiar classic works, inner parts of small importance inflated to twice their natural size, and other innovations which made things different but not better… but they did gain in elasticity and brilliancy whenever Nikisch took it in his head to require it.” (Undated and unsigned article, courtesy of the Boston Symphony orchestra Archive”) Artur Foote wrote of the “remarkable memory of Nikisch. When he first came to Boston he conducted everything without score: later, with twenty-four different programs each season, he gave this up. In 1891 he conducted from memory a MS. suite of mine, and probably never thought of it again. But when I called on him in London, four years later, he said, ”You remember that suite we played?” and, sitting down at the piano, went through the first movement. I could hardly have played four measures of it. An extraordinarily gifted man he was: at [the] sight of me the tune came right into his head.” (Foote, Auto., 111)
Soon after he arrived he dined with the Lang’s. “Lel invited Nickish [as it appears] to dinner. He is altogether delightful. Handsome, small and exquisitely nice. And such white hands. Speaks English very well, and he’s only been here ten weeks. He and Lel played Billiards later in the evening. Soon after Lang arranged a reception for Nikisch. “Lel’s reception for Nickish was a great success. About 250 people came. Malcolm [aged 8] passed cigars and cigarettes. Nickish had dinner with us afterwards.” He again dined with the Lang’s in early December (Diary 2, Fall 1889)
LANG AS A PIANO INSTRUCTOR.
“Mr. Lang’s reputation as a teacher is national, and perhaps few instructors have so many pupils before the public today in concert work as he. He began with full classes and his days are always crowded. When a mere boy in Salem, his father being taken suddenly ill, young Lang was at a moment’s notice obligated to take so many pupils that every day and every hour were devoted to teaching.” (Globe, (December 22, 1907: 33) “A teacher of incredible activity (when I knew him he was giving regularly lessons from 8.30 to 6).” (Foote, Auto, 45) Lang “considered teaching to be one of the great professions.” (Cecilia Program, December 2, 1909)
The singer Clara Kathleen Rogers (Clara Doria) wrote that Lang “had an unusually large following of devoted disciples… [His] pupils, one and all, adored him, and only awaited a sign from him to render willing service. One sometimes wondered what was the secret of his magnetism. I fancy, however, that it lay largely in the subtle, inferential admiration which his manner conveyed. (Rogers, Two Lives, 146 and 147)
As a piano teacher Lang was very well regarded. “His class of private pupils upon the pianoforte belongs to the very elite of Boston, and is as distinguished for talent as for style-a combination peculiarly Bostonian.” (Mathews, 429) Another source from c. 1886 said that “He is highly esteemed as a teacher, and of his many pupils over sixty are concert soloists. Though not a virtuoso in the strictest sense of the word, he is a fine player, and above all a thoroughly educated and sound musician.” (Jones, Handbook, 84) Fox states that his “pedagogical dedication was indeed remarkable, since he taught as many as fourteen lessons daily and claimed to have instructed over two hundred concert pianists.” (Fox, Papers, 4) My research found sixty soloists; they are listed at the beginning of the Chapter “Piano Instructor.” His obituary in the Globe was headlined: “B. J. Lang Dies of Pneumonia-Half a Century One of Boston’s Foremost Musicians-Noted as Conductor and Organist and Had Taught 5,000 Pupils.” (Globe (Apr. 5, 1909): 1) The article listed among his most well known pupils, “Arthur Foote, J. A. Preston, H. G. Tucker, and the late G. W. Sumner. The building at 6 Newbury St. where he had his studio is entirely peopled with his former students.” (Ibid)
He had quickly established himself among his peers, for in late December 1860 his name was used in an ad for the “New Modern School for the Piano-Forte” published by the Boston firm of Russell & Tolman. Among the many hundreds of international artists who have given the highest testimonials of their “Modern School,” local names included B. J’s teacher, Francis G. Hill, Lowell Mason, J. C. D. Parker, Otto Dresel and thirty-three others. (BMT (December 15, 1860): 355)
Early in his teaching career he was connected with the “National College of Music” which had been established by the Mendelssohn Quintette Club with its clarinetist, Thomas Ryan as the Director in September of 1872. Dwight had announced in his June 1872 issue that, “The Mendelssohn Quintette, with Mr. B. J. Lang, and other good musicians and teachers, will open in September, here in Boston a new National College of Music.” (Dwight (June 15, 1872): 255) “The assistant piano teachers were all brilliant young men whom Lang had taught and developed, namely: Mr. Geo. W. Sumner, well known and beloved organist for seventeen years at the Arlington Street Church, Mr. Hiram Tucker, Mr. W. F. Apthorp, Mr. Dixie, and Mr. J. Q. Adams. All these men would naturally teach according to the Lang method, and that certainly was a commendable system…Our plans were all right, and we started off with goodly numbers, -not far from two hundred pupils. In October, just one month later, the great Boston fire occurred; and it made everybody poor. The majority of the pupils were from the city or neighborhood, and over one half of them were forced to notify us that they could not continue their attendance another term. The fire really killed our school. We worried along to the end of the year, met our losses as best we could, and returned to our old system of traveling.” (Ryan, 172 and 173) Dwight reported on the school’s first “Exhibition Concert of Pupils” held on April 15, 1873, “The solo singing all gave evidence of talent and of excellent instruction,” but “The most remarkable performance of the afternoon was that of the difficult Schumann Concerto by Miss Barton, a young pupil of Mr. Lang, whose rendering of the first movement was highly satisfactory…It was a most arduous undertaking for a young girl, and such a measure of success seems full of promise.” (Dwight (Journal, May 3, 1873): 14)
Lang’s association with the National School of Music lasted just the one-year of its existence, 1872-1873. In the summer of 1873, he published a notice to his students saying that he was resuming his “connection with New England Conservatory of Music (Music Hall), and that all class teaching he may do in the future, will be in that institution. ” He then recommended that school to his students as he had been connected “with the school during its entire existence, excepting last year.” (BPL, Lang Program Collection, Vol. 1)
The critic Philip Hale took time during a review of one of Lang’s students, Benjamin Lincoln Whelpley; to outline what he felt were the problems with Lang’s teaching. His April 11, 1891 review of a Whelpley recital began: “Mr. Whelpley has good fingers and many excellent musical ideas. He is careful and conscientious in his work, and there are many things to be admired and praised in his playing. He belongs to a certain school of pianists [Lang’s], a prominent school in this city; and this is unfortunate, and it hampers his artistic development. For the members of this family do not pay sufficient attention to tone production and gradation of tone; the legato is so slighted by them, and the use of pedals is so imperfectly understood that song-passages are not sung; and these players are deficient in appreciation of rhythm and rhythmic effects. And when any one of this school plays in public, the hearer is at once aware of the fact that the pianoforte is a percussion instrument.” After getting this off his chest, Hale continued, “Not that Mr. Whelpley pounds.” (BPL Hale Criticism, Vol. 1)
A reference to Lang’s own piano technique was part of a review of a concert by the Cecilia on February 12, 1896. Mr. Fay accompanied the choir that evening, but Lang accompanied the soloist. “Mr. Lang’s accompaniments gave genuine delight. We venture to suggest to Mr. Fay that he profit by the lesson given him by Mr. Lang. Where the latter’s touch was delicate and subdued, Mr. Fails seemed harsh and noisy. Mr. Lang’s pianoforte work was a treat in itself.” (BPL Lang Program Collection, Vol. 8)
In 1893 William Apthorp, one of Lang’s pupils mentioned above, wrote an extensive article about his teacher. “The amount of work he would get through in a day, what with pupils and rehearsals, seems almost fabulous. No one but a man of the most vigorous constitution and of his regular singularly abstemious habits-he has never touched beer, wine, spirits, tea or coffee in his life, and his experience with tobacco is limited to part of a cigar that Satter once gave him when he was a very young man, and which he has not forgotten to this day-could stand such work: sometimes fourteen to eighteen lessons in a day!” [seven to nine hours] (Boston Evening Transcript, April 13, 1907, being mostly a reprint of Apthorp’s article for Music magazine in 1893)
Lang taught privately at various places during his career; his home, at the studios in the Chickering Building at 153 Tremont Street (as late as 1903) and at 6 Newbury Street where he “and a colony of his pupils occupied rooms at the Lang Studios.” (Foote, Auto, 49) On Jan. 9, 1910, just a few months after B. J.’s death, a newspaper clipping entitled “Notes of the Studio” described the Newbury Street location: “In the great front studio on the second floor, with its high windows with large globular colored spots, the fine old marble fireplace, its big pipe organ and grand piano works the son [Malcolm] of B. J. Lang, founder of the Lang studios…Just outside the door is the Ruth Burrage library of orchestral scores…To this rich reservoir may come the student of music to take away for four days’ study and practice famous scores of orchestral music.” The Globe “Table gossip” of April 30, 1905 had reported that “Mrs. Whiteside had sold her house, numbered 6 Newbury St. adjoining the St. Botolph Club, near the corner of Arlington St. to Mr. B. J. Lang, who will make extensive improvements and occupy. It is one of the very few Back Bay estates on Newbury St. that has an extensive frontage, being a four-story octagon brownstone front brick house. It was thought at one time that the St. Botolph Club would buy this estate.” (Globe (April 30, 1905): 46) Amy DuBois related that this building was the last in Boston to have gas lighting, as “My grandfather [Malcolm] didn’t think things were getting better.” (Amy Dubois Interview)
LANG AS A PIANO DESIGNER.
An article in the Transcript dated Setember 30 (no year) describes two inventions of B. J. designed to help the busy piano teacher. The article noted the problem, when giving lessons, of having the student move off the piano seat so that the teacher can then sit and demonstrate whatever is needed. A second problem was if the studio could afford two pianos, there was no way that they could be placed so that the teacher could see what the student was doing; also two copies of all pieces would be required. “Mr. Lang has completely overcome these difficulties as follows:” (Transcript, September no year, Foote Scrapbook) For the first problem B. J. had a smaller grand built (by Chickering and Sons) with legs only a foot high. It was placed to the right and under the student’s piano. The lowest note of the teacher’s instrument was just under the “A (first leger line above the staff in the G clef” (Ibid) of the student’s instrument. In this way the teacher could look over the student’s right shoulder easily and read from the student’s music. “At every step in the lesson the teacher can show the pupil what he wishes by actual and immediate example.” (Ibid) No one has to move. The second invention was a practice piano. For professional pianists who have to practice many hours a day, finding a place where they are not bothering their neighbors is often impossible. Some players, Joseffy for instance, put strips of cloth between the strings to soften the sound, but this also put the instrument out of tune. B. J. produced an upright that could play pppppppp to pp! The author of the article wrote : “The new mechanism by which this peculiar end is accomplished is beautifully simple, but cannot easily be explained in untechnical terms.” (Ibid) The pedals also worked in this new instrument and “gradations (relative) of tone can be produced…which never rises above a sweet whisper, inaudible outside of the room in which the instrument stands.” (Ibid) Did this instrument ever make it into production?
NINETEENTH APOLLO CLUB SEASON. 1889-1890.
For the Apollo concerts of Friday evening December 6 and Monday evening December 9, 1889 at the Music Hall, Margaret Ruthven Lang did an orchestration of the male choral piece Estudiantina by Paul Lacome [1838-1920] “the accompaniment to which was arranged in a very dainty and charming manner for orchestra.” It was given “most delightfully, and was redemanded.” The Post review said that the orchestration “was delicately done; so prettily that the absence of the castanets was but a pleasing relief from the usual methods”. (Scrapbooks) For this concert the chorus numbered 75 and the orchestra 44. (MYB 1889-90, 14) The major work in this concert was Damon and Pythias by the English composer Prout which filled the first half of the concert. There was very little critical comment of this piece. Estudiantina was repeated at the March 5, 1893 “Miscellaneous Concert” which was also accompanied by an orchestra. (MYB 1892-93, 15)
The February 19 and 24, 1890 concerts again included a world premier-The Knights and the Naiads by Templeton Strong for Soprano, Alto and Bass soloists, male choir and orchestra was sung. This piece had been written for the Apollo Club. The poem was originally in German; “But German humor is often another name for German rudeness…The result is an exhibition of ingenuity; but where is the music? This trivial subject is treated as though it were a symphonic poem…The composition throughout is musical hifalutin…Truly there is ingenious writing for the orchestra, but it is labored, often irrelevant and sometimes impertinent, while the voice parts are inexcusably uninteresting and difficult. (Home Journal, undated and unsigned review, but probably by Hale) The “German rudeness” referred to by the first reviewer is described in more detail by the Beacon. “It is a setting of a long and not attractive German ballad, the point of which is a feeble mother-in-law joke, and its most interesting and valuable portions lie almost exclusively in the orchestral score, which is often fanciful, quaint and absolutely original.” (Beacon) This writer found the chorus and solo parts unmelodious and unvocal. “The orchestra did pretty well with their share, and the singers, considering the difficulties they had to meet, did wonders.” (Ibid) The final piece of the concert was Whiting’s Henry of Navarre, Opus 48 for tenor solo, male choir and orchestra that was also originally written for the Apollo Club and premiered by them in 1886. “There are effective passages of a descriptive nature for the orchestra; but the work is too heavily scored. There is little contrast; the brass and the drums are too busy. The orchestra is so used that the voices are covered.” (Home Journal) “It is an extremely elaborate composition, not always easy to sing or to hear, the accompaniment contains many bold and brilliant suggestions of battle and its excitement, but it really does not add much. (Beacon, undated and unsigned review) Arthur Weld in the Post disliked the Whiting. “This composition is openly uninteresting and so noisily scored, as far as the orchestra is concerned, that at times one’s ears suffered severely.” The choir he praised: “The work was sung in a conscientious and painstaking manner by the club, and the orchestra (especially the brass) played very well.” (Post, undated review by Arthur Weld) Elson was disappointed in Strong’s work, especially after he had praised an earlier work, The Haunted Mill by calling it “an honor to the American repertoire…The female voices in the trio of the Naiads were not quite in Character. Naiads can swim, but these sank distressingly.” (Advertiser, undated review by Louis C. Elson) Whiting’s work was also compared negatively to his earlier Monks of Bangor. “Taber’s Cannibal Idyll was one of the great successes of the evening, its pretty waltz theme for first basses and its direct humor charming everyone.” (Ibid)
At the choir’s mid-winter supper the club performed a parody where the club’s secretary, Mr. Arthur Reed combined texts from the Knights and the Naiads and Cannibal Idyll which resulted in a new poem of three stanzas, The Knights and the Cannibals. “The music was a bit of patchwork, made out of original tunes by Mr. Arthur Thayer.” (Apollo Reviews) The poem began: “Twelve cannibal Naiads loved too well, Twelve helpless Knights of old. And charmingly their love did tell, For passion made them bold; But the Knights held back, for they were poor, And had nothing in the bank. And the maidens’ wardrobes seemed to be Almost a perfect blank. ‘T was a problem vexing, vexing quite, For every maid and every Knight…But a youth appeared, to their great surprise, Who had known the girls of old…And those twelve Maids each lost a Knight.” (Ibid)
The April 30 and May 5, 1890 concerts featured the famous violinist, Maud Powell and the singer, Miss Mary Howe. B. J.’s pupil, Mrs. Marsh accompanied Miss Powell in the Polonaise de Concert by Laub. (Program, Johnston Collection) It also included the third appearance of B. J.’s only published piece for men’s choir, Hi-fi-link-i-le. It had been premiered in February 1884 and repeated in May 1886. its humorous style was appropriate for the end of the Apollo season. “It was written with a decided bias toward the bass parts, and it has as much unison work as a chant of the third century, but, all the same, it is jolly, and it shows that the man who has done so much for the club music of Boston is as yet a youth as any of us.” (Advertiser, Apollo Reviews)
“Musical Matters” noted: “As for directing from the piano, Mr. Lang does it all the time at rehearsals, and the club likes it.” The Post reviewer, Arthur Weld seemed to be in a bad mood: “There is no denying the fact that there is very little good music written for men’s voices…The smaller pieces are all more or less dreadful.” (Post, Apollo Reviews) Weld made reference to the accompanist but said it was Mrs. Marsh [a Lang piano pupil] which brought forth the following Letter to the Editor: “The enterprising musical critic of the esteemed Post must have heard the Apollo concert rather with his imagination than his senses, for he confounds Mr. Lang with a woman and attributes to Mrs. Marsh, who was ill at home, the piano accompaniments, which were all played by that gentleman, undisguised by any feminine apparel. He also says, “Mr. Lang was recently quoted in a contemporary as having uttered some very sound and sweeping statements with regard to the granting of encores, but last night he seemed to have forgotten these remarks, or else has changed his mind. The most feeble and scattering applause was sufficient to insure a repetition, and it was hard to keep count the number which were granted.” The fact is, that but one encore was given by the club and this after Mr. Lang had been called out three times, while the solo artists-with whose encores the conductor had nothing to do, of course-Miss Powell yielded once and Miss Howe repeated the last page of her first air and added a new song after her second selection upon almost universal demand.” (Apollo Reviews)
It seems that people leaving concerts during the final number continued to be a problem. To deal with this, a sentence was placed in the program just before the words of the final piece: “Those who wish to leave the hall before the end of the concert are respectfully, but earnestly, requested to do so during this pause.” (Program December 3, 1890-Johnston Collection) Then the length of the final piece was given so that the concertgoer could decide if leaving was really necessary.
Around 1889 the group was described: “the Apollo Club still occupies an honorable position in Boston, the concerts being sold out at the beginning of the season, the audiences being distinguished for elegance and musical appreciation-a combination rare outside the limits of Boston. The standard of vocal work in this society has always been high, and it was one of the first to introduce many of the better class of compositions of this school.” (Mathews, 428) “Among the names on the list of the original fifty-two members is that of Henry Clay Barnabee of ‘The Bostonians’ fame; also Myron W. Whitney, the great bass.” (Syford, 165)
FOURTEENTH CECILIA SEASON. 1889-1890.
The season opened on Monday, December 2, 1889 at the Music Hall. Dvorak’s Spectre’s Bride was presented with full orchestra-it was the third time the choir had programmed this work. The Advertiser wrote: “From the very start the chorus brought to bear an immense amount of enthusiasm that bespoke success, and sustained throughout the reputation they have so well and honestly earned in the past.” Mr. Parker’s contribution was praised: “His beautiful voice is always listened to with great pleasure,” and the return to the Music Hall stage of the older singer J. F. Rudolphsen was noted but no critical comment made. “Mr. Lang kept the orchestra and chorus under good control for the most part, and with the exception of too much prominence being given to the accompaniments in some places, can be congratulated upon having given a very satisfactory reading of one of the principal works of this Slavonic composer.” (Advertiser, Cecilia Reviews) Another review recorded the “large audience,” and that the “full orchestra including two harps, assisting.” This was certainly a step forward from the usual use of piano for harp parts. This review praised the chorus, but felt that the “orchestra, though composed of admirable material, acquitted itself with a ragged, noisy effect, and too often with a woeful lack of precision.” Mme. Zela “who was heard here for the first time, has a soprano voice of rather uneven and throaty quality,” while “Mr. Rudolphsen, whose voice is remarkably well preserved, manifested all of his old fire and musicianly taste, and much of the efficiency that characterized his work here years ago.” This reviewer found the work as a whole “monotonous and dreary… It was listened to apathetically, and there was no enthusiasm and but little applause.” (Cecilia Reviews) A third review described Mme. Zela’s as having “a high soprano voice of some power, of excellent quality in its upper range-she took her high C with great ease-but wanting in timbre in its lower part… Of Mr. Rudolphsen’s singing of the part of the Narrator, one would rather say nothing; let us try to forget it, and remember, instead, the admirable work he used to do here twenty years ago.” (Cecilia Reviews) The Post reviewed previous performances of this work by the Cecilia. “The club sang this work as a novelty at their spring concert the year after it was first produced at the Birmingham festival and repeated it the following March.” Of this third performance, “The Cecilia has never sung better than last night… and the addition of two harps lent peculiar charm to the two choruses where they had before been replaced by the piano… Mr. J. F. Rudolphsen suffered most unfortunately as the narrator by comparison with Max Heinrich, who sang the part at both previous renderings of the work.” (Post, Cecilia Reviews)
The second concert was held Thursday evening, January 23, 1890 at the Music Hall with the largely amateur Boston Orchestral Club. Selections from Haydns The Seasons (about ninety minutes of music) were presented with the soloists Miss Gertrude Franklin, Mr. G. J. Parker and Mr. C. E. Hay. Louis C. Elson in the Advertiser wrote of Franklin: she “deserves great praise for the intelligence she displayed in every part of her work. The orchestra was described as “generally excellent and often more than that. Mr. Sabin was concertmeister, with Miss Lillian Shattuck at second desk and a liberal sprinkling of Mr. Julius Eichberg’s advanced students in the ranks.” Elson noted that the final chorus from the “Spring” section closed the work, “and as Haydn was never over-proud of the actual finale of this work, one may let the transference pass unchallenged, but it would be a hazardous thing to do with any other masterpiece.” (Advertiser, Cecilia Reviews) Arthur Weld wrote that “the cuts which were made were very injudicious, and some of the most celebrated numbers were omitted. Very little good can be done by presenting classical works in so insufficient and incomplete a manner, and they would be better left on the shelf, dead and forgotten.” Weld also did not like Lang’s conducting technique. “The chorus sang very roughly and were particularly at fault with regard to rhythmic precision, and the orchestra, which does so well under Mr. Chadwick was apparently dazed and confused by Mr. Lang’s different methods, and played in a very wooden and mechanical style.” (Probably Post, Cecilia Reviews) Another review noted that selections were presented, “but this mattered little, as the pure musical treatment of any and every scene is apparent whatever the context.” This review also noted how moved the audience was: “expressions of approval during last night’s performance were numerous and deserved.” It was also commented upon “The Cecilia found no difficulty in doing ample justice to the choruses… Mr. Lang held his combined forces under good control.” (Cecilia Reviews) Maybe Weld and this reviewer sat in very different places in the Music Hall. Philip Hale in the Home Journal began with: “Improper liberties were taken with the body of this sturdy child of Haydn’s old age,” but he was very positive about Miss Franklin. “It is a pleasure to pay tribute to ” her art, and he also described the cadenza as “musical in itself.” The two male soloists were also praised, but the orchestra “played roughly and without rhythm. Often it apparently groped its way from measure to measure,” and the fault was laid upon Lang. “However versatile and accomplished a musician Mr. Lang may be, it is plain that when he takes his stick in hand to lead a chorus or orchestra, his beat is indecisive and perplexing.” (Home Journal, Cecilia Reviews) The reviewer in the Times also noted the incomplete performance: “The entire work was not given by the Cecilia, but excellent taste was shown in the selections that were made; and by the substitution of the ‘God of light’ chorus with its free fugue for a finale instead of the last chorus of ‘Winter’ with its drunken fugue,’ as Haydn called it, the work gained an effective climax… The choruses [were] all sung with an integrity and heartiness that none present could have failed to appreciate [well, a couple did fail to appreciate].” Miss Franklin’s performance was singled out was praised for a whole paragraph ending with: “In brief, she sang in a wonderfully finished and flawless manner.” The review ended: “Despite the inclement weather the concert was attended by a large audience.” (Times, Cecilia Reviews)
On Thursday evening, March 27, 1890 at the Music Hall the choir gave the Boston premier of Massenet’s Eve with orchestra. Also on the program were a repeat of The Wreck of the Hesperus by Arthur Foote and The Song of Fate by Brahms. Johnson quotes Hale’s review from the Post of March 28: “Dubois’ idea of the Fall in which we all sinned was spectacular and erotic. Massenet, in his Eve, is more than erotic, he is pornographic.” (Johnson, First, 230) The premier of this work had been on March 18, 1875 in Paris. G. Schirmer published an undated edition in English, which was probably the one used in Lang’s performance. Louis C. Elson began his review in the Advertiser: “Another red letter night for the Cecilia!” However, of the Foote work he wrote: it “does not make a better impression on a second hearing.” The second work in the concert, “Brahms’ noble Song of Fate was sung in a manner that did honor to director and chorus, every difficult detail, even the sforzando effects and the staccato passages being given as a single voice… Then came a work new to Boston, and exciting enough to be classed as ‘extra hazardous.’ It is a mystery how Eve, a mystery, could have been transplanted to cold-blooded Boston. It is as erotic and ecstatic as the most passionate of French composers-Massenet-could make it and the chorus sang it as if inspired. Never have the Cecilians surpassed their work of last night.” The soprano soloist, Mrs. Jennie P. Walker was praised for her “charming, shading expression, and intonation even in alt passages.” The review ended: “We must have this work again and soon… I doubt whether any Parisian vocal society can excel the work of the Cecilia in it.” (Advertiser, Cecilia Reviews) G. H. W. [George H. Wilson, editor of the Boston Musical Yearbook] wrote that he was only mildly enthusiastic about the Foote cantata. Of the Brahms, he felt that it “was splendidly sung by the chorus,” and he made the same comment concerning the Massenet. “The performance of the chorus portions of Massenet’s work was of a high order, and in places, notably the unaccompanied writing which introduces part two, very fine. Excellent attention was paid to Mr. Lang, who gave to the work his best pains.” Some fault was found with the orchestra and this was linked to the limited funds available. “The town should see to it that a society like the Cecilia should have a plethoric not a fading treasury.” The soprano soloist was also praised in this review. “Mrs. Walker is no less an artist because she is a Boston church singer and Boston taught… The singer is musical and has advanced in her art by normal, honest and conscientious labor.” The review ended with extra praise: “We must add a word about the sopranos of the Cecilia chorus; these voices are angelic.” (Cecilia Reviews)
By far the longest review (probably for the Home Journal) was that by Philip Hale who, after much introductory material, finally mentioned the music: “It is extremely well written both for voices and for orchestra; in fact the instrumentation is often of exquisite fancy,” and examples followed. “The performance was upon the whole a very creditable one.” The came the usual Lang slam. “It is true that Mr. Lang did not seem to have a keen sense of the proper tempo of several numbers; nor has he apparently the true idea of the andante, which he invariably takes at too slow a pace. The work of the chorus in Eve, and throughout the program, was a marked improvement over that shown at former concerts of this season. The body of tone was fuller and better balanced.” Of Mrs. Walker he wrote: she “sang well the difficult part of Eve. One could have here wished a little more passion, there more breadth; but it was an admirable performance of a difficult task.” Hale also referred to the orchestra: “There should be money enough raised to insure a finished performance of the orchestra score.” The Brahms work received only one line ending with: the work “was sung with accuracy,” while the Foote was dismissed with “it is not a musical work. The passages given to the soloists are not dramatic. They are indeed feeble.” (Home Journal (?), Cecilia Reviews) The Transcript [William F. Apthorp] noted the problem facing a composer when the text is “a simple, homely ballad in a very catchy and quite unvarying rhythm.” The reviewer felt that the orchestration helped to overcome this basic problem. Of the Brahms: “Here we have ‘the real Brahms,’ who is not content with a fine plan, but must carry out that plan in a fine and noble way. The music is not only suggestive and appealing; it is solidly satisfying. You feel that you could hear the work again and again, with ever growing delight and edification.” This was certainly a progressive opinion in Boston of this time. Of the Massenet: “It shows the composer fairly at his best in every respect… the performance of all three works was admirable. Not only did the chorus sing with all their usual firmness, purity of tone and perfection of ensemble, but the orchestra did its work most excellently, with precision, brilliancy and nicety of finish, and the solo singers were more than adequate… Mr. Lang is highly to be congratulated upon the success of this concert, which was not only brilliant artistically, but called forth enthusiastic applause from the large audience.” (Transcript, Cecilia Reviews)
Photo below from New England Magazine, February 1890.
However, another review had high praise for the Foote cantata: “It is a work which might be claimed with pride by any of the elder nationalities. It was finely sung by the soloists and chorus, and heartily applauded.” Of the Massenet: “The work is one of fascinating beauty throughout, and bears the stamp of inspiration and genius in every measure… To the chorus and orchestra no words of praise can be too excessive, for better work could not be desired than that given in the performance of the many beauties of the work.” (Cecilia Reviews) One final, short review ended: “It is a credit to Mr. B. J. Lang, the director of the club, that the skillful efforts of the club, and the disciplinary effects exhibited, were first-class in every respect, so that tokens of approval were freely bestowed by the audience.” (Cecilia Reviews)
The fourth concert of the season was given on Thursday evening, May 22, 1890 at the Music Hall with Foote as pianist and Cutter and Nevin as organists. “Variety programmes without orchestra are not precisely the things one looks forward to with most pleasure, in the way of choral club concerts, but this one of last evening provided a delightful exception to the rule; it was well balanced, well diversified, and nothing in it was dull.” (Cecilia Reviews) However the Herald began by saying that the concert was “a dull ending to the events of the year…the programme having little to relieve its general dulness,” however it did say that “the singers of the club gave their best efforts throughout the evening.” The novelties of the program included three songs composed by Lang: Aladdin’s Lamp (James Russell Lowell), Sing, Maiden, Sing (Barry Cornwall), and Cradle Song (Words from the German by Charles T. Brooks). (Cecilia Reviews) [Sing, Maiden, Sing had been sung at the Cecilia concert of February 4, 1886 by Miss Bockus, a member of the choir] “Mr. Lang’s three songs seem to us to reach about the high-water mark in American song writing. They show such genial melodic invention, such easy command of style, and are withal so essentially lyrical in character… Both in form and expression they are songs pure and simple; the lyrical element always predominates. In a word, they are charming. They were capitally sung, with great expressiveness, by Mr. Winch.” (Cecilia Reviews) The program also included a first public performance of a MacDowell choral piece, his Barcarole, which was encored, and Nevin’s Wynken, Blynken and Nod along with instrumental pieces by the cellist Mr. Griese, which were well received. (Cecilia Reviews) The Post (Weld or Hale) review called the Barcarolle “a very satisfactory number” while the Nevin “was one of the most delightful parts of the programme.” The Lang songs “all of them charming in color and particularly melodious, although the first two are somewhat overweighed by the too florid accompaniment. Mr. Winch sang them all in a most artistic manner and with his usual elegance and finish of phrasing.” (Post, Cecilia Reviews) A review entitled “Musical Notes” also approved of Lang’s songs, they were described as “graceful and pleasing in style, though conventional in character. The first two suffered from too elaborate accompaniments, which imparted to them the effect of piano studies with vocal interpolations. Mr. Winch sang them very beautifully.” (Cecilia Reviews) Another review wrote: “Mr. Lang’s group of songs got a well-merited round of applause, and those styled Aladdin’s Lamp and Cradle Song were in this composer’s best vein. Mr. Winch sang the songs with charming effect.” (Cecilia Reviews) The Traveler praised the MacDowell: “Certainly few if any of the American school could write more lovely music than that which marks the climax of the piece, at the words, ‘Ah, loved one.’” On Lang’s songs: “Mr. Winch sang with the purest musical feeling and with a freer emission of tone than he sometimes uses. The three songs by Mr. Lang, all new, are simply gems; we wish they might be published. Mr. Lang was Mr. Winch’s accompanist.” (Traveler, Cecilia Reviews)
MacDowell’s Barcarole is available at the Library of Congress-American Choral Music site. It is scored for SSAATTBB choir and piano, four-hand accompaniment. “One could easily imagine MacDowell playing the piano part alongside his wife Marian.” (LC Site) Nevin’s Wynken, Blynken and Nod was published by Boston Music (then at 28 West Street) but copyrighted by G. Schirmer in 1889 in arrangements for Mixed, Female and Male voices-each 40 cents per copy. “Orchestra parts may be had of the publisher.” (Copy in Johnston collection)
KING’S CHAPEL-CHRISTMAS 1890.
The Daily Advertiser gave a detailed account of the Christmas Day service at King’s Chapel. “The decorations were simple and massive hemlock everywhere, here in graceful convolutions and there in heavy masses…Everything was encircled with evergreen trimmings,” including the organ. The music included a prelude from Bach’s Christmas Oratorio, four extracts from Handel’s Messiah, Te Deum in F Major by Lang, Jubilate by Dr. Hopkins, Christmas Song by Lang, and a Hymn by Sir Arthur Sullivan.” (Daily Advertiser (December 26, 1890): 2, GB) Leading the service was Lang’s former Pastor from South Congregational Church, Rev. Edward Hale. That must have been an interesting reunion.
HANDEL AND HAYDN SALARY.
For the 1890-91 Season Lang’s salary as “organist and pianist” was $300. Zerrahn was promised $750 “and such further sum not exceeding two hundred fifty dollars ($250) as the Society may be able to pay out of the current receipts of the season.” (History-1911, 7) For the next season, 1891-92 Zerrahn was promised $1,000 while Lang remained at $300. (Op. cit., 15) These terms were the same for the 1894-95 Season. (Op. cit., 45)
NEW CHOIR: THE BOSTON SINGERS (REPLACED BOYLSTON CLUB)
Arthur Weld wrote a piece, probably for a music periodical, in which he noted the fact “that Mr. Osgood has started a new [singing] society,” and that he hoped that a rivalry would not develop between it and the Cecilia. “Not only is our city amply large enough for two such institutions, but it would be extremely detrimental to either should the other cease to exist.” This new choir, the Boston Singers, was to fill the place of the recently “defunct Boylston Club.” Weld then went on to catalog the many important premiers that the Cecilia had given, calling it a “remarkable list… Mr. Lang is sure to offer good work and excellent programmes to the public, and it would be gross ingratitude on the part of the musical world if they should fail to support him.” (Cecilia Clippings)
FIFTEENTH CECILIA SEASON. 1890-1891.
The first concert was on Thursday evening, November 20, 1890 at the Music Hall with Franz Kneisel as concertmaster and Cutter at the organ. After the success of Eve the previous March, Lang turned again to Massenet and gave the first Boston performance of his Mary Magdalen. The Herald notice mentioned a “new departure made this season by this organization,” and this was “throwing open its subscription books to the public.” It also noted that the officers of the choir “recognize the necessity of securing competent professional singers in appealing to the general public for support.” The review also asked why “an organization, which has shown so much enterprise in the production of novelties of all schools” was just getting around to present this work which had its world premier in 1873.” (Herald, Cecilia Reviews) Hale’s extensive review in the Post gave a detailed description of the plot, but then called the work a “very unequal composition.” Of the performance he wrote: “The best work was done by the chorus… The female voices, especially the altos, were beyond reproach… As a whole the performance of the Cecilia chorus was a marked advance upon the work of last year.” The work of the orchestra “was not what it should have been… There was a general lack of precision and observance of dynamic marks. The audience heartily applauded solo singers and chorus.” (Post, Cecilia Reviews) Elson in the Advertiser wrote of the Massenet: “It is altogether too sensational for an oratorio, and too ambitious for a cantata… It has al least one merit-it is oriental in many of its touches… As to the performance, very much praise can be spoken; the club is to be congratulated on having had excellent soloists… the chorus sang well; the shading and delicacy of all the ”choruses of women” cannot be over praised… The orchestra played roughly.” Elson’s final paragraph sounds very reactionary: “Everyone should be grateful to the Cecilia for such an important concert, and even if one does not approve [!] of the theatrical style of the chief work given, it is none the less a valuable lesson to hear specimens of such a school, and we may learn to appreciate the works of Bach and Handel, or even Mendelssohn, better, for this experience of the sacred side of the music of Massenet.” (Advertiser, Cecilia Reviews) It was not such a bitter pill for much of the audience, as Hale reported, “The audience heartily applauded.” (Post, Cecilia Reviews) Woolf in the Gazette liked the instrumental portions of the Massenet. “The instrumental preludes are the best portions of the score, the introduction to the second part being of rare beauty.” Following this was an extensive description of the various parts of the work, and then another Lang slam. “The work made no very profound impression, and the audience evidently became weary of it long before it was over. It is true it was heard under some disadvantage. Mr. Lang is never quite at ease when at the head of an orchestra… The uncertainty of Mr. Lang’s beating time placed the orchestra frequently at odds with the singers. The chorus work was, as a rule, very well done. In fact its efforts were the best feature in the performance. The female voices were particularly good, and in one of the choruses for these voices alone, were heard with charming results, notably the altos.” The final sentence of the review-“There was much applause for both soloists and chorus”-contradicted the earlier statement-“The audience evidently became weary of it long before it was over.” (Gazette, Cecilia Reviews)
Early in March 1891 the Herald announced that the Cecilia would give a special benefit performance for the Aural Department of the Massachusetts Charitable Eye and Ear Infirmary on March 18th. at the Music Hall; Mrs. Lang was a member of the sponsoring committee. Lang would conduct them in a repeat of Eve by Massenet, and the BSO, conducted by Arthur Nikisch would present a Beethoven “Overture” and songs sung by Mrs. Nikisch. (Herald (March 1, 1891): 13) “All the artists have volunteered to appear without pay…[and] Mr. Higginson gives the services of the symphony orchestra.” (Herald (March 8, 1891): 19, GB) The Herald reported that the event “was an immense success, and drew out a large and enthusiastic audience.” (Herald (March 22, 1891): 19, GB) The Journal found that the New York soloists were mismatched, with the two men not equal to the soprano. (Journal (March 17, 1891): 4, GB) in order to be part of this concert, the cecilia moved their concert, originally scheduled for March 18 to April 2. The Herald noted that the “men of the Symphony orchestra…played superbly.” (Herald (March 17, 1891: 7, GB) One assumes that this also applied to their playing during Lang’s conducting of Eve. Was this because their boss, Nikisch, and sponsor, Higginson were in the room?
The photo below is from New England Magazine, February 1890.
On April 2, 1891 (their 75th. concert) at the Music Hall the choir sang the world premier of George Whitefield Chadwick’s The Pilgrims based on the poem “The Landing of the Pilgrim Fathers in New England” originally published in Edinburgh in 1828, written by Felicia Dorothea Browne Hemans (1793-1835). The singers were: Gertrude Edmands, William Ludwig, George J. Parker and Joshua Phippen [one of Lang’s piano pupils]. The composer conducted. (Faucett, GWC, A Bio-Bibliography, 143) Chadwick noted in his Diary: “I had been teaching counterpoint eight years, during which time I learned more myself that I should have taught my pupils. This accounted for [the] next work I tackled which was The Pilgrims. The final fugue with two subjects in that work I had started as an example for my class at the conservatory and the middle part I worked out as an example of a choral concerted piece. Several anthems (trios) were preliminary studies for this piece. When this piece was done by the Cecilia a year or two afterwards L. C. Elson remarked that I had used the trumpets at the line “Not with the roll of the stirring drum and the trumpet that sings of fame” to show the Pilgrims did not come! This shows that even a critic may have an occasional gleam of humor.” (Chadwick, Memoirs) “I never had any great affection for this piece and never made another in the academic style. But singularly enough this piece has been performed more times than any other of my choral works. Probably on account of the words, which are dear to the popular heart…I was not very proud of it – except as good voice writing.” (Op. cit.) But Chadwick added a footnote noting that he was writing this comment on January 20, 1920, and that “The Pilgrims is being performed this very night in Lowell, Mass.” (Op. cit.) Hale, in his Post review, devoted one-half of his space to the Chadwick work, saying: “The composer has been very successful in his treatment of this poem. It is descriptive without being extravagant: it is melodious without being trivial; it is scholarly without being dull. There are many harmonic effects that are so happily invented that they seem spontaneous and inevitable… The Pilgrims is an effective and pleasing composition, and it well deserves a second hearing.”(Post, Cecilia Reviews) Elson in the Advertiser gave an extensive description of various parts of the work including the humorous comment referred to by Chadwick above. “The execution of the choruses [of the Chadwick] as up to the Cecilia standard, which is praise enough for anything. The same high compliment can be paid to the performance of Bruch’s Odysseus, a work which the Cecilia has made peculiarly its own, and one which never seems to lose its savor, either for the singers or the public… To the chorus here belongs the lion’s share of admiration and praise, for they sang the work as if they loved it… When a chorus can take B flat in soprano and A in tenor parts and do it sweetly and without screaming, when the altos become a really melodic part and not merely interior padding, when the basses are sturdy, the soloists zealous and the orchestra (with just a few mental reservations here as to ensemble) fiery and dashing, the critic can surely suspend their fault finding side of his occupation and join in the general plaudits.” (Advertiser, Cecilia Reviews)
The fourth concert was given at the Music Hall on Thursday evening, May 14, 1891 with accompanists Foote, Nevin and Cutter. Miss Gertrude Franklin sang three songs by Margaret: My Lady Jacqueminot, In a Garden, and Night. This was the third time that her works had been part of this group’s concerts-the first was May 10, 1888 and the second January 31, 1889. Hale, in the Post wrote a rave review, at least for him, (though shorter than usual) praising the choir, the soloists, Miss Franklin and Mr. Winch, who stood in on short notice for Mr. Dunham who was ill. Hale also mentioned Mr. Nevin whose piano solos were praised, as was “his setting of Eugene Field’s poem” which was encored repeatedly. He also mentioned that Nevin was making his last appearance in Boston before leaving for Paris “where he proposes to study composition for three or four years.” Hale then recalled the highlights of the season: “These concerts have been of a high order of merit, so far as the work of the singers was concerned. The society also gave an admirable performance of Eve in aid of a charity, and it supplied the chorus in Mr. Lang’s private performance of Parsifal. The concerts of next season will be looked forward to with genuine interest.” (Post, Cecilia Reviews) The Herald review began by calling the concert “full of attractive features… Mr. Lang’s careful work in rehearsals brought forth admirable results.” Whereas Hale had found Schubert’s Miriam’s Song dull, this reviewer called the performance a “grand interpretation. Margaret’s songs were called “graceful,” and Nevins piano pieces “won him the hearty commendation of the audience.” (Herald, Cecilia Reviews)
An extensive article (nine paragraphs) reviewed the Annual meeting as presented by its President George O. G. Coale. Most paragraphs were devoted to the orchestral accompaniment problem, noting that all Boston choral groups suffered, no matter who was conducting-“Whether it is Mr. Lang, or Mr. Zerrahn, or Mr. Nikisch, this orchestra… plays loosely and at random in the accompaniment of chorus or singer.” Coale then made a very interesting observation that countered the recurring comments of some critics concerning Lang’s conducting style. “The players from New York who did such excellent work in the private performance of Parsifal, were unfamiliar with Mr. Lang’s methods, but their respect for the music itself was such and the esprit de corp was so great that they played as though Mr. Lang had been their sole conductor, and in so doing they gave an object lesson.” He then mentioned that for an orchestra of 40 players, each rehearsal would cost $160. “If some of them continually talk and laugh and show a disposition to treat the performance as a colossal joke, would even ten such rehearsals prove to be of benefit?… Accompanying choral numbers is not a task unworthy of their skill. For two years at least oratorios and cantatas have met with shabby treatment at their hands.” (Post, Report of the Annual Meeting)
TWENTIETH APOLLO CLUB SEASON. 1890-1891.
The December 1890 concerts, which opened their twentieth season, included the premier of Margaret’s The Jumblies. The Transcript of December 8 noted that in spite of the stormy night, the audience at the Music Hall was full. “The programme was carried out in a manner that reflects great credit upon all concerned. The parts were well balanced and, and all the numbers were sung with precision and steadiness.” Margaret’s piece was “given with spirit,” but the reviewer didn’t find much humor in the piece, although he did admit that it was very difficult to create humor through “musical tones and harmonies.” (Apollo Reviews) Louis Elson in the Advertiser of December 4 also didn’t find much merriment in the work, and “felt sorry to find a brilliant young composer giving a set of merely correct harmonies to a succession of nonsense verses.” (Scrapbook 1887-1906)
At the April 29 and May 4, 1891 concerts at the Music Hall Mr. G. L. Parker, tenor, sang B. J. Lang’s Nocturne, the Club sang Chadwick’s Song of the Viking with orchestral accompaniment. They ended with Schumann’s The Dreamy Lake and Mendelssohn’s “Bacchus Chorus” from Antigone, the last two pieces with the additional help of “fifty former members of the Club.” (Yearbook, Vol. 10, 15) Also on the program was Chadwick’s The Boy and the Owl. (Program-Johnston Collection)
The Herald “Personal and Social Gossip” page of Sunday, March 22, 1891 announced that Lang’s “private performance of the music of Wagner’s Parsifal, to be given in the Music Hall on Wednesday afternoon and evening, April 15, promises to be one of the most fashionable musical events of an unusually interesting and notable musical winter. The most remarkable array of distinguished soloists are to take part, in addition to a chorus of solo singers, and an extra pleasure will be in hearing the great Seidl orchestra that is coming over from New York for this special occasion…Mr. Lang announces that there can be but this one performance of this remarkable work, and it is further announced that there will be no public advertisement of the event.”(Herald (March 22, 1891): 19) What was this story, if not a public ad-it even gave information on how to obtain a ticket. Philip Hale gave more information: “The restrictions placed upon any performance of this work are for the present still so strict and exclusive that the use of the score is prohibited on any occasion which can be called public in the usual sense of the term. therefore, even a concert reading must be at least technically private-there can be no advertisement or formal preliminary announcement, no tickets may be put on open sale, and all who may attend must be either subscribers or invited guests.” (Herald (January 4, 1903): 36, GB) Hale was writing about Lang’s second Parsifal performance, but the same terms had applied to the first performance twelve years before.
The Lang family did much of the behind-the-scenes preparation. Frances wrote: “Went to Stearns and got 6000 envelopes which will be used in connection with the Parsifal notices etc. Also went to the Printer’s to have a talk about the Parsifal Circulars. Very satisfactory interview. This P.M. stayed at home planning about the circulars…All day long we are writing on envelopes or folding Circulars. Friends come in to help, but it will be a long job. People even come here to ask for Circulars. The tickets are very handsome. Coupons are already printed and this means more work. More than 1000 Parsifal tickets have ben ordered already. Today Maidie timed (for Lel) the 1st. and 2nd. Acts. The 1st. Act was one and a quarter hours, and the 2nd. was 54 minutes…I may go to Providence tomorrow to see about Bells for Parsifal...The Bells from Theodore Thomas’s Orchestra in Chicago have arrived…Lel fortunately sleeps wonderfully, for the detailed work of giving Parsifal is appalling…Lel returned from N.Y. Says the rehearsal was a splendid one…Today Lel had three rehearsals. (Day of performance) Mrs. Gardner came to the house to copy the cuts…When Lel walked on to the stage he was received with wild enthusiasm…[Afterwards] Such a scene of excitement…Afterwards we went to Young’s Hotel…The Homers gave Lel a most beautiful silver cup.” (Diary 2, Spring 1891)
SALEM ORATORIO SOCIETY.
Carl Zerrahn was the conductor of the Salem Oratorio Society which, in addition to their own concerts, sponsored other concerts as well. On Wednesday evening, April 22, 1891, the choir presented a concert by The Ladies Vocal Club of Salem which was conducted at that time by Arthur Foote. Among the assisting artists were B. J. Lang, W. S. Fenollosa (accompanist for the oratorio Society) and Joshua Phippen. With the addition of Foote, this made possible some eight-hand pieces that Lang often programmed in Boston. For this concert they performed the first movement of Mendelssohn’s Italian Symphony and Les Contrastes by Moscheles. Lang and Foote played the Variations on a Theme from Beethoven by St. Saens.This concert was part of the “Popular Concerts held at the Cadet Amory Hall in Salem.” (Program from HMA Collection)
LANG’S MAGIC AS AN ORGANIST AT KING’S CHAPEL. VESPERS.
Lang had now established himself at King’s Chapel, and one aspect of the music program that he had created was Sunday Afternoon Vesper Services. Arthur Foote attended many of them and wrote of his impressions. “Many will remember the beautiful Sunday evenings at King’s Chapel; he would play in the dark church for an hour or so, before each piece leaning over the edge of the choir and telling us what it was to be. In those evenings was seen a characteristic trait, -the keen perception of how surroundings and conditions affect our enjoyment of music. The dark church, with only a spot of light at the organ desk, the absolute quiet, the churchly feeling, all helped to create a mental picture that made the listener doubly sensitive. A curious manifestation of this feeling for fitness was shown in his various experiments in programmes that should not rattle, or rustle, or require leaves should be turned over at inopportune times (Transcript, May 1, 1909). Another source describes these recitals as follows: “Mr. Lang has provided many musical treats of his own motion for the musical people of Boston. Among the chiefs of these are the Sunday evening organ recitals at the Chapel. Here his dusky neophyte inspects your card of invitation at the door, and you enter the dim interior, only lit by the veiled burners of the organ-loft, the pews peopled with shadowy, silent forms which might be Dr. Caner, Vassal, and the other departed worthies who once filled them in the flesh. You find your way to some quiet corner and become one of the ghostly, expectant company. All at once the air quivers and throbs with the opening of a mighty fugue of the greatest contrapuntal master, and, whether in the body or out of the body you cannot tell, you are swept up into the heavens, passing from circle to circle at the will of one and another of the Immortals as they appeal or soothe or thrill through the commanding interpretation of those skilful fingers. Such an hour is scarcely possible elsewhere on this side of the Atlantic. The hearers melt away in the gloom when it is over, and as they pass into familiar Sunday evening streets of loiterers and shopgirls, smug churchgoers and holiday-makers, they seem to themselves ghosts again in a sordid, unfamiliar world.” (Elizabeth Porter Gould Collection, HMA) Not usually done for church services, the Vespers were “reviewed” and the repertoire announced. “The series of vespers that is going on at King’s Chapel is the most acceptable Mr. Lang has yet brought out. Mozart’s seventh mass will be sung this afternnon.” (Herald (February 16, 1902): 30, GB) In 1907, a writer for the Society Section of the Herald wrote about how the Society parishioners of King’s Chapel were well satisfied with Mr. Lang’s presentations “which have a unique distinction and charm. One’s card of invitation admits [you] to the dimly lighted chapel, where Mr. Lang’s wonderful organ music is heard at its best.” (Herald (January 27, 1907): 35, GB) The Prodigal Son was to be featured at the next Vesper-no composer was given. As Lang was investigating and programming French composers at this time, could this be Debussy’s Prix de Rome?
TRIP TO EUROPE. 1891.
The Post Card shows a few passengers on board, but many still milling around. The building to the right was the “Landing Post Office.” Johnston Collection.
B. J. and Margaret spent part of the summer of 1891 in Europe. Their return voyage was from Liverpool on September 4, 1891. The passenger list of the S.S. UMBRIA seems to show that Margaret shared a room with Miss Marien Otis who was possibly a Lang pupil. “Mr. B. J. Lang and Miss Margaret Lang were the recipients of much attention in musical and social circles in Paris before leaving for Bayreuth.” (Herald “Personal and Social Gossip,” (August 9, 1891): 23, GB)
For this trip B. J. applied for a new Passport which also included a “daughter,” “Margaret R. Lamb (sic), aged 20 (sic) years.” Two mistakes within one line- the last name is clearly “Lamb” instead of “Lang,” and the age should have been 23 instead of 20. And, strangely B. J.s birthday was listed as December 28, 1840 instead of 1837.
The specific description items of B. J. were: STATURE- 5 feet, 8 inches; FOREHEAD- medium; EYES- blue; NOSE- straight; MOUTH- medium; CHIN- full beard; HAIR- partly bald; COMPLEXION- fair; FACE- oval; AGE- 51 (sic). Just under this information is Lang’s signature swearing as to the truth of all the information.