WAGNER AND LISZT. SC(G).
In an interview published in 1907, Lang recalled his time as a student of Liszt. “I shall never forget my association with the greatest pianist of his time. He was most generous in his artistic advice, which always was given gratis, and I fear this generosity led many to impose upon his good nature, for their own ends.” (Clippings collected by Gould, HMA)(BPL Lang Prog., 6517-article by Storer)
1855-1858 Three years study in Germany: meets Wagner in Berlin (1857) Carl Baermann also spent time with Liszt during 1857-it is interesting to picture the possibly that Lang and Baermann met at that time. Baermann later came to Boston, and appeared as piano soloist with the BSO in 26 programs between 1882 and 1899-this would average about 2 and 1/3rd. appearances per season. (Howe, BSO, 245) Born in Bavaria in 1839, he was part of a family that had musical talent passed on for many generations.
Franz Liszt never gave regular piano lessons to anyone, but he did oversee B.J’s piano studies for some time.” (Ryan) The 1897 entry in The Nationa Cyclopedia of American Biography states that Lang “was so fortunate to have the personal direction of Liszt while studying piano.” (Ryan, 430) The meeting of Liszt and Lang may have occurred over a card game when “One evening, at the whist table, he [Lang] had held all the trumps, and when suspected of being a card sharp found a supporter in Liszt. (Boston Globe 100th year article)
Margaret remembered that “Liszt took father to many concerts.” (Miller-Globe article) “During these years [1855-1858] he [Lang] began a lasting friendship with Franz Liszt and Liszt’s daughter, Cosima. In later years this friendship with Cosima would provide him with an entrée into the circle of luminaries surrounding Richard Wagner.” (Cline, 9) An entry in Cosima Wagner’s Diaries dated July 1, 1871 makes mention of receiving a letter from B. J. offering support for Bayreuth – she notes that they had first met in Berlin 14 years ago (c. 1857). Cosima might also be the link with Hans von Bulow (whom she married in 1857- in 1870 she married Wagner) who hired B. J. as his conductor for concerts in 1875 that included the world premiere of the Tchaikovsky Piano Concerto No. 1.
Liszt had another Boston connection. “Mr. Chickering took one these pianofortes [which had won commendation from Napoleon III at the 1867 Exposition Universelle], which had been carefully chosen, as a gift to Liszt in Rome. After playing on it sometime before Mr. Chickering and his friend, Mr. Poznanski, Liszt gave Mr. Chickering what he had never before given any pianoforte manufacturer, a testimonial letter setting forth his supreme satisfaction with the Chickering pianoforte. This instrument was Liszt’s favorite in Weimar, and it, with another Chickering, is now preserved in the Imperial Conservatory at Budapest, Hungary, by the Government in the room in which the composer left them.” (Ayars, 114)
Lang included pieces by Liszt in his recitals throughout his career. The November 28, 1865 organ concert at the Music Hall included a first performance of Lang’s transcription of Liszt’s Les Preludes which he noted in the program was made from the orchestral score. In November 1866, the Providence Journal went “into ecstasies over Mr. Lang’s pianism, thusly: ”We have heretofore expressed our admiration of Mr. Lang’s piano-forte playing. There is something not only in his taste in selecting and his style of rendering music, but in his very looks and manner, as it seems to us, that indicates the presence of the truly conscientious and high-minded musician, who has a perfect sense of the dignity and worth of his art. Last evening he gave us some superb specimens of genuine piano-forte music and playing. The polonaise by Liszt was exceedingly rich.” As early as the “Third Symphony Concert” of the first season of the Harvard Musical Association Orchestra Concerts which was held on Thursday afternoon, February 8, 1866 Lang was the soloist in the “Allegro” from Beethoven’s Third Concerto in C Minor, Opus 37, and also in the Boston premiere of the Polonaise in E Major for Piano by Weber transcribed with orchestral accompaniment by Liszt. Dwight said “The piano playing of Mr. Lang was the theme of general admiration…Mr. Lang has an excellent touch for making the piano do justice to itself in a large place.” The second piece was Liszt’s transcription for piano and orchestra of a Polonaise in E Major by Weber. “Mr. Lang played his part wonderfully well, with finished elegance and ease, keeping up the swift and shining movement without the slightest break or faltering, and overdoing nothing.” (Dwight (February 17, 1866): 19) A December 28, 1869 solo piano concert was given at the Hotel de Rome in Berlin with pieces by Beethoven, Chopin, Bach (2), Mendelssohn, and Liszt’s transcription of a work by Weber. Almost the same program was given on March 11, 1870 in Dresden.
By early February 1870, the Langs were in Rome where they visited Liszt. They were “ushered up a long staircase with long hall. We could look into his great music room with its Chickering and Erard grand pianos. We heard exclamations and he appeared. (His servant had given him our cards) He came into the room holding a candle in his hand, high above his head and making an impressive picture. He greeted us very cordially and led us into a smaller room where there was a blazing fire. Lel asked him to write his name on a few pieces of paper, for the ladies, and he immediately took out some photographs and wrote on the backs. He asked me [Frances] to try his piano. Lel said ‘You must ask her to sing.’ Then he sat down and kept us spellbound. He played the Benediction, etc. He played like a God. Finally we thanked him and said we must go. He took both my hands in his and made the most delightful little speech about coming back sometime to Weimar, and took me downstairs into the starlight and put me into the carriage. That night we went to Florence.” (Excerpts, 1 and 2)
During the summer of 1886 the Langs were again in Europe- he sent a notice to his piano pupils saying that he would be back by Monday, September 20. While they were there, Liszt died, and B. J. was considered such a friend to Liszt, that he was part of Liszt’s funeral. Clara Doria the singer (wife of Henry Rogers) wrote of her trip in 1886 to the Bayreuth Festival. “Next day, from our windows, we watched a long and impressive funeral procession, in which we recognized many distinguished musicians-each one having a lighted torch though it was broad daylight. One of the first in the procession to be recognized by us was our fellow Bostonian, B. J. Lang, who was one of the pallbearers, and who, like the rest, was bearing his torch with due solemnity.” She then continues with an observation which reflects Lang’s high standing in at least her musical world of Boston. “How natural it seemed to us that, when any unusual or exciting event was taking place, B. J. Lang should be there. It was the funeral procession bearing the remains of that great artist, Franz Liszt, who had but a few days ago passed on to the beyond.” (Rogers, Two Lives, 166) The funeral was on August 3rd. in Bayreuth.
At the Boston Music Hall, 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 1860’s] Wagner remained a fundamental part of his career.” (Briggs, 53)
Always interested in the new compositions of his time, as ”An ardent Wagnerian, Lang visited Wagner in 1871 and offered his assistance in publicizing the Bayreuth Festival in America. The Saloon Passenger List of the RMS Parthia sailing from Boston to Liverpool listed B. J. Lang as departing on August 7, 1875. An entry in Cosima Wagner’s Diary for August 26, 1875 mentions that she showed B. J. the Bayreuth Theater. In 1876 Lang and his wife were honored guests at the first performance of the Ring in Bayreuth.” (Ledbetter, Amer. Grove, 10) Arthur Foote also attended (Cipolla, Amer. Grove, 150) Frances’ Diary recorded that they sailed from Philadelphia on June 24, 1876 together with Mr. and Mrs. Tucker (she=Jeanie). They were in London from July 4-14, then Paris July 14-23 during which they heard High mass at St. Sulpice where Mr. Widor’s “improvisations were delightful.” The Wagner festival was August 6-23, and a letter from Frances dated August 9, 1876, from Bayreuth tells about the Festival. Apparently only the parents went on this journey as the letter is addressed to the children (?) She mentioned that they saw four operas, three times each! On the return journey, after another stay in London of August 30-September 5, they set sail from Queenstown, Ireland on the Steamer “Celtic” on September 6th. She noted that Mr. Foote was also on board. (Frances Lang Diary, 1876) Margaret, then aged eight, probably spent the time with Frances’ mother. “There were several other groups of Bostonians who went over chiefly on account of the Bayreuth production” including Arthur Foote who was introduced to the London music publishers Schott and Company by Lang. (Foote-Auto., 61).
Among the American visitors to Bayreuth was Louis C. Elson (critic at the Boston Advertiser 1866-1920) who recorded his impressions of a visit to Bayreuth which he calls “A sleepy German town” in the late 1880s. He began with a reference to the slowness of the Bavarian railroads, and then continued: “July 20th. the town was still in its normal condition, dull, sleepy and apathetic; but early on the next morning matters began to change with the rapidity of a fairy transformation scene. Train after train came in, crowded in every compartment, and bearing the motliest assemblage that ever a caricaturist could dream of. Fat, florid, and bespectacled men jostled against lean, long-haired specimens of the genus music professor, and the way in which greetings and kisses were interchanged was appalling to the American eye. At eight in the evening, fresh impetus was given to the growing excitement by the arrival of the special train from Vienna, bearing a vast crowd of South German artists and musicians. Locomotive decked with flowers, and flags hanging over some of the carriages, it slowly pushed into the immense crowd gathered at the station to welcome it…Many Americans were at the station…Correspondents from all over the world were there, and anxiety about lodgings grew apace. It was an odd spectacle to find princes lodging above grocers” shops and princesses coming to dwell with well-to-do sausage makers…It was a great delight to live with a quiet German family during the rush of the festival, and to be able to withdraw occasionally from the bustle of publicity into cool and neat rooms.” Joining him that year were George E. Whiting, Carl Faelten, and Miss Fanny Paine. He later saw Mr. Gericke, Franz Kneisel, Clayton Johns, Arthur Foote, Mrs J. L. Gardner and other Americans. “An entire American colony was formed.” Elson visited Cosima Wagner and was immediately invited into “a room half drawing-room, half boudoir, in which sat a slim and graceful, but not beautiful, lady, writing. She arose and greeted me with cordiality, and in a few moments by kindly question and unaffected conversation put me at ease…She inquired after American friends, and particularly Mr. B. J. Lang.” She asked Elson if he knew how many Americans were in the city, and he replied “that I knew personally of some fifty who were coming, and that I had no doubt the number would reach two hundred or more…The resemblance of Madame Wagner to her father, Liszt, was more marked than ever as she grew animated.” (Elson, Reminiscences, 73-78)
“His interest in the Bayreuth Festival, the Franz benefit concert, the Dwight testimonial, the Liszt celebration, in short, in every memorable musical occasion has been earnest, thorough and, above all, practical. He has been honored with the personal friendship of the greatest composers of Europe, and his studies of the works of Wagner have been made with the assistance of the great composer himself. He has, like every earnest, original and competent worker, formed for himself a set of followers, pupils and disciples. It is impossible to enumerate these since the number of his pupils who have become concert soloists is over sixty. The work of the Cecilia Club is wholly due to Mr. Lang; that of the Apollo and Euterpe societies largely so. therefore, in the articles on these subjects, the reader will find a continuation of his too-brief personal sketch. Mr. Lang, although he has composed some very fine works, has, as yet, published nothing. As a musician he is armed at all points; he is one of the very surest of ensemble players and never loses his head. We can personally recall many instances where his calmness has saved careless or nervous players from disaster. He is a good organizer and a very efficient leader. At a time when no one else dared undertake playing with, or directing for, the belligerent Von Bulow or the meteoric Joseffy, he did both-and well. He is one of the surest of score-readers and, though not a virtuoso, is one of the best types of true musician. He has long been the organist of a leading Unitarian church. Of his Boston pupils, we may mention Mr. Arthur Foote…Mr. W. F. Apthorp is another of Mr. Lang’s eminent pupils.” (Elson, Musical Boston, 3)
Wagner was a patient of the American dentist Dr. Newell S. Jenkins who had a practice in Dresden from 1875 until his death in 1883. In 1879 Wagner had the idea of migrating to America with his family. This came about because of various professional problems that he was having in Germany. “His life at this time was so unhappy that he thought he might get the needed support in America. Perhaps what influenced him in part was the fact that America, in 1876, had accepted his Grand Festival March composed for the Philadelphia Exposition, for which he received $5,000, that payment, as he remarked, being the best thing about it.” (HMA, Bulletin No. 21, p. 6) Jenkins sent a letter from Wagner about his possible move to John S. Dwight, “a foremost authority on matters musical and a widely renowned critic and writer” probably not being aware that “the very name of Wagner, let alone his music, was anathema to Dwight, and a less sympathetic consultant could hardly have been found.” (Ibid, 7) Dwight showed the letter to various Boston associates including Lang, who then wrote to Wagner “reproving him for his lack of ‘common sense’ and advising him to withdraw the letter.” (Ibid) Wagner was not to be changed, and he wrote again to Jenkins on July 13, 1880, asking him to find a trusted friend who might be able to manage this enterprise. However, things in Germany improved for Wagner, and so nothing further was recorded about the project.
Margaret was well acquainted with the Wagners. “She was present, as a child, in the home of Richard Wagner, and knew the Wagner children as playmates. As she grew older and more aware of her musical surroundings she undoubtedly listened with interest to the music performed at the evening gatherings at Wagner’s home.” (Cline, 11)
During the summer of 1885, the Lang family and nurse Ellen Sheehan spent time in Europe. They left Boston on June 13, 1885, on the S. S. Catalonia, and visited Brussels, Cologne, Wurtzburg and “then Munich 48 Brienner Strauss where we lived 2 winters.” While they were in Munich they visited with Cosima Wagner who was at the Marienbad Hotel. Two of her daughters, Eva and Isolda were also there. Mrs. Lang and Margaret stood outside the Odeon Salle as the “Vorspiel” from Lohengrin was being played by a full orchestra with an audience of one, Cosima Wagner. “A great experience.” (Excerpts from Francis M. Lang’s Note Book, 7)
The libretto for Lang’s performance listed five German soloists plus Boston’s Miss Lena Little as “A Knight,” six “Flower-Maidens” including Miss Gertrude Franklin, Mr. George J. Parker and Mr. G. W. Want as the “Two Esquires,” and “An unseen Chorus of Solo Singers, large Male and Female Choruses and an ORCHESTRA OF SEVENTY-FIVE PLAYERS.” (Jackson, English libretto) Johnson lists the soloists as Mme. Mielke, Messrs. Dippel, Reichmann, Fischer, and Meyn, and the chorus as being made up of the Cecilia Society and the Apollo Club. (Johnson, 387) The total number of singers in the chorus was two hundred. (MB 1890-91, 25)
Frances” Diary recorded that: “Lel returned from N. Y. says the rehearsal was a splendid one.” (DuBois e-mail, May 21, 2006) She further mentioned: “The bells from Theodore Thomas” orchestra in Chicago have arrived. Lel fortunately sleeps wonderfully, for the detailed work of giving Parsifal is appalling. Everyone is excited and impressed. I wish I might be a dispassionate spectator for just one hour…Maidie [MRL] and I went to a rehearsal of the Unseen Chorus. O it was so beautiful. Mrs. Gardner was there. There is a tremendous demand for tickets…April 15th. [Day of the performance] Went to the 9 AM rehearsal at the Hall. The 90 members of the N. Y. Orchestra all there, the Bells too. Later Mrs. Gardner came to the house to copy the cuts. I was so thrilled when I got to the hall. The children had been allowed to leave school and with Minnie went to the Organ loft to hear it all. When Lel walked onto the stage he was received with wild enthusiasm. The singing was perfect. Everyone there. Even the hotels were crowded. Tables engaged beforehand where people would eat between the afternoon and evening Acts. We all went home for a cold supper then back to the hall. The whole thing was beautiful beyond description. Such a sense of excitement. Some people cried. All wild enthusiasm. Afterward, we went to Young’s Hotel. Crowds were there among them Mrs. Gardner. The Homers gave Lel a most beautiful silver cup.” [The Homers being friends of the whole Lang family especially Maidie, their brother/ in-law was Winslow Homer who did a sketch of BJ at the organ now in the art museum in Portland Maine-FRD]
The performance at the Boston Music Hall began with Act One from 4:30-6 PM, followed by Act Two from 7:30-8:30 PM, and Act Three from 8:45-10 PM. This was a private performance with no public publicity, but it was marketed through a prospectus. The English translation made by John P. Jackson was used, and the work was repeated a year later on May 4, 1892 (with Victor Herbert as the first cellist). Margaret, when she was 100, had a different view on that performance. ”Father did the first American (concert) performance of Parsifal but Parsifal has died on me. I can’t say why.” (Miller-Globe article) Seidl had assisted Wagner in the first complete performance of the Ring in 1876. After conducting opera at Leipzig and Bremen he came to New York as the conductor of the Metropolitan Opera in 1885. Six years later he became conductor of the New York Philharmonic, succeeding Theodore Thomas. In 1889 he led the first complete Ring in America.
Just over a year later, on Wednesday, May 4, 1892, he presented it again, this time with an orchestra of 85 which was advertised as “the so-called Seidl Orchestra from New York.” (BPL Lang Prog., Vol. 6) The vocal casts for both performances were pretty much the same. At the end of that year, on December 9, 1892, the Cecilia was part of a “Grand Wagner Programme” conducted by Anton Seidl “and his entire Metropolitan [no opera in the title] Orchestra” at the Boston Theater. Ticket prices were 50c., 75c., $1, $1.50 and $2.
Anton Seidl, Elson, 215.
Foote also relates a story about Bayreuth in the summer of 1898 [or 1893] when he and Lang snuck into the orchestra pit between acts of Gotterdammerung. “The day was hot, everyone being in shirt-sleeves, and we could see how differently the majestic Richter behaved (the orchestra being quite out of sight of the audience). He shouted to different players and to the singers, gave them cues, and was quite a different person from the one we were used to seeing in the concert room. It was a remarkable experience. We were observed sitting in our corner, but the liberty we had taken was winked at.” (Foote, Auto., 78)
In 1903, on Tuesday, January 6 Lang presented another “Private Performance” of Parsifal, this time at the new Symphony Hall. Act I ran from 4:30 to 6, Act II from 7:45 to 8:45, and Act III from 9 until 10:15. The cast was: Kundry-Mme. Kirk-y Lurr, Parsifal-Herr Gerbauser, Amfortas-Herr Dan Roby, Gurnemanz-Herr Blass, Klingsor and Titurel-Herr Muhlmann, Esquires-Mr. Wilhelm Heinrich and Mr. Stephen Townsend, Knights-Miss Adelarge Griggs and Miss Adah Hussey, Solo Flower-Maidens-Mrs. Follett, Mrs. Kilduff, Mrs. Rice, Miss Knight, Miss. Miller, and Miss Van Kuren, Two Unseen Choirs, Chorus of Flower-Maidens and chorus of Knights of the Grail, sung by members of the Cecilia Society, and an orchestra of seventy players. All of this performance information was listed on the first page of a sixty-three-page booklet published by Thomas Todd of Boston which gave an introduction about the story first, and then the full text with the German on the left page and the English translation on the right page. The ticket price was $5.