A Fascinating Composer – Margaret Ruthven Lang

Recently, I’ve become quite enamored with a new album, and a new composer, so I thought I would take today to share. I’m a little bit of a musicology enthusiast anyway, so it’s not too surprising that this album would really take hold of me like it has. The album is the first of what will be a two volume set featuring the music of Margaret Ruthven Lang.

Show of hands for people that have heard of Miss Lang.

That’s what I thought. In fact, before this album, I hadn’t either. I had definitely heard of her contemporary, Amy Marcy Beach however, and I’m sure you have to. Yet, Margaret Ruthven Lang was much more well known and popular that Beach in her time. In fact, Lang was the first American woman to have her work performed by a major U.S. orchestra — the Boston Symphony.

Lang wrote a lot of music, tons of music in fact. She was very diverse as well. Not only did she write a plethora of parlor music, she wrote orchestral works, and choral works, and chamber music as well. She also lived quite a long time, 104 years (1867-1972), so you would think that given the amount of music she published, and sold, she would be much more popular. But that’s where the really fascinating part comes in for me. It seems she underwent quite the spiritual transformation and in 1919, stopped composing until 1927, at which point she wrote a series of leaflets for churches which she published out of her home. After that, she not only stopped writing, she began destroying many of her works. Today, we don’t have any of her orchestral works, but most of her 130 songs are still intact.

She is also fascinating in how well connected she was. Her father, B. J. Lang, was also a prominent musician in Boston. He was a member of the Harvard Musical Association, and started the Cecilia Society and helped the formation of the Boston Symphony. The Lang family frequently hosted prominent musicians of the time, including Dvořák and Paderewski. B. J. Lang was also a friend of Franz Liszt and his daughter Cosima, Hans von Bülow and Richard Wagner (their children were playmates). He conducted the premiere of the famous Tchaikovsky piano concerto and later performed it on the piano.

So, it’s obvious to see my fascination. Here is a woman composer, who sold a lot of music, and actually accumulated quite a bit of wealth simply from her music career, and yet she is hardly known at all today. She also happened to rub shoulders with the legends of the Romantic period, and lived 104 years. That last fact is the craziest to think about. Just imagine all the she saw first-hand. She was born two years after the Thirteenth Amendment was passed abolishing slavery, and lived to see Martin Luther King Jr.’s “I Have A Dream” speech. She had Dvořák over to her house, and then lived to see the Beatles. That’s crazy to think about.

Now, you see why I’ve been so fascinated by this composer, and why I have to recommend the new album that was released from our friends at Delos – “Love is Everywhere: Selected Songs of Margaret Ruthven Lang, Vol. 1.” But one of the best parts about this album to me, is that the CD (yes those physical items, not a download) comes with a CD-ROM containing the sheet music for both volumes to enable this repertory to get back into the public. That to me is highly commendable. And these songs are fantastic for recital, and could easily be enjoyed by the masses. Once you listen through the disc, you see why her and her music were so popular in her time. We don’t normally feature composers that aren’t living on this blog, but we definitely make an exception today. This is music that America, and classical music needs to be performing, because it is pretty easy for just about anyone to get into.

The artists on the album are pretty outstanding as well with Donald George (tenor) and Lucy Mauro (piano), making you curse the fact that you have to wait for Volume 2 in order to hear more from them.

For more on this, here is a great video that gives you true taste of Margaret Ruthven Lang’s music:


Also, for more information on Margaret Ruthven Lang, check out the website her great-nephew created telling you all about her, her life, and her works.

Her great-nephew, Fletcher DuBois also did a wonderful interview for the Naxos Blog that gives you a real feel for who Margaret Lang was as a person. Read it here.

Click here to buy Love Is Everywhere: Songs of Margaret Ruthven Lang, Vol. 1.

We’d love to hear your thoughts on Facebook and Twitter (@RbClassical)

  • Anonymous

    Great comments and thanks for all the links!