Sound Samples & Downloads
Margaret Ruthven LANG (1867-1972)
Love is everywhere - Selected songs of Margaret Ruthven
Lang – Volume 1
Songs of Love Gained and Lost: Love is Everywhere, Ojalá,
A Poet Gazes on the Moon, Irish Love Song, Deserted, Betrayed
Songs for Lovers of Children: Morning, The Sky Ship, The Jade Flute,
Ghosts, The Sandman, Evening
Nonsense Rhymes and Pictures, Opp. 42 and 43, (Edward Lear):
There was an old man with a beard, There was a young lady of Lucca,
There once was a person of Skye, There was an old man with a gong,
There was an old lady of France, There was an old man in a tree,
There was an old person of Cassel
Parting Words and Songs: Snowflakes, A Song of the Spanish
Gypsies, Summer Noon, My Lady Jacqueminot, A Song of the Lilac,
Donald George (tenor)
Lucy Mauro (piano)
rec. Bloch Hall, West Virginia University, USA, 19-20 September 2009, DDD
Booklet notes with composer’s and artists’ biographies in English only, companion data disc with printable scores and printable song texts for all songs in vols. 1 & 2, printable list of all songs ordered by degree of difficulty and PDFs of selected original manuscripts
DELOS DE 3407 [48.26]
Margaret Ruthven Lang was a name completely unknown to me until
I received this CD. Although, she was a distinguished American
composer and a pioneer in her day; at present, she and her work
are largely forgotten. She was born on 17 November 1867 in Boston,
Massachusetts, as the eldest child of an amateur singer mother
and a father who spread himself across many areas: He was a
conductor, pianist, organist, composer, and accompanist (later
director) of several choral groups. In such an environment is
hardly surprising that Margaret Lang took to music herself.
She composed well over one hundred songs, which were well received
and often sung in concert halls throughout Boston. She was the
first female composer to have her work performed by a major
orchestra in America, namely with her Dramatic Overture,
in 1893, premiered by the Boston Symphony Orchestra, under the
direction of Arthur Nikisch. She wrote many large works for
voice and orchestra, apart from her songs, but she stopped composing
in 1919 and then, dedicated herself to religious work. She lived
an exceptionally long life and only died in May 1972, a few
months short of her 105th birthday! Margaret Lang
was extremely critical of her creations and was known to have
destroyed many pieces, which she probably did not believe to
be good enough. This may explain why most of her compositions
did not survive; however and luckily for us music lovers, her
Love is everywhere is the title of this CD with Lang’s
songs and also the name of the first piece in the album, which
is part of Songs of Love Gained and Lost. The songs in the present
CD (volume 1) are organised by themes. Besides the one already
mentioned, the others are: Songs for Lovers of Children, Nonsense
Rhymes and Pictures, and finally, Parting Words and Songs. Though
for me personally, the Songs of Love Gained and Lost are the
most charming, I must say that I found them all not only extremely
accomplished but also possessed of an incredible freshness that
both touched and moved me. Love is everywhere, Irish
Love Song (which are part of the first theme) and Snowflakes
(which is part of the last group) are exquisitely beautiful
pieces, with appealing melodies, where text and music merge
in perfect harmony; always a sign, I think, of an exceptionally
good song. Some of Ms Lang’s other songs, as for example Deserted,
Ghosts or The Sandman reminded me of German Lieder,
which is perhaps not surprising, as she knew Wagner and other
German musicians, and also studied violin and counterpoint in
Munich when she was nineteen years old. Lang’s music is witty,
full of a fine, subtle sense of humour, wonderfully demonstrated
in the amusing though refined lines of the Nonsense Rhymes and
Pictures Songs. Moreover, I was amazed at her extraordinary
talent to illustrate the poems in music. In this CD the texts
are from American poets but, as far as I am aware, they were
not created as lyrics for a song, yet, Lang almost gives us
the impression that they were. This is a tremendous achievement
and a difficult skill that even some of the greatest composers
were not always able to master; however, Ms Lang did and with
Throughout the disc, I had the impression that this recording
was a labour of love for tenor Donald George and pianist Lucy
Mauro; a fact that also comes across in the brief interview
they gave me via e-mail, which you can read at the end of this
review. George’s and Mauro’s care and dedication in performing
and bringing these songs to the general public is patent in
every single track of the CD. Undoubtedly, there is a great
musical rapport between the two, creating a harmonious partnership
between voice and piano, which effectively enhances the songs.
Donald George is in great form here and Lang’s pieces suit his
voice. He sings them with obvious enjoyment and great expression,
as if narrating a story in song. His tone is very warm and his
diction crystal clear, which enriches the whole experience,
as one can distinctly perceive each sound, each vowel, each
word and its meaning within the context of the full lyrics.
Lucy Mauro’s piano accompaniment serves George’s vocals perfectly.
The piano never overpowers the voice; it highlights and completes
it. Mauro performs the pieces with apparent delight and marvellous
clarity, displaying not only an excellent technique but also
a detailed understanding of Lang’s scores.
The sound quality of the recording is excellent. It is clear
that remarkable care went into each detail and the CD is well
presented in a stylish, subtle package with sunny colours. It
includes a leaflet with detailed information in English about
the composer, as well as artists’ biographies. Intelligently,
instead of just having the usual booklet notes, we are offered
an excellent companion disc, which contains a wealth of interesting
items: Copies of original selected manuscripts, the cover of
Lang’s songbook, the texts to the songs in volumes 1 and 2,
and finally, a real treat for anyone who can play the piano:
The complete scores of the songs in volumes 1 and 2. Volume
2, entitled New Love Must Rise, is due to be launched
in January 2012.
For me, this CD was an immensely enjoyable journey of discovery
and I took great pleasure in listening to the work of a composer
whom I knew nothing about. Lang’s music is positively delightful
and any initiative, which brings such gems to the public knowledge,
deserves to be highly applauded. I can hardly wait for volume
2 to appear!
(Margarida writes more than just reviews, check it online at
Donald George (tenor) and Lucy Mauro (pianist) interviewed
by Margarida Mota-Bull for MusicWeb International
Donald George and Lucy Mauro are the two musicians who brought
Margaret Lang’s delightful songs to life in this CD. Both Mr
George and Ms Mauro were very kind and forthcoming in answering
my questions, which I sent them on impulse, after listening
to the CD, as I was deeply touched by the songs and intrigued
with their composer. The interview was conducted via e-mail
on 4th October 2011.
MMB: Why did you want to record a CD of Ms Lang's songs and
why bring it out now?
DG: I must say that I had no idea of the richness of
the musical life in Boston at that time. Margaret Lang was not
the only woman composer in Boston; the group around the most
famous American, Edward MacDowell, was quite large too. I was
intrigued by the fact that Margaret Lang received such a rounded
education in the most illustrious circles, not only in Boston,
but also in Munich where (not allowed as a woman to study at
the Royal Conservatory) her father, with his connections to
the elite of German musical society (Wagner, Liszt, von Bülow),
enrolled her in private lessons with the likes of Franz Dreschsler
and Ludwig Abel and for counterpoint and fugue with Victor Gluth,
who were all in the Wagnerian circle. Ms Lang’s music is well
constructed and in the German Lied style, i.e. with its
prominence on the importance and illustration of the text; yet,
done with a wonderful emphasis on melodic invention and beauty.
The songs are simple, eminently singable and enjoyable. They
work in the singing voice. I found that here was an important
voice in American music, and a voice that had for some reason
stilled itself. The 40th anniversary of her death,
which happened in 1972, is in 2012 and I wish to make a re-birth
possible. In fact, I am arranging for a recording of all her
choral works at The Crane School of Music, in Potsdam, New York,
with Delos distributing it. Lucy Mauro will do all of Lang’s
piano works; and in addition, a Volume II of her songs, which
we recorded, is appearing in January 2012 entitled New Love
LM: Donald and I both felt, as we looked at her songs
(some 140 were published) that these are really an American
treasure and that this music deserved to be heard and performed
again. We’ve been working on this project for about four years,
researching her music and her fascinating life. Donald discovered
her from an article he read online by Laurie Blunsom called
“Margaret Ruthven Lang; Boston’s Other Famous Woman Composer”
when he was researching American female composers. It started
this exciting project.
MMB: Do you think that she is an important composer? Why?
DG: She is an important composer; yet, because of her
decision to stop composing and in fact destroying most of everything
she could get her hands on, she has little influence. This mantel
of importance was passed on to Amy Beach, who is studied as
the important American female composer. Yet Lang, with
her melodic gift, her philosophical directness and her startling
harmony, is a much more interesting composer. This period is
often called by musicologists as the “Black Hole” of American
music because nothing worthwhile was produced. This CD
shows how wrong they are.
LM: Yes, I think she is an important composer because
of the quality of her music but not only. She had a prominent
position in the musical life of turn of the century Boston:
Her works were performed by some of the great artists of the
time, and she associated with many of the exceptional musicians
of the period, both from America and Europe.
MMB: Mr George, why did you want to sing and record her songs,
bearing in mind your operatic repertoire?
DG: I have always loved singing concert repertoire. Finding
a trove of American songs, which have an international appeal,
was intriguing to me. I played these songs for various people
and all were interested, which convinced me that I was on to
MMB: Ms Mauro, as a pianist, why did you want to play and
record these particular songs?
LM: Margaret Lang was a gifted pianist and this shows
in her writing. The songs are very pianistic; she makes great
use of the piano in depicting the texts – colourful registers,
interesting voicing of chords, varied textures and uses of the
pedal. She was meticulous in her performance directions and
notations. I also liked the variety of expression and the importance
the piano plays in each of her songs – they are truly collaborative
works for singer and pianist. I am looking forward to recording
all of her solo piano works for Delos, which, like her songs,
show a wide variety of expression.
MMB: What are your personal feelings regarding these songs?
DG: I enjoy singing these songs and, as an American,
I find the appeal is also that I understand them quickly and
easily. I do not have to research and study the background of
the song as I would, let us say, Schubert or Debussy or even
Britten. I “know where she is coming from” even if one considers
the Boston “reserve” one finds in the expression. Yet that dampening
of the emotional expression is something I find interesting.
LM: Performing and recording these songs has been a very
special experience – connecting with Lang’s expression and musical
creativity and her fascinating life and personality. Donald
and I are both so enthusiastic about the music! It’s a real
joy to perform it.
MMB: How do you think that Margaret Ruthven Lang ranks amidst
other American composers in general and female composers in
particular (American or any other nationality)?
DG: Lang was compared to Cecile Chaminade in her day
as one of the most important women composers in the US. Unfortunately,
we cannot judge her for her major works, as she destroyed them
all (as did Nadia Boulanger). Why? Lucy and I wrote an article
about this for the Society of American Music. With what is in
existence, I find her in the top ranks of song composers and
better than Beach.
LM: So many writers during her time described Lang’s
songs not only as her best works, but also the best produced
by an American female composer. I certainly agree with that,
and feel that her best songs can stand with those of our prominent
American song composers. Unfortunately, we don’t have her orchestral
and chamber works, as she destroyed them.
MMB: If you had to compare Ms Lang's songs with some of Schubert's
Lieder or for example, Fauré's typical
Mélodies Françaises, would you say that
there are parallels or that Ms Lang's songs are different? Why?
DG: We do not have writings of Lang as to the songs and
why she wrote them in this way, as she destroyed her letters,
and the many notebooks and diaries are also “edited”. So, one
must assume she did the destruction. Why? Again, who knows?
One must assume that she, like Brahms, wanted to control what
people thought. I feel her songs have definite parallels because
she, like Schubert and Fauré, chose national poets, American
poets (and quite a few women) and many of her songs have a distinct
“American” directness and philosophical thought. Many have also
a clear folk song quality and Lang, as most Americans of the
day, wrote many Scottish and Irish ballads, which appealed to
the taste of the period. There is one French song (on Volume
II), which is stunningly beautiful in the elegiac setting of
the poem, and also a German one (she wrote a few but they are
lost), which is also charming in its melancholy. She spoke French
and German. I am not sure of other languages.
LM: These two composers each represent music influenced
by a certain culture: Schubert’s Lieder are imbued with
Viennese folk tunes and Fauré’s are in a quintessentially French
style. There is a parallel to Lang’s music, as it is a typically
turn of the century American style, and like Schubert and Fauré,
represents really some of the finest.
MMB: You have mentioned above that Ms Lang's songs are quintessential
American. Would you please elaborate?
DG: Yes, I really think they are. Lang often chose American
poets who expressed clear ideas on typical subjects around her
and the ideas of the day. One cannot say that she composes like
a Wolf; however, she does use psychological underpinnings to
the songs. She does not use symbolist poets, as did the French
of the day, yet songs like Snowflakes or Chimes
use impressionistic compositional ideas. This clarity of thought,
in both poem and form, as well as the attention to melody are
for me quintessentially American. Copeland, of course, did it
later and had a great success with his twelve songs. Lang had
a considerable success with her 140 (!).
LM: Lang’s music is very American in its simplicity,
directness and outlook. The poets that she used were often American
as well. Her music also has a certain reserve to it, which might
be considered part of her American style.
MMB: Historically, in America, she was a pioneer. How important
do you think she was (is?) for American female musicians of
the past and present?
DG: I do not think she had much influence as she felt
her “place” was to take care of her father and her mother, as
was customary for a woman in the Boston of her day. She did
little to promote her music and, after her decision to stop
composing and the destruction of her music, she was forgotten.
At the end of the premiere of her overture, in Boston, she hid
and did not take a bow. This is not the attitude of a person
who, like others, worked at pushing her music. I feel however
that, with this renaissance of her works, she will have her
rightful place in the history books. I have discovered some
handwritten orchestral parts of her last work, The Heavenly
Noel and of her most popular piece Irish Love Song
both of which we recorded. However, this can only give us a
“taste” of what she could do and not what she actually did in
her major orchestral works.
LM: Lang is very important as an inspiration for American
musicians today and as a significant composer of her time. I
think, once more people hear her music and the craftsmanship
of her compositions, that they will recognise her contribution.
Rupert Hughes in his book Contemporary American Composers,
from 1900, said there was such depth and sincerity in her music
that he felt it would become more appreciated with the years.
MMB: Why do you think that her work has largely been forgotten
and is seldom (if at all) performed in the concert hall today?
DG: The only music left is music that happens to be in
libraries and which the libraries (thanks to the internet and
Inter Library Loan) have made available. I should hope that
through this activity and publicity, we might discover more
of her music and that an orchestral score might turn up. I came
across the handwritten parts in the New England Conservatory
and I found an aria for baritone and piano in the New York public
library. All by pure chance!
LM: After she stopped composing in 1919, she lived another
50 years devoting her life to religious work and essentially
doing nothing to promote her music. Unfortunately, culture and
music had changed so much that it seems it was easy for her
to “disappear”. We’re hoping that this CD and the 2nd
volume of songs, New Love Must Rise, coming out in January
2012 as well as other upcoming CDs of her music will start to
change that situation.
MMB: Mr George and Ms Mauro, thank you both very much for
making time to answer my questions and for giving such detailed,