Until recently, perhaps Lang’s greatest single distinction in American musical history is that she is the first American female composer to have her early orchestral music performed by major American orchestras. Those works, however, were never published and are now believed to be lost – thus we must evaluate
Lang in terms of her published output: nearly 100 art songs with piano (as surveyed in Delos’ two previous Lang collections), her works for solo piano sampled in this album, and her choral compositions that Delos offers in coming release.
Given the special circumstances of young Margaret’s upbringing in a socially prominent and highly musical Boston family, it seems that she was predestined to become a skilled pianist. Her father, Benjamin Johnson (“B. J.”) Lang, was one of Boston’s most distinguished all-around musicians and teachers, with a particularly brilliant reputation as a pianist: no surprise, as he had been one of Franz Liszt’s students during his studies in Europe. He not only conducted the 1875 world premiere of Tchaikovsky’s Piano Concerto No. 1 in Boston, but also performed the intimidating piano part himself a decade later.
Recognizing his daughter’s remarkable musical precocity, he became her first teacher. He saw to it that she also studied with a number of other notable Boston musicians, and later sent her to Europe for a year of study in Munich. Her reputation as a remarkably accomplished pianist was soon established, and her abilities
are readily apparent in both her song accompaniments and solo pieces. Her writing comes across as naturally “pianistic,” making highly skillful and effective use of the keyboard’s full range as well as the instrument’s wealth of colorful registers and tonal textures – while also employing imaginative voicing of chords and adroit pedal technique.
All of these characteristics and more will be readily apparent to you throughout this album’s varied and appealing program. Also, as you read on (in coming posts), you will notice that four of these pieces were apparently inspired by verses from various poets of Lang’s day that were published along with the scores. The sensitive listener can thus perceive some of these imaginative and picturesque pieces as Lang’s own examples of the popular Romantic-era “songs without words” genre.