Pianist Lucy Mauro and tenor Donald George had to do much research about composer Margaret Lang in order to accurately perform her art songs on their new Delos recording Love is Everywhere. They shared their stories in an exclusive interview on Portara, the Naxos of America Blog.
In that research, Lang’s great nephew Fletcher DuBois shared some memories and anecdotes about his “Aunt Blossy,” the first female composer to ever have her works performed by a major American orchestra (Boston) in April 1893, with Mauro and George. We hope you enjoy the stories as much as we did.
What, Fletcher, do you remember about Blossy, which was the nickname you used to call your aunt? I heard she wrote many cards and letters.
When I was a young teenager Blossy wrote to me, and not just for birthdays. I remember how deeply I was taken by the beauty of her words, and the beauty of how she wrote. Her handwriting was very strong and had a great rhythm to it, and the curves were not overly pretty but elegantly sweeping. I remember the difference between how the letters looked when she wrote in fountain pen and when she used a ballpoint. Remember these were the years when she was well into her nineties. Her mind was alive and she could turn a wonderful phrase
You and your sister had also visited Blossy in her Boston apartment?
I spoke with my sister Amy Porter DuBois who also would always visit Blossy when she was in Boston as did I. What Amy and I both clearly remembered was how Blossy would sit in the alcove of her little apartment on 2 Brimmer Street. Her father B.J. Lang and my grandmother i.e Frances Burrage Lang whom she took care of till she died at the age of 95- lived as did her sister Rosamond and her brother Malcolm- our grandfather just a few doors down for many years.
Blossy would sit on one side of a little table with books on it, and we would sit on the other facing the windows – she was on the left and whoever was visiting was on the right. She would lean forward and ever so intently ask and listen to what we had been doing. She wanted to know about the now of our lives and also she was intensely interested in what was to come. In those advanced years, she still had a voluminous correspondence using three languages, English, French and German. She was not oriented to the past, but as far as I could tell, to the present and the future, but also had utmost respect for her parents, especially her father, at least from what I have read and remember.
What memories do you have of visiting her in Boston?
She was always concerned that the door might be too heavy for me, so that she went to open it for me when I left. She was a tiny woman and small of physical stature- and just amazing in the other kind of stature. She would go over (I have imitated this often) and frailly open the heavy door and make sure it stayed open.
Did she talk about her compositional career?
She never to my memory spoke of her career or her former fame. I was never really aware of it until I started to do my own research in the Boston Public Library Rare Book Room with its Lang papers collection. Of course I did know that she had written songs because our Aunt Margaret Lang Spence would play the Edward Lear nonsense rhymes for us when we were children.
Did she ever talk about her compositions or how she set the words to her songs?
I do know how she emphasized the importance of the text in songs. She said this quite dramatically – if I remember rightly -by saying something like the music is the servant of the text. She was definitely of that school of thought.
I do remember thinking about the piano right near where we sat in her room and the fact that I never heard her play (as opposed to my grandfather, her brother, whom I heard play a number of times, but then he was 14 years younger than Blossy). Arthritis was well advanced, I presume.
She was an aunt, I believe you told me, who showed many little favors?
Yes indeed, she sent this letter once and I quote:
“I think I will send you a little Calendar sent to me each year by a Science Teacher in a N.E. College-because its quotations each month are inspiring words from different minds such as Dag Hammarskjold. of the United Nations. They glow with the spirit of courage and understanding.
But who am I, at 98, to try to share my trust in Providence with you the father of two!!!
It is just a word of fellowship and sympathy -for you are in my prayers and thoughts and sympathy-ever as Angela the heroic is in me.
With love to you all
Do you know what she read?
I remember seeing Eldridge Cleaver’s Soul on Ice on her table next to a text of the philosopher Alfred North Whitehead, but she also read the Bible.
This is from a letter I have of hers to me:
“To-day, in the day’s lessons, I was in Ecclesiastes- which 100 years ago was my Grandmother Lang’s favorite Book in the Bible. I like, every day, to lay hold upon one message, to hang on to – for each day. And here, within these verses if I find one, it must always be short and definite, to be held and followed.”
Have you visited the places where your family lived?
I’ve been to 209 Bay State Rd where my grandparents lived and my mother grew up from the time she was a little girl (before that they were in another house on Bay State Rd.) After my grandfather’s death the house was sold to Boston University and it became a residence for students- German House – where a number of the students were expected to be studying German or know German. It is connected through renovations with 207 which is the residence for students of music (this was done fairly recently). I have visited 209 and told students about the Langs (though that was now quite some time ago) when last in Boston several years ago. I also might add for example my visiting 2 and 8 Brimmer last August as well as around the corner 112 Pinkney where I visited Blossy when I was a little boy. The old-fashioned iron elevator can still be seen in the building. In this apartment is where I remember she would get down on the floor and play fishing with me (with magnetic fish).
Well, this shows that the Lang family is still connected with music in some way even today! Thank you for the interview!