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The Lost Composer: Margaret Ruthven Lang

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By: | Published on Jun 20, 2012

I am an art song fanatic and have never heard of Margaret Ruthven Lang. I even polled some of my former teachers and voice/piano colleagues and came up blank. Regardless of which, the CD ”Love is Everywhere: Selected Songs of Margaret Ruthven Lang” was sitting in my lap. Where had Ms. Lang been all of my life? Fear not, Donald George and Lucy Mauro have made their mission clear: to educate the world on the music of this astonishing lost American composer.  They’ve collaborated with Delos Records to present two recordings to help spread Ms. Lang’s amazing works; I hope they’ll change your life as they did mine.

Margaret Ruthven Lang (Ruthven is pronounced [ r I v ə n]) was born to a musical family in Boston. Her father was Benjamin Johnson Lang, a famous conductor & solo pianist. As a child, Margaret Lang traveled to Europe frequently with her family on their musical adventures, and even had the children of Richard Wagner (know him?) as playmates! Her musical education was extensive, starting early studies with her father and eventually studying in Europe and throughout Boston. Later in life, Lang decided to destroy most of her compositions. To this day, the reason behind such destruction remains a mystery, but through the research of Donald George and Lucy Mauro we have a better understanding of what might have happened.

Donald George, the tenor on these recordings, is a current Associate Professor of Vocal Music at the Crane School of Music at SUNY Potsdam. Lucy Mauro, the pianist, serves as Assistant Professor of Music at West Virginia University. Together, they form the ensemble DuoDrama. George and Mauro’s collaborations have culminated in two recordings: “Love is Everywhere: Selected Songs of Margaret Ruthven Lang” which serves as Volume 1 and “New Love Must Rise: Selected Songs of Margaret Ruthven Lang” which is Volume 2. According to George:

“”Blossy” as her relatives call her wanted to be forgotten and systematically destroyed all she could.  None of her orchestra works remain, all were destroyed: piano concerto, string quartets, cantatas, oratorios, orchestral arias, German songs, French Songs all destroyed.  There are many causes, perhaps we will never know… the relatives have no idea.  I have found her songs and choral works only because she was published in abundance and copies remain here and there.  We have circa 80 songs of around 130 published.  Of the choral pieces we have around 25.”

Nonetheless, Lang’s vocal works are nothing short of impressive. She captures the essence of great American art song with beautiful flowing vocal lines paired with interesting and diverse piano accompaniments. George has an ideal voice for this repertoire. The pitches sit seamlessly in his range and the shadow game that his voice and the piano harmonies play make for an hour’s worth of delightful tenor listening. He is able to articulate each consonant clearly while still maintaining control of effortless legato. Mauro, on-the-other-hand, really has her work cut out for her with this repertoire as Lang uses the extreme range of the piano in her compositions. Mauro, however, is successful in finding depth in every character she portrays and within each scene she sets with the piano.

As far as content, the songs in the two recordings deal with plots ranging from unrequited love, lullabies, nature, and silly songs to children. It is truly a charming collection of works that is very different from what we identify as American art song or the more progressive composers of Europe working during the same time. The music is quite lovely, to be honest, and very easy to listen to.

In case you need yet another reason to purchase these CD’s: the first volume comes with a data disc of PDF documents to all of the music on the two recordings! As a voice teacher, this made me absolutely giddy. The data disc contains lists of songs rated in difficulty, song texts for the two volumes and a file of selected manuscripts.

George and Mauro have made it so easy for us to learn about Margaret Ruthven Lang. You can listen to their recordings; you can look at the manuscripts and music; you can use the pieces as tools in your studio; and those who wish to perform exciting and obscure works should look no further for that perfect American art song set or encore!

To listen to examples or purchase the CD’s please visit the Delos website: Volume I Love is Everywhere and Volume II New Love Must Rise.

Here is an depth look at Margaret Ruthven Lang life »

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