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Remembered by Basil Ramsey

Of the American composers I corresponded with, and occasionally met if their work brought them to London in the years immediately following the last war, there was none quite like Ivan Langstroth. His manner was a touch aristocratic, yet there was a compensating warmth of heart that was felt within minutes. A bachelor, he lived in New York and had a wide circle of acquaintances. As I recall, there was a withering dislike of modern music. After the discipline of Humperdinck's Master Class in Berlin in his youth, he held cast iron views on what was musically acceptable, and put paid to the rest with a few unmistakeable yet elegantly phrased remarks.

My awareness of Ivan came from publication by the H.W. Gray Co of a series of organ works, blackish on the page in manner similar to Max Reger. There were stylistic parallels, yet Langstroth was very much his own man with a harmonic language beyond Reger's bounds. There were no noticeable forays into musical territories that held sway throughout his lifetime, for he always spoke this post-Reger-ish language.

I was privileged to give the first UK performance of what I still regard as his most accomplished organ work, a Fantasia and Fugue in G minor, which has no parallels with the Bach masterpiece.

Novello also published several of the big organ works, and Allan Wicks broadcast one of the most demanding of them in the sixties. There was a sizeable Langstroth opus list covering chamber and piano works, in addition to the organ works. I cannot recall the existence of orchestral music, in which I'm sure he must have indulged at sometime during his 80 or so years for the compelling attraction of scoring for instruments.

So many composers are in isolation as natural creators, interacting socially yet aloof about their work. Creative lives are dictated by forces within, which may well induce a reluctance to communicate as an artist. The tragedy then lies as much in our own loss of their contributions to the world as the agonies they themselves endure at what they assume to be the indifference of the public.

We are inclined to believe that those who do not receive the rewards of their labours have but themselves to blame. Life is not as simplistic as that.

Should anybody reading this little piece about Langstroth have some knowledge of his music or the whereabouts of the manuscripts, I would be most grateful for guidance.

 Copyright © Basil Ramsey, June 19th 1999

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