THE LANGSTROTH ENIGMA
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
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
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