Wednesday, August 15, 2007

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Afro-British Composer, Born Aug. 15, 1875

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912): Afro-British Composer & Conductor

24 Negro Melodies, Op. 59 is David Shaffer-Gottschalk's recent 2-disc recording of this work for solo piano, on Troy 930/31 (2007). The composer's program notes read, in part:

What Brahms has done for the Hungarian folk music, Dvorak for the Bohemian, and Grieg for the Norwegian, I have tried to do for these Negro Melodies. The plan adopted has been almost without exception that of the Tema con Variazioni.”

The CD has been reviewed at Black Grooves, an online publication of the Archives of African American Music and Culture at Indiana University. The Coleridge Ensemble has recorded Five Negro Melodies for Piano Trio, Op. 59, No. 1 on Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Chamber Music, AFKA SK-543 (1998). Sometimes I feel like a motherless child (4:55) can be heard in its entirety on the Audio page at

His biographer, Geoffrey Self has, has called him The Hiawatha Man, but in addition to his interest in Native American legend, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was also an important Pan-Africanist. Very early on, he began collaborating with the African American poet and author Paul Lawrence Dunbar (1872-1906). Writing in Africana Encyclopedia, Roanne Edwards says:

He was also a leading exponent of Pan-Africanism, which emphasized the importance of a shared African heritage as the touchstone of black cultural identity.”

An entry on Pan-Africanism in Encyclopedia Africana includes a photo, with this caption:

The first Pan-African Conference convened in London in July 1900. W.E.B. Du Bois, who stands in the center of this photograph of the conference delegates, gave the keynote address titled 'To the Nations of the World'.”

Jeffrey Green has published an article in Black Music Research Journal, Vol. 10, No. 2, entitled "The Foremost Musician of His Race: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor of England, 1875-1912". He reports:

Coleridge-Taylor's black associates were fine people, as we can see from his contacts in London in July 1900 when Du Bois and the Loudins participated in a Pan-African conference at which Coleridge-Taylor was present (Mathurin 1976, 67, 168).” Frederick J. Loudin was a bass singer from Ohio who led the famous Fisk Singers, Green notes.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born on August 15, 1875 in Croydon, a suburb of London, England. His mother was an English woman named Alice Hare. His father was Daniel Peter Taylor, a native of Sierra Leone who trained as a physician at King's College, London. After graduating he found his race was a barrier to maintaining a medical practice in the United Kingdom. As a result he returned to Africa permanently around the time of Samuel's birth. He is not known to have had any contact with his son.

Young Samuel was raised by his English mother and stepfather, but his musical education was overseen by Col. Herbert A. Walters, who belonged to the church choir in which the boy sang. Samuel also studied violin with a local musician as a child. He enrolled at the Royal college of Music in 1890 as a student of Violin.

Two years later he switched to composition and was taught by Charles Villiers Stanford. Coleridge-Taylor wrote his Symphony in A Minor in 1896, we are told by Lewis Foreman in the liner notes of the world premiere recording, Classico 684 (2006). Critic Jonathon Woolf of Music Web International writes of the work: “His characteristic gift for melodic beauty is always present.”

Coleridge-Taylor rose to prominence in 1898, the year he turned 23, on the strength of two works. The first was his Ballade in A Minor. It was commissioned for the prestigious annual Three Choirs Festival at the suggestion of the British composer Edward Elgar (1857-1934). The piece was a critical and popular success.

The composer's second major composition of 1898 was his musical Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, for which he is best known. The work is a setting of verses from Song of Hiawatha by the American poet Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He conducted its premier to great acclaim. It was staged hundreds of times in the United Kingdom alone during the next 15 years.

Samuel married Jessie Walmisley, a pianist and classmate, on Dec. 30, 1899. The publicity surrounding Hiawatha's Wedding Feast created a huge demand for tours both within the United Kingdom and abroad. Among the most important for the composer's career were three tours of North America in 1904, 1906 and 1910.

The first concert of the 1904 tour was in Washington, D.C. The Coleridge-Taylor Society, an African American choir, appeared with the United States Marine Band, with the composer at the podium. During his stay in the capital Coleridge-Taylor visited President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House.

Jeffrey Green describes the 1906 tour in his article:

In the 1906 tour the Briton presented the Atonement, the Quadroon Girl, and Hiawatha; he also toured with Burleigh. He appeared in Toronto, St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, and Milwaukee, as well as the cities of Boston, Washington and Chicago, which had also been on his first tour schedule.”

The 1910 tour took Coleridge-Taylor to Boston, Detroit, and Norfolk, Connecticut, where he was guest conductor for the Litchfield County Choral Union Festival, Green tells us.

American Virtuosa: Tribute to Maud Powell, Cedille CDR 90000 097 (2007), is a new CD featuring Rachel Barton Pine, violin, and Matthew Hagle, piano. Among the works is Coleridge-Taylor's Deep River, Op. 59, No. 10 (4:46). Rachel Barton and the Encore Chamber Orchestra, led by Daniel Hege, conductor, made the world premiere recording of the composer's Romance in G Major for Violin and Orchestra (12:33) on the CD Violin Concertos by Black Composers of the 18th and 19th Centuries, Cedille CDR 90000 035 (1997).

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