Friday, August 14, 2009

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Afro-British Composer and Conductor Born August 15, 1875

[Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Clarinet Quintet (35:39); Harold Wright, clarinet; Virginia Eskin, piano;
Michael Ludwig, violin; Hawthorne String Quartet; Koch 3 7056 2H1 (1992)]

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, profiled at, was born on August 15, 1875 in the London suburb of Croydon, England. His mother was an English woman and his father was an African physician who returned to his home country of Sierra Leone when he found he could not attract patients for a medical practice of his own. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was a leading Pan-Africanist who collaborated extensively with the African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar. He rose to prominence in 1898, the year he turned 23, on the strength of two works. The first was Ballade in A Minor.

Next came Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, for which he is best known. It is a setting of verses from Song of Hiawatha by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. He conducted its premier to great acclaim. The work was staged hundreds of times in the United Kingdom and North America during the next 15 years. The composer made three hugely successful tours of North America, in 1904, 1906 and 1910. Britain had no system of royalties, so Coleridge-Taylor was paid only once for each composition, no matter how successful it became. He held multiple teaching and conducting positions in an effort to support his family. This led to exhaustion which worsened the pneumonia from which he died on Sept. 1, 1912, at age 37.

Performances of the compositions of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor have become more frequent with each passing year. Some musical highlights of the past 12 months have been the performance of Hiawatha's Wedding Feast in Trinidad and Tobago by The Lydian Singers; Ballade in A Minor, Op. 33 by the Prince George's Philharmonic, led by Charles Ellis, conductor; and Violin Concerto in G Minor, Op. 80 by French violinist Philippe Graffin and the Amistad Academy String Ensemble conducted by William Boughton in New Haven, Connecticut.

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