Monday, June 11, 2012

'Africa and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor' by Guest Blogger Jeffrey Green

[Samuel Coleridge-Taylor at 23]

The English historian Jeffrey Green is author of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a Musical Life, published by Pickering & Chatto Publishers (2011). It has been favorably reviewed by Professor Dominique-René de Lerma and is a primary authority for the page on Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. AfriClassical is honored to have Jeffrey Green as a Guest Blogger. He makes it clear in the biography that Coleridge-Taylor had no known contact with his father, Dr. Daniel Taylor, who left England in February 1875, well in advance of the composer's birth on August 15, 1875.                                                

Africa and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
By Jeffrey Green
It was in 1897 that we see Africa in the life of Coleridge-Taylor, in the shape of three African Americans. Paul Laurence Dunbar, poet and author of Ohio, came to England on a recital tour and reached Liverpool in mid-February 1897. After some time in Somerset he was in London where his Lyrics of Lowly Life was published in May. By chance he met, in Trafalgar Square, playwright and journalist Henry Downing who recalled he was sitting in the garden of his rented home in Gunnersbury, west London (24 Oxford Road) with Dunbar when his landlady brought in ‘a light-brown young colored gentleman’ – Coleridge-Taylor. He had seen a press mention of Dunbar and was seeking the poet’s permission to set music to some of his lines. Dunbar had no knowledge of Africa but Downing had been the US consul in Luanda, Angola in 1887-1888. He and his Irish-American wife Margarita were friends of the composer for the rest of his life.

It was Dunbar’s words that Coleridge-Taylor used in his seven African Romances. The pair put on a recital in central London on 5 June 1897 (The Times, 7 June 1897; Musical News, 12 June 1897; Musical Times, July 1897) and their other collaboration Dream Lovers, an Operatic Romance,[1] was published by Boosey & Co in 1898 and was presented in Croydon on 16 December 1898. Dream Lovers was set in Malagasy (then called Madagascar). Dunbar left England in July 1897.

Downing recalled that present at that 5 June 1897 recital was the Revd Alexander Crummell, a 1850s graduate of Queen’s College, Cambridge, and Anglican minister who had spent many years in Liberia into the 1870s. Crummell was a highly respected African American, and he and his second wife Jennie were tourists in England – with time to speak with the young composer. Coleridge-Taylor had exhibited his interest in the Negro Republic of Liberia by marking its fiftieth anniversary with his Liberian Patriotic Hymn which was published in the London monthly African Times of 4 March 1897. This poem is the (so far) first known direct link between Coleridge-Taylor and Africa. The Crummells had arrived in Britain after the publication of that edition of the African Times. Downing said he was in the garden with Dunbar when he first met the composer, which requires weather that had to be after early March. Dunbar wrote a piece on ‘England as Seen by a Black Man’ for the 16 September 1897 edition of the Independent (New York) which mentions neither man. It recommends that the man who failed in America should not go to England ‘Because merit is not discouraged there on account of color, neither is it taken for granted because one is black’ (Martin and Primeau, p 180).

Because the first (1915) biography of the composer placed Dunbar in England in 1896 scholars have misunderstood the importance of 1897 for the African aspect of Coleridge-Taylor. Coleridge-Taylor stated it was ‘the late world-renowned and deeply-lamented Frederick J. Loudin, manager of the famous Jubilee Singers, through whom I first learned to appreciate the beautiful folk-music of my own race’. Loudin had been a member of the Fisk Jubilee Singers and in the 1890s had circled the globe for six years with his own choir. British newspapers reported Loudin and the choir touring in September 1897 (Daily News, 4 September; Northern Echo, 11 September 1897; Dundee Courier, 13 and 20 September 1897; Glasgow Herald, 15 and 17 September 1897). So we can also exclude Loudin as responsible for connecting Africa and the composer in early 1897.

[1] See Herbert Woodward Martin and Ronald Primeau (eds), In His Own Voice: The Dramatic and Other Uncollected Works of Paul Laurence Dunbar (Athens: Ohio University Press, 2002).

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