Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Biography

Born: August 15, 1875; Croydon, London, England   Died: September 1, 1912; Croydon, London, England  
Remembered today as the composer of the once enormously popular cantata Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, the career and music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor are -- more, even, than Elgar's -- emblematic of the Edwardian era in its opulence and its squalor. The son of a Negro doctor from Sierra Leone and an Englishwoman, he rose above the constrictions of class and race to become one of the most acclaimed composers of his time.

Musically
Read more precocious, Coleridge-Taylor's talent was recognized early and supported by a series of patrons who saw him through composition studies with Sir Charles Villiers Stanford at the Royal College of Music. While still a student, his Clarinet Quintet (1895) achieved critical praise and, through the good offices of Stanford, performance in Berlin by the Joseph Joachim Quartet. A meeting with the American Negro poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, on a reading tour in England in 1896, prompted a lifelong preoccupation with "African" themes, including a number of songs to lyrics by Dunbar. Upon graduation from the RCM in 1897, Coleridge-Taylor embarked upon the poorly paid, precarious career of composer, teacher, adjudicator of musical competitions, and conductor which took him throughout England and Wales and led, eventually, to visits to the United States in 1904, 1906, and 1910. His marriage to Jessie Walmisley on December 30, 1899, and the birth of their children, Hiawatha in 1900 and Avril (née Gwendolen) in 1903, brought, with happiness, increased responsibilities.

His first break came when Elgar suggested Coleridge-Taylor for a commission from the prestigious Three Choirs Festival to be held at Gloucester in 1898. The performance there of his attractive orchestral Ballade in A minor proved a decisive hit while demonstrating a ready assimilation of Tchaikovsky, Grieg, and, above all, Dvorák. Meanwhile, Coleridge-Taylor had composed Hiawatha's Wedding Feast for chorus and orchestra and -- still an obscure musician -- accepted the sum of £15.15 outright for it from the music publishing firm Novello. Its premiere in a Stanford-led concert at the RCM on November 11, 1898, launched what may be said to have been a cataclysmic success, with performances following rapidly in England, throughout the United States and Canada, and in venues as unlikely as New Zealand and South Africa. Commissions and invitations to conduct poured in, though small fees and the composer's carelessness with money kept financial security an elusive goal. Pressure to produce yet other large, earnest works for the great choral festivals resulted in such stillborn efforts as The Blind Girl of Castel Cuille (1901) and Meg Blane (1902). From 1900 through 1911, he also wrote incidental music for some half-dozen plays, five of which were staged by Herbert Beerbohm Tree. Innumerable practical details inseparable from concert-giving, and the constant uphill struggle against rank amateurism, also took their toll. The year 1905 saw the publication of Twenty-four Negro Melodies for piano by the American firm Oliver Ditson, with a long, glowing preface by Booker T. Washington. In the final years of Coleridge-Taylor's brief life, the spontaneity of his early music returned with a new deftness in handling -- an impassioned blitheness rife with happy invention -- in such things as the cantata Bon-bon Suite (1909), the Petite Suite de concert (1910), and the Violin Concerto. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor died of pneumonia, exacerbated by chronic overwork.

If his best music hovers between the concert hall, the palm court, and the drawing room, it may nevertheless be said to represent a gentility and graciousness, poise and sentiment, elegance and flair for which there will always be an ardently nostalgic audience. Read less
Browse 26-31 of 31 Available Recordings
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  • 26.
    Coleridge-taylor, Sowande, Still / Paul Freeman, Et Al
    Label: Cedille Records   Catalog: 55 Release Date: 11/21/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor,  Fela Sowande,  William Grant Still
    Conductor:  Paul Freeman
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Chicago Sinfonietta
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  • 27.
    Introducing Kevin Sharpe
    Label: Eroica Classical Recordings   Catalog: 3045 Release Date: 10/01/2000   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Felix Mendelssohn,  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor,  Ottorino Respighi,  Maurice Ravel
    Performer:  Kevin Sharpe
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    CD: $13.99
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  • 28.
    Violin Concertos By Black Composers / Barton, Hege, Encore Chamber Orchestra
    Label: Cedille Records   Catalog: 35 Release Date: 11/01/1999   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Chevalier De Meude-Monpas,  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor,  Joseph White,  Joseph Bologne Chevalier de Saint-Georges
    Performer:  Rachel Barton Pine
    Conductor:  Daniel Hege
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Encore Chamber Orchestra
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  • 29.
    British Light Music - Coleridge-taylor / Leaper, Dublin Rte
    Label: Marco Polo   Catalog: 8223516 Release Date: 09/19/1995   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
    Conductor:  Adrian Leaper
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Dublin RTE Concert Orchestra
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  • 30.
    Piano Music by Still & Other Black Composers / Monica Gaylord
    Label: Music & Arts Programs Of America   Catalog: 737 Release Date: 09/28/1993   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Work, John Wesley, Jr.,  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor,  Edward "Duke" Ellington,  Oscar Peterson  ... 
    Performer:  Monica Gaylord
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  • 31.
    Coleridge Taylor, Butterworth, Maccunn / Grant Llewellyn
    Label: Decca   Catalog: 436401 Release Date: 06/15/1993   Number of Discs: 1
    Composer:  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor,  George Butterworth,  Hamish MacCunn
    Conductor:  Grant Llewellyn
    Orchestra/Ensemble:  Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra
    ArkivCD $16.99
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