Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in 1905
Birth name Samuel Coleridge Taylor
Born 15 August 1875
Holborn, London, England
Died 1 September 1912 (aged 37)
Croydon, London, England
Occupation(s) Composer, musician
Instruments Violin, piano
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor c.1893
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (15 August 1875 – 1 September 1912) was an English composer of part Creole descent who achieved such success that he was once called the "African Mahler".
1 Early life and education
2 Marriage and family
4 Legacy and honours
6 Posthumous publishing
6.1 Thelma, the missing opera
7 List of compositions
7.1 With opus number
7.2 Without opus number
Early life and education
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born in 1875 in Holborn, London, to Alice Hare Martin (1856–1953), an English woman, and Dr. Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor, a Creole from Sierra Leone, of mixed European and African descent. They were not married, Alice Hare Martin herself being an illegitimate child. Daniel Taylor returned to Africa by February 1875 and did not know that he had a son born in London. Alice Martin named her son Samuel Coleridge Taylor after the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge and his mother and grandfather called the boy Coleridge Taylor.
Taylor was brought up in Croydon by his mother and her father Benjamin Holmans. Martin's brother was a professional musician. Taylor studied the violin at the Royal College of Music and composition under Charles Villiers Stanford. He also taught, soon being appointed a professor at the Crystal Palace School of Music; and conducted the orchestra at the Croydon Conservatoire.
The young man later used the name "Samuel Coleridge-Taylor", with a hyphen, said to be following a printer's typographical error. His father Daniel Taylor was later appointed as coroner for the British Empire in the Gambia in the late 1890s.
Coleridge-Taylor family card.jpg
Marriage and family
In 1899 Coleridge-Taylor married Jessie Walmisley, whom he had met as a fellow student at the RCM. Jessie had left the college in 1893. Her parents objected to the marriage because Taylor was of mixed-race parentage. The couple had a son, named Hiawatha (1900–1980) after a Native American immortalised in poetry, and a daughter Gwendolyn (1903–1998). Later their daughter took the name Avril and became a conductor-composer in her own right.
By 1896, Coleridge-Taylor was already earning a reputation as a composer. He was later helped by Edward Elgar, who recommended him to the Three Choirs Festival. His Ballade in A minor was premiered there. His early work was also guided by the influential music editor and critic August Jaeger of music publisher Novello; he told Elgar that Taylor was "a genius".
On the strength of Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, which was conducted by Stanford at its 1898 premiere and proved to be highly popular, Coleridge-Taylor made three tours of the United States. He became increasingly interested in his paternal racial heritage (he was the youngest delegate at the 1900 First Pan-African Conference held in London), as his father was descended from African-American slaves freed by the British after the American Revolutionary War; the Black Loyalists were resettled in Nova Scotia, and then 1200 moved to Sierra Leone in 1792, establishing the colony of Freetown. At one stage Coleridge-Taylor seriously considered emigrating to the US.
In 1904, he was received by President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House, a rare event in those days for a man of African descent. Coleridge-Taylor sought to do for traditional African music what Johannes Brahms did for Hungarian music and Antonín Dvořák for Bohemian music. Having met the African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar in London, Taylor set some of his poems to music. A joint recital between Taylor and Dunbar was arranged in London, under the patronage of US Ambassador John Milton Hay. It was organised by Henry Francis Downing, an African-American playwright and London resident. Dunbar and other black people encouraged Coleridge-Taylor to draw from his Sierra Leonean ancestry and the music of the African continent.
Due to his success, Coleridge-Taylor was invited to be one of the judges at music festivals. He was said to be personally shy but was effective as a conductor as well.
Composers were not handsomely paid for their music, and they often sold the rights to works outright to make immediate income. This caused them to lose the royalties earned by the publishers who had invested in the music distribution through publication. The popular Hiawatha's Wedding Feast sold hundreds of thousands of copies, but Coleridge-Taylor had already sold the music outright for the sum of 15 guineas, so did not benefit directly. He learned to retain his rights and earned royalties for other compositions after achieving wide renown.
Coleridge-Taylor was 37 when he died of pneumonia, and his death is often attributed to the stress of his financial situation. He was buried in Bandon Hill Cemetery, Wallington, Surrey (today in the London Borough of Sutton).
Legacy and honours
The inscription on the carved headstone includes a quotation from the composition Hiawatha, in words written by his close friend, poet Alfred Noyes:
Too young to die
his great simplicity
his happy courage
in an alien world
made all that knew him
King George V granted Jessie Coleridge-Taylor, the young widow, an annual pension of £100, evidence of the high regard in which the composer was held.
In 1912 a memorial concert was held at the Royal Albert Hall and garnered £300 for the composer's family.
After Coleridge-Taylor's death in 1912, musicians were concerned that he and his family had received no royalties from what was one of the most successful and popular works written in the previous 50 years. His case contributed to their formation of the Performing Rights Society, an effort to gain revenues for musicians through performance as well as publication and distribution of music.
Coleridge-Taylor's work continued to be popular. He was later championed by conductor Malcolm Sargent. Between 1928 and 1939, he conducted ten seasons of a costumed ballet version of The Song of Hiawatha at the Royal Albert Hall, performed by the Royal Choral Society (600 to 800 singers) and 200 dancers.
A blue plaque in South Norwood
Blue plaque in Croydon on the house in which Coleridge-Taylor died
Coleridge-Taylor's greatest success was undoubtedly his cantata Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, which was widely performed by choral groups in England during Coleridge-Taylor's lifetime and in the decades after his death. Its popularity was rivalled only by the choral standards Handel's Messiah and Mendelssohn's Elijah. The composer soon followed Hiawatha's Wedding Feast with two other cantatas about Hiawatha, The Death of Minnehaha and Hiawatha's Departure; all three were published together, along with an Overture, as The Song of Hiawatha, Op. 30. The tremendously popular Hiawatha seasons at the Royal Albert Hall, which continued till 1939, were conducted by Sargent and involved hundreds of choristers, and scenery covering the organ loft. Hiawatha's Wedding Feast is still occasionally revived.
Coleridge-Taylor also composed chamber music, anthems, and the African Dances for violin, among other works. The Petite Suite de Concert is still regularly played. He set one poem by his near-namesake Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Legend of Kubla Khan.
Coleridge-Taylor was greatly admired by African Americans; in 1901, a 200-voice African-American chorus was founded in Washington, D.C., named the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Society. He visited the USA three times, receiving great acclaim, and earned the title "the African Mahler" from the white orchestral musicians in New York in 1910. There are schools named after him in Louisville, Kentucky and Baltimore, Maryland: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Elementary School
Coleridge-Taylor composed a violin concerto for the American violinist Maud Powell, the American performance of which was subject to rewriting because the parts were lost en route – not, as legend has it, on the RMS Titanic but on another ship. The concerto has been recorded by Philippe Graffin and the Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra under Michael Hankinson (nominated "Editor's Choice" in Gramophone magazine), Anthony Marwood and the BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra under Martyn Brabbins (on Hyperion Records) and Lorraine McAslan and the London Philharmonic Orchestra conducted by Nicholas Braithwaite (on the Lyrita label). It was also performed at Harvard University's Sanders Theatre in the autumn of 1998 by John McLaughlin Williams and William Thomas as part of the 100th anniversary celebration of the composition of Hiawatha's Wedding Feast.
Lists of Coleridge-Taylor's compositions and recordings of his work and of the many articles, papers and books about Coleridge-Taylor's life and legacy are available through the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation and the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Network.
There are two blue plaques in his memory, one in Dagnall Park, South Norwood, and the other in St Leonards Road, Croydon, at the house where he died. A metal figure in the likeness of Coleridge-Taylor has been installed in Charles Street, Croydon.
A 1912 obituary in the African Methodist Episcopal Church Review
In 1999, freelance music editor Patrick Meadows identified three important chamber works by Coleridge-Taylor that had never been printed or made widely available to musicians. A handwritten performing parts edition of the Piano Quintet, from the original in the Royal College of Music (RCM) Library, had been prepared earlier by violinist Martin Anthony Burrage of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra. The first modern performance of the Piano Quintet was given on 7 November 2001 by Burrage's chamber music group, Ensemble Liverpool / Live-A-Music in Liverpool Philharmonic Hall. The lunchtime recital included the Fantasiestücke. Live recordings of this performance are lodged with the RCM and the British Library. The artists were Andrew Berridge (violin), Martin Anthony (Tony) Burrage (violin), Joanna Lacey (viola), Michael Parrott (cello) and John Peace (piano).
After receiving copies of the work from the RCM in London, Patrick Meadows made printed playing editions of the Nonet, Piano Quintet, and Piano Trio. The works were performed in Meadows's regular chamber music festival on the island of Majorca, and were well received by the public as well as the performers. The first modern performances of some of these works were done in the early 1990s by the Boston, Massachusetts-based Coleridge Ensemble, led by William Thomas of Phillips Academy, Andover. This group subsequently made world premiere recordings of the Nonet, Fantasiestücke for string quartet and Six Negro Folksongs for piano trio, which were released in 1998 by Afka Records. Thomas, a champion of lost works by black composers, also revived Coleridge's Hiawatha's Wedding Feast in a performance commemorating the composition's 100th anniversary with the Cambridge Community Chorus at Harvard's Sanders Theatre in the spring of 1998.
The Nash Ensemble's recording of the Piano Quintet was released in 2007.
In 2006, Meadows finished engraving the first edition of Coleridge-Taylor's Symphony in A minor. Meadows has also transcribed from the RCM manuscript the Haytian Dances, a work virtually identical to the Noveletten but with a fifth movement inserted by Coleridge-Taylor, based on the Scherzo of the symphony. This work is for string orchestra, tambourine, and triangle.
Thelma, the missing opera
Coleridge-Taylor's only large-scale operatic work, Thelma, was long believed to have been lost; as recently as 1995, Geoffrey Self in his biography of Coleridge-Taylor, The Hiawatha Man, stated that the manuscript of Thelma had not been located, and that the piece may have been destroyed by its creator. While researching for a PhD on the life and music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Catherine Carr unearthed the manuscripts of Thelma in the British Library. She assembled a libretto and catalogued the opera in her thesis, presenting a first critical examination of the work by a thorough investigation of the discovered manuscripts (including copious typeset examples). The work subsequently appeared as such on the catalogue of the British Library.
Thelma is a saga of deceit, magic, retribution and the triumph of love over wickedness. The composer has followed Richard Wagner's manner in eschewing the established "numbers" opera format, preferring to blend recitative, aria and ensemble into a seamless whole. It is possible that he had read Marie Corelli's 1887 "Nordic" novel Thelma (it appears that the name "Thelma" may have been created by Corelli for her heroine). Coleridge-Taylor composed Thelma between 1907 and 1909; it is alternatively entitled The Amulet.
The full score and vocal score in the British Library are both in the composer's hand – the full score is unbound but complete (save that the vocal parts do not have the words after the first few folios) but the vocal score is bound (in three volumes) and complete with words. Patrick Meadows and Lionel Harrison have prepared a type-set full score, vocal score and libretto (the librettist is uncredited and may be Coleridge-Taylor himself). As to the heroine of the title, the composer changed her name to "Freda" in both full and vocal scores (although in the full score he occasionally forgets himself and writes "Thelma" instead of "Freda"). Perhaps Coleridge-Taylor changed the name of his heroine (and might have changed the name of the opera, had it been produced) to avoid creating the assumption that his work was a treatment of Corelli's then very popular novel. Since that precaution is scarcely necessary today, Meadows and Harrison decided to revert to the original Thelma.
There are minor discrepancies between the full score and the vocal score (the occasional passage occurring in different keys in the two, for example), but nothing that would inhibit the production of a complete, staged performance.
Thelma received its world première in Croydon's Ashcroft Theatre in February 2012, the centenary year of the composer's death, performed by Surrey Opera in a new transcription by Stephen Anthony Brown. It was conducted by Jonathan Butcher, directed by Christopher Cowell and designed by Bridget Kimak. Joanna Weeks sang the title role with Alberto Sousa as Eric and Håkan Vramsmo as Carl.
List of compositions
With opus number
Piano Quintet in G minor, Op. 1 – 1893
Nonet in F minor for oboe, clarinet, bassoon, horn, violin, viola, cello, contrabass and piano, Op. 2 – 1894
Suite for Violin and Organ (or piano), Op. 3 (Suite de Piêces)- 1893
Ballade in D minor, Op. 4 – 1895
Five Fantasiestücke, Op. 5 – 1896
Little Songs for Little Folks, Op. 6 – 1898
Zara's Earrings, Op. 7 – 1895
Symphony in A minor, Op. 8 – 1896
Two Romantic Pieces, Op. 9 – 1896
Quintet in F sharp minor for clarinet and strings, Op. 10 – 1895
Southern Love Songs, Op. 12 – 1896
String Quartet in D minor, Op. 13 – 1896 (lost)
Legend (Concertstück), Op. 14
Land of the Sun, Op. 15 – 1897
Three Hiawatha Sketches for violin and piano, Op. 16 – 1897
African Romances (P. L. Dunbar) Op. 17 – 1897
Morning and Evening Service in F, Op. 18 – 1899
Two Moorish Tone-Pictures, Op. 19 – 1897
Gypsy Suite, Op. 20 – 1898
Part Songs, Op. 21 – 1898
Four Characteristic Waltzes, Op. 22 – 1899
Valse-Caprice, Op. 23 – 1898
In Memoriam, three rhapsodies for low voice and piano, Op. 24 – 1898
Dream Lovers, Operatic Romance, Op. 25 – 1898
The Gitanos, canata-operetta, Op. 26 – 1898
Violin Sonata in D minor, Op. 28 – ?1898 (pub. 1917)
Three Songs, Op. 29 – 1898
The Song of Hiawatha, Op. 30 ("Overture to The Song of Hiawatha", 1899; "Hiawatha's Wedding Feast", 1898; "The Death of Minnehaha", 1899; "Hiawatha's Departure", 1900)
Three Humoresques, Op. 31 – 1898
Ballade in A minor, Op. 33 – 1898
African Suite, Op. 35 – 1899
Six Songs, Op. 37
Three Silhouettes, Op. 38 – 1904
Romance in G, Op. 39 – 1900
Solemn Prelude, Op. 40 – 1899
Scenes From An Everyday Romance, Op. 41 – 1900
The Soul's Expression, four sonnets, Op. 42 – 1900
The Blind Girl of Castél-Cuillé, Op. 43
Idyll, Op. 44 – 1901
Six American Lyrics, Op. 45 – 1903
Concert Overture, Toussaint L'Ouverture, Op. 46 – 1901
Hemo Dance, scherzo, Op. 47(1) – 1902
Herod, incidental music, Op. 47(2) – 1901
Meg Blane, Rhapsody of the Sea, Op. 48 – 1902
Ullyses, incidental music, Op. 49 – 1902
Three Song Poems, Op. 50 – 1904
Four Novelletten, Op. 51(1?) – 1903
Ethiopia Saluting the Colours, march, Op. 51(2?) – 1902
The Atonement, sacred cantata, Op. 53 – 1903
Five Choral Ballads, Op. 54 – 1904
Moorish Dance, Op. 55 – 1904
Three Cameos for Piano, Op. 56 – 1904
Six Sorrow Songs, Op. 57 – 1904
Four African Dances, Op. 58 – 1904
Twenty-Four Negro Melodies, Op. 59(1) – 1905
Romance, Op. 59(2) – 1904
Kubla Khan, rhapsody, Op. 61 – 1905
Nero, incidental music, Op. 62 – 1906
Symphonic Variations on an African Air, Op. 63 – 1906
Scenes de Ballet, Op. 64 – 1906
Endymion's Dream, one-act opera, Op. 65 – 1910
Forest Scenes, Op. 66 – 1907
Part Songs, Op. 67 – 1905
Bon-Bon Suite, Op. 68 – 1908
Sea Drift, Op. 69 – 1908
Faust, incidental music, Op. 70 – 1908
Valse Suite: "Three fours", Op. 71- 1909
Thelma, opera in three acts, Op. 72 – 1907-09
Ballade in C minor, Op. 73 – 1909
Forest of Wild Thyme, incidental music, Op. 74 (five numbers) – 1911–25
Rhapsodic Dance, The Bamboula, Op. 75 – 1911
A Tale of Old Japan, Op. 76 – 1911
Petite Suite de Concert, Op. 77 – 1911
Three Impromptus, Op. 78 – 1911
Othello, incidental music, Op. 79 – 1911
Violin Concerto in G minor, Op. 80 – 1912
Two Songs for Baritone Voice, Op. 81 – 1913
Hiawatha Ballet in five scenes, Op. 82 – 1920
Without opus number
The Lee Shore
Variations for Cello and Piano
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Special Limited First Recording, November 2001, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall: inc. first performance in more than a century of the Quintet for Piano & Strings in G min. Op. 1 [realised for performance from the original score by Martin Anthony Burrage, and performed by him and RLPO colleagues], plus Fantasiestucke for String Quartet Op.5
Ballade in A minor, op. 33, Symphonic Variations on an African Air, op. 63 - Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, Grant Llewellyn, Argo Records 436 401-2
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Chamber Music – Hawthorne String Quartet. Label: Koch International 3-7056-2
Hiawatha – Welsh National Opera, – conductor Kenneth Alwyn, soloist Bryn Terfel. Label: Decca 458 591–2
Piano & Clarinet Quintets – Nash Ensemble. Label: Hyperion CDA67590
Violin Sonata; African Dances; Hiawathan Sketches; Petite Suite de Concert – David Juritz (violin), Michael Dussek (piano). Label: Epoch CDLX 7127
Sir Malcolm Sargent conducts British Music includes "Othello Suite" – New Symphony Orchestra. Label: Beulah 1PD13
The Romantic Violin Concerto Volume 5 includes "Violin Concerto in G minor, Op. 80" – Anthony Marwood (violin), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins (conductor). Label: Hyperion CDA67420
Symphony, Op. 8, Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, Douglas Bostock (conductor), in The British Symphonic Collection, Vol. 15. Classico label by Olufsen Records
2nd of the Three Impromptus, Op. 78 for organ, on Now Let Us Sing!, 2013 recording by the Choir of Worcester Cathedral, played by Christopher Allsop.