Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (born London, August 15, 1875; died Croydon, September 1, 1912) was an English composer.
Coleridge-Taylor was born in Bolborn, London. His black father was a doctor from Sierra Leone, and his mother was English. His parents were not married. The father went back to Africa in February 1875. He was a coroner, working for the British Empire in Gambia, in the late 1890s. He did not know anything about his son’s existence.
Coleridge-Taylor was brought up in Croydon. He studied the violin at the Royal College of Music, and he studied composition with Charles Villiers Stanford. In 1899, he married Jessie Walmisley, who had been a student with him at the RCM. Her parents had not wanted her to be married to someone of mixed race. The couple had a son, Hiawatha (1900-1980), and a daughter, Avril, born Gwendolyn (1903-1998).
Soon Coleridge-Taylor became known as a composer. Edward Elgar helped him by having one of his musical pieces performed at the Three Choirs Festival. Two months later, Stanford conducted his cantata, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, the piece for which Coleridge-Taylor is best remembered.
Coleridge-Taylor toured the United States in 1904. This made him even more interested in finding out about his racial heritage. He wanted to do for African music what Johannes Brahms had done for Hungarian music, and what Antonin Dvorak had done for Bohemian music. He had met the American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar in London, and he had set some of Dunbar’s poems to music. Several people encouraged him to learn more about his heritage.
Coleridge-Taylor was a shy man, but he was a very good conductor. He was often asked to adjudicate at music festivals.
Coleridge-Taylor was only 37 when he died of pneumonia. His widow hardly had any money, but King George the Fifth gave her a pension of 100 British pounds, which shows how popular Coleridge-Taylor had been as a composer. A memorial concert was held later in 1912 at the Royal Albert Hall, and that event gathered another 300 pounds for his widow.
Coleridge-Taylor’s works were often performed by Sir Malcolm Sargent, who conducted ten seasons of a costumed ballet version of Hiawatha at the Royal Albert Hall, between 1928 and 1939. The ballet was performed with the Royal Choral Society, including 600 to 800 singers, and 200 dancers.
Coleridge-Taylor’s best-known work is his cantata, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, which was performed very often by choral groups in England during his lifetime, and for many years after his death. He wrote several other pieces about Hiawatha: The Death of Minnehaha, Overture to The Song of Hiawatha, and Hiawatha’s Departure.
He also wrote a lot of chamber music, anthems, and other works. The orchestral piece Petite Suite de Concert used to be very popular, but its Romanticism now sounds a little old-fashioned.
1. The father of Coleridge-Taylor:
a) was a musician
b) lived in the same house as his son
c) did not know that his son even existed
2. The musical piece for which Coleridge-Taylor is best remembered is:
a) Silent Night
b) Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast
c) the Happy Birthday song
3. Besides being a good composer, Coleridge-Taylor was also a very good:
4. When Coleridge – Taylor went to the United States in 1904, it made him:
a) want to learn more about his racial heritage
b) want to go back to London immediately
c) want to move to France