Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

1875 - 1912


Samuel Coleridge Taylor (1875 - 1912) is a black, English composer who had success in England and the United States. At the age of five, Samuel began playing the violin and joined the choir of a Presbyterian church in Croydon, where H.A. Walters guided his progress and arranged his admittance to the Royal College of Music in 1890, where Ralph Vaughan William and Gustav Holst were his contemporaries. While still a student, he published  anthems with Novello & Co, starting an association which was to last the whole of the composer’s life. Coleridge-Taylor won the Lesley Alexander composition prize two years running (1895 and 1896), and he met his best friend at the time, William Hurlstone, who died early in 1906, and who was a major influence on his taste. Furthermore in 1896, he became conductor of an amateur orchestra in Croydon and began teaching, guest conducting, recital work, and judging at music festivals to support his wife and two children. Taylor’s creative gifts were more apparent in his various colorful instrumental works as he continued to compose and gained early success at the Gloucester Festival with an orchestral Ballade in A Minor (1898), which was followed by his outstanding achievement, the Longfellow trilogy for solo voices, chorus, and orchestra of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast (1898), The Death of Minnehaha (1899), and Hiawatha’s Departure (1900). In these and numerous other works, including incidental music, choral works, and a violin concerto (1911), influences from Dvořák, Tchaikovsky, and Grieg appear along with a spontaneity derived from appreciation of African American folk music, in which Coleridge-Taylor was a pioneer. His works like Hiawatha’s Wedding were a substitute for African American experience. Works like Twenty-Four Negro Melodies reveal the influence of the African American poet, Dunbar while Taylor’s understanding of race and racial conflict in the USA was gleaned from conversations with his friends and from the works of such writers as Booker T. Washington and W.E.B. DuBois, and he himself felt apart of that narrative as he struggled against the racial prejudices in English society. He states in the preface to Twenty-Four Negro Melodies he writes: “What Brahms has done for the Hungarian folk music, Dvorak for the Bohemian, and Grieg for the Norwegian, I have tried to do for these Negro melodies.”