Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

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Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.jpg
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in 1905.
Background information
Birth name Samuel Coleridge Taylor
Born (1875-08-15)August 15, 1875
Holborn, London, England
Died September 1, 1912(1912-09-01) (aged 37)
Croydon, Surrey, England
Genres Classical
Occupations Composer, musician
Instruments Violin, piano

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (15 August 1875 – 1 September 1912) was an English composer who achieved such success that he was once called the "African Mahler".[1]

Life and work[edit]

Coleridge-Taylor was born in 1875 in Holborn, London, to Alice Hare Martin, an English woman, and Dr Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor, a Sierra Leonean Creole. They were not married. He was named Samuel Coleridge Taylor.[2] His surname was Taylor, and his middle name of Coleridge was after the poet Samuel Taylor Coleridge.[2] His family called him Coleridge Taylor.[3] He later affected the name Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, allegedly following a printer’s typographical error.[4] Daniel Taylor returned to Africa by February 1875 and did not know that he had a son in London. He was appointed coroner for the British Empire in The Gambia in the late 1890s.

Coleridge-Taylor was brought up in Croydon by Martin 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, being appointed a professor at the Crystal Palace School of Music; and conducted the orchestra at the Croydon Conservatoire.

Coleridge-Taylor family card.jpg

In 1899 Taylor married a fellow student at the RCM, Jessie Walmisley, despite her parents' objection to his mixed-race parentage. She left the college in 1893. They had a son Hiawatha (1900–1980) and a daughter Avril, born Gwendolyn (1903–1998), who became a conductor-composer in her own right.

By 1896, Coleridge-Taylor had earned a reputation as a composer. He was later helped by Edward Elgar, who recommended him to the Three Choirs Festival. There his Ballade in A minor was premièred. 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 colossally successful, Coleridge-Taylor made three tours of the United States, which increased his interest in his racial heritage, and at one stage seriously considered migrating there. In 1904, he was received by President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House, a very unusual honour in those days for a man of African descent and appearance. He sought to do for African music what Johannes Brahms did for Hungarian music and Antonín Dvořák for Bohemian music. Having met the American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar in London, Taylor set some of his poems to music. A joint recital between Taylor and Dunbar was arranged, under the patronage of US Ambassadors John Milton Hay, by London resident and African-American playwright Henry Francis Downing.[5] Dunbar and other black people encouraged him to consider his Sierra Leonean ancestry and the music of the African continent.

Coleridge-Taylor was sometimes seen as shy, but effective in communicating when conducting. Composers were not handsomely paid for their efforts and often sold the rights to works outright, thereby missing out on royalties that went to publishers who always risked their investments. Hiawatha's Wedding Feast sold hundreds of thousands of copies, but Coleridge-Taylor had no conception of how successful it would become, as he had sold it outright for the sum of 15 guineas.[6][7][8] After his death in 1912, the fact that he and his family received no royalties from what was one of the most successful and popular works written in the previous 50 years led in part to the formation of the Performing Rights Society.[9] He did, however, receive royalties for other compositions.

He was much sought after for adjudicating at festivals. Coleridge-Taylor was 37 when he died of pneumonia a few days after collapsing at West Croydon railway station. He was buried in Bandon Hill Cemetery, Wallington, Surrey (today in the London Borough of Sutton). The inscription on the fine 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
his gentleness
made all that knew him
love him.[10]

King George V granted his widow a pension of £100, evidence of the high regard in which the composer was held.[10] A memorial concert was held later in 1912 at the Royal Albert Hall and garnered £300.

Coleridge-Taylor's work was later championed by Malcolm Sargent, who between 1928 and 1939 conducted ten seasons of a costumed ballet version of The Song of Hiawatha at the Royal Albert Hall with 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.[11] 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.[1]There is a school named after him in Louisville, Kentucky: 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 the 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 Lyrita). 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.[12]

There are two blue plaques in his memory, one in Dagnall Park, South Norwood,[13] and the other in St Leonards Road, Croydon, the house in which he died. A metal figure in the likeness of Coleridge -Taylor has been installed in Charles Street, Croydon.[14]

Posthumous publishing[edit]

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 Royal College of Music and the British Library.[15] 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.[16]

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. He has also finished transcribing 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[edit]

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. Whilst 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).[17] 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 February 2012 in Croydon's Ashcroft Theatre, the centenary year of the composer's death, performed by Surrey Opera in a new transcription by Stephen Anthony Brown.[18] 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[edit]

With opus number[edit]

  • 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 – 1907-9
  • Ballade in C minor, Op. 73 – 1909
  • Forest of Wild Thyme, incidental music, Op. 74 (five numbers) – 1911–1925
  • 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[19]

Without opus number[edit]

  • The Lee Shore
  • Eulalie
  • Variations for Cello and Piano


  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Special Limited First Recording, November 2001, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall: inc. first performance in over a century of the Quintet for Piano & Strings in G min. Op. 1 [realized for performance from the original score by Martin Anthony Burrage, and performed by him and RLPO colleagues], plus Fantasiestucke for String Quartet Op.5
  • Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Chamber MusicHawthorne String Quartet. Label: Koch International 3-7056-2
  • HiawathaWelsh National Opera, – Cond. Kenneth Alwyn, soloist Bryn Terfel Label: Decca 458 591–2
  • Piano & Clarinet QuintetsThe 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 SuiteNew Symphony Orch. Label: Beulah 1PD13
  • The Romantic Violin Concerto Volume 5 includes Violin Concerto in G minor, Op. 80Anthony Marwood (violin), BBC Scottish Symphony Orchestra, Martyn Brabbins (cond). Label: Hyperion CDA67420
  • Symphony, Op. 8, Aarhus Symphony Orchestra, Douglas Bostock (cond), 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


  1. ^ a b Earl Stewart and Jane Duran, "Coleridge-Taylor: Concatenationism and Essentialism in an Anglo-African Composer", American Philosophical Association, Newsletter on Philosophy and the Black Experience, Vol. 99, No. 1, 1999, accessed 24 February 2011.
  2. ^ a b Hilary Burrage: A Tribute to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor
  3. ^ Jeffrey Green. Historian
  4. ^
  5. ^ Roberts, Brian (2012). "A London Legacy of Ira Aldridge: Henry Francis Downing and the Paratheatrical Poetics of Plot and Cast(e).". Modern Drama 55 (3): 396–397. 
  6. ^ Black Mahler
  7. ^ Cambridge Community Chorus
  8. ^ Classical Archives
  9. ^ Black Europeans
  10. ^ a b The Crisis magazine September 1913
  11. ^ De Lerma, Dominique-Rene. "African Heritage Symphonic Series". Liner note essay. Cedille Records CDR055.
  12. ^ Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation website. The lists were donated to the SCTF website by Dominique-Rene de Lerma.
  13. ^ Samuel Coleridge-Taylor blue plaque in London
  14. ^ Hannah Williamson, "Ronnie Corbett, Samuel Coleridge Taylor and Peggy Ashcroft immortalised on bench in Charles Street, Croydon", Croydon Guardian, 18 June 2013.
  15. ^ "A Tribute to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor", Hilary Burrage
  16. ^ "Concert to Feature Centennial Performance of Work by Composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor". Harvard University Gazette. 15 October 1998. Retrieved 2008-02-08. 
  17. ^ Catherine Carr, The Music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875–1912): A Critical and Analytical Study, University of Durham, 2005
  18. ^ Surrey Opera
  19. ^ Coleridge-Taylor, Avril, "The Heritage of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor", London, 1979, Dobson, pages 145–154


  • Reid, Charles (1968). Malcolm Sargent: a biography. London: Hamish Hamilton Ltd. ISBN 0-241-91316-0. 
  • Self, Geoffrey (1995). The Hiawatha Man: the Life & Work of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Aldershot, England: Scolar Press. ISBN 0-85967-983-7. 
  • Coleridge-Taylor, Avril (1979). The Heritage of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. London: Dennis Dobson. ISBN 0-234-77089-9. 

External links[edit]