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Avril Coleridge-Taylor

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Avril Coleridge-Taylor
Avril Coleridge-Taylor
Avril Coleridge-Taylor
BornGwendolen Avril Coleridge-Taylor
(1903-03-08)8 March 1903
South Norwood, Surrey, England
Died21 December 1998(1998-12-21) (aged 95)
Seaford, East Sussex, England
Pen namePeter Riley
EducationTrinity College of Music
SpouseHarold Dashwood, m. 1924, div.
ParentsJessie (née Walmisley) and Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Gwendolen Avril Coleridge-Taylor (8 March 1903 – 21 December 1998) was an English pianist, conductor, and composer. She was the daughter of composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and his wife Jessie (née Walmisley).

Personal life


Gwendolen Avril Coleridge-Taylor was born in South Norwood, London, the daughter of composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and his wife Jessie Walmisley, who had met as students at the Royal College of Music. She had an older brother, Hiawatha.[1]

On 19 April 1924, Coleridge-Taylor married Harold Dashwood, in the Croydon parish church. She initially composed and conducted using her first name and maiden surname. After their divorce she dropped her first name, thereafter going as Avril Coleridge-Taylor professionally.[2] In the 1930s she was living at The Studio, 4A Hill Road in St John's Wood.[3]

Coleridge-Taylor was invited on a tour of South Africa in 1952, during the period of apartheid,[4] arriving on the inaugural flight of the Comet jet from Croydon to Johannesburg.[5] Originally she was supportive of, or neutral to the South African apartheid system; she was taken as White and was mostly White-European in ancestry.[6] When the South African government learned that her father was not White (being biracial, he would have been considered Coloured under its system), it denied her work as a conductor and composer.[7]

In 1939, she moved to Buxted in East Sussex, where she had views over the South Downs. Coleridge-Taylor died in Seaford on the Sussex coast in late 1998.[2] In 1998 a blue plaque was placed at the nursing home where she spent her last days, Stone's House, Crouch Lane, Seaford.[8]

Career in music


Coleridge-Taylor wrote her first composition, "Goodbye Butterfly", at the age of 12. Later, she won a scholarship for composition and piano at Trinity College of Music in 1915, where she was taught orchestration and composition by Gordon Jacob and Alec Rowley, and conducting by Henry Wood, Ernest Read and Albert Coates.[1]

In 1933, she made her formal debut as a conductor at the Royal Albert Hall. She was the first female conductor of H.M.S. Royal Marines and a frequent guest conductor of the BBC Orchestra and the London Symphony Orchestra. In 1938, she was the first female conductor to conduct at the bandstand in London's Hyde Park.[9] She was the founder and conductor of both the Coleridge-Taylor Symphony Orchestra and its accompanying musical society in 1941, intended to give employment to musicians during the depression. The orchestra at its peak consisted of more than 100 musicians made up of 70 professionals and 30 "specially selected" amateur string players, and a choir of 70 voices. She also founded the Malcolm Sargent Symphony Orchestra and the New World Singers.[10]

In 1956, Coleridge-Taylor arranged and conducted the spirituals performed in a BBC radio version of Marc Connelly's 1930 play The Green Pastures.[11] In 1957, she wrote her Ceremonial March for Ghana's independence day celebrations, also attended by Martin Luther King.[12][5]

In later life she wrote a biography of her composer father, The Heritage of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (London: Dobson, 1979).[13] The book details her own life and memories of her father. She also published compositions under the pseudonym Peter Riley.[14]



Her compositions include large-scale orchestral works, as well as songs, keyboard, and chamber music.[15] Her first orchestral work, To April (1929), also marked her first appearance as a conductor when it was performed two years later. There followed the suite Spring Magic (1933), the 12-minute tone poem Sussex Landscape, Op. 27 (1936), a Piano Concerto in F minor (1938), From the Hills, In Memoriam R.A.F., and the Golden Wedding Ballet Suite. Wyndore (Windover) and The Elfin Artist, are both for choir and orchestra.[16][17] Historical Episode (1941), one of her largest works, is a symphonic impression of war-time events and experiences.[10]

There are signs of a revival in interest in her work in the 21st century. The manuscript of the Impromptu in A minor, Romance de pan, first performed in 1922, was rediscovered in the Royal College of Music Library collection and performed in Brighton in 2018.[5] Sussex Landscape was played in 2019 by the Chineke! Orchestra at a Queen Elizabeth Hall concert on 22 April 2019, with a repeat at the Royal Festival Hall in October 2020.[18][19] It has since been recorded.[20] Wyndore, composed in Alfriston in 1936 and inspired by an Aldous Huxley poem ("I have tuned my music to the trees"),[21] is a seven-minute song without words.[22] The first performance was organised by the Birkenhead Philharmonic Society on 16 February 1937, conducted by Coleridge-Taylor.[23][24] The Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra gave its first UK performance for 82 years on 7 March 2020 at Boxgrove Priory, West Sussex.[25]

In 2022 her descendants, the Dashwood family, told the BBC about their rediscovery of archive material.[26] The new material adds around fifty additional compositions to the composer's previously known works.[15] Other manuscripts are held at the Royal College of Music.[16]



Chamber music

  • Rêverie for cello and piano, Op. 26
  • Idylle for flute and piano, Op. 21
  • Impromptu for flute and piano, Op. 33
  • A Lament for flute and piano, Op. 31
  • Crépuscule d’une nuit d’éte for flute and piano
  • Romance for violin and piano, Op. 176
  • Fantasie pastorale for flute and piano*Fantasie for violin and piano
  • Warum? for koto and piano

Keyboard music

  • Interlude
  • To H.C.D.
  • Valse
  • Caprice
  • Liebeslied
  • Sérènade Romantique Op. 20
  • Danse Extatique Op. 24
  • Elégie Op. 25
  • Un Sonnet d'Amour
  • Four Characteristic Waltzes
  • Impromptu, Op. 9
  • Rhapsody for piano, Op. 174
  • Two Short Pieces for Piano: 'Allegro' and 'Lento'
  • Just as the Tide was Flowing: Berceuse & Nocturne
  • Concert Étude
  • Pastorale
  • Music for the Red Cross for organ
  • All Lovely Things
  • Méditations
  • The Weeping Flower
  • The Garden Pool
  • Evening Song
  • Wedding March (from The Golden Wedding)
  • Threnody for "Brown" (Ada Riddell)
  • Nocturne
  • Traümerei
  • The Snow Goose Suite

Orchestral music

  • Spring Magic: Fairy Ballet Suite (1920)
  • To April, poem for orchestra (1933)
  • Wyndore for choir and orchestra (1936)
  • Piano Concerto in F minor (1938)
  • Sussex Landscape, (1940) Op. 27
  • Suite for String Orchestra
  • Historical Episode (1941)
  • Symphonic Impression (1942)
  • In Memoriam: To the RAF (1945)
  • The Peace-Pipe (1949)
  • Golden Wedding Ballet Suite
  • Comet Prelude (1952)
  • Ceremonial March to celebrate Ghana's Independence (1957)
  • The Weeping Flower (1964)
  • In Memoriam (1967)
  • Snow Goose Suite
  • The Dreaming Water-Lily for voice and orchestra
  • The Sea for voice and orchestra


  • "Goodbye Butterfly", Op. 1
  • "Mister Sun", Op. 2
  • "Silver Stars", Op. 3
  • "Who Knows?", Op. 4
  • "April", Op. 5
  • "The Dreaming Water Lily", Op. 6
  • "The Rustling of Grass", Op. 7 (text: Alfred Noyes)[27]
  • "The Entranced Hour", Op. 8
  • "Song", Op. 29
  • "Nightfall", Op. 43
  • "Apple Blossom", Op. 44
  • "Sleeping and Waking", Op. 45[28]


  1. ^ a b Sadie, Julie Anne, and Rhian Samuel (eds). The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers. Macmillan: New York, 1995.
  2. ^ a b "014: Gwendolen (Avril) Coleridge-Taylor 1924 « Jeffrey Green. Historian". Jeffreygreen.co.uk. 15 December 2009. Retrieved 10 March 2019.
  3. ^ Who's Who in Music (1935), p. 69
  4. ^ Charles Kay, "The Marriage of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Jessie Walmisley", Black Music Research Journal, Vol. 21, No. 2, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (Autumn 2001), pp. 159–178; via JSTOR.
  5. ^ a b c VOTE 100: Celebrating Women Composers, St George's Church Brighton, 17 November 2018, programme, p. 15.
  6. ^ "Daughter of Famous Composer Gives OK to S. African Bias", Jet Magazine, 1 December 1955.
  7. ^ Bill Greenwell, "Coleridge Taylor", Lost Lives. Archived 25 September 2014 at the Wayback Machine, personal website.
  8. ^ The Sussex Express, 12 September 2018.
  9. ^ "Conductress in Hyde Park". Yorkshire Post and Leeds Intelligencer. 15 June 1938. p. 10. Retrieved 28 March 2022.
  10. ^ a b Palmer, Russell. British Music (1947).
  11. ^ Radio Times Issue 1728, 23 December 1956, p. 20.
  12. ^ "Avril Coleridge-Taylor", Oxford Dictionary of National Biography. Retrieved 26 January 2015.
  13. ^ Coleridge-Taylor, Avril (10 December 1979). The heritage of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. London: Dobson. ISBN 9780234770894.
  14. ^ Avril Coleridge-Taylor, The Heritage of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, London: Dobson, 1979 (e.g., p. 154).
  15. ^ a b Broad, Leah. "Cataloguing Avril Coleridge-Taylor". leahbroad.substack.com. Retrieved 27 February 2023.
  16. ^ a b Manuscripts held at the Royal College of Music, Rcm.ac.uk.
  17. ^ International Dictionary of Black Composers (1999). Samuel A. Floyd Jr., ed. Chicago: Fitzroy Dearborn. ISBN 9781884964275.
  18. ^ "Chineke! Orchestra". Berginaldrash.com. Retrieved 6 August 2020.
  19. ^ Fiona Maddocks, "Chineke! Orchestra review – broadening horizons", The Observer, 3 October 2020.
  20. ^ Chineke! Records 4853322 (2022)
  21. ^ "Song of Poplars" from The Defeat of Youth and Other Poems (1918).
  22. ^ "New Music". The Musical Times. 80 (1154): 261–266. 1939. doi:10.2307/923034. JSTOR 923034. Retrieved 6 August 2020 – via JSTOR.
  23. ^ "Concert Under Difficulties". Liverpool Echo. No. 17796. 28 January 1937. p. 10. Retrieved 1 December 2022 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  24. ^ Quaile, Max (17 February 1937). "Shipyard Boom in Birkenhead". The Era. No. 5133, Vol.100. London. p. 12. Retrieved 1 December 2022 – via British Newspaper Archive.
  25. ^ "Newsletter April 2020" (PDF). London: Royal Philharmonic Concert Orchestra. April 2020. pp. 3–5. Archived from the original (PDF) on 30 September 2020. Retrieved 1 December 2022.
  26. ^ Coleridge-Taylor: Composer's family call for further recognition, BBC News, 30 November 2022
  27. ^ "The Rustling of Grass by Avril Coleridge-Taylor". Performed by Simone Ibbett-Brown and Frances M Lynch, August 2020.
  28. ^ Coleridge-Taylor (1979), The Heritage of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, pp. 154–156.


  • Cohen, Aaron, International Encyclopedia of Women Composers, New York: Hamish Books & Music, 1981.
  • Fuller, Sophie, 'Coleridge-Taylor, Avril [Gwendolen]', in Grove Music Online (2001)
  • Hixon, Donald, Women in Music: An Encyclopedic Biobibliography, Metuchen, NJ: Scarecrow Press, 1993.
  • Sadie, Julie Ann, & Samuel, Rhian, The Norton/Grove Dictionary of Women Composers, New York: Macmillan, 1995.

Further reading

  • Coleridge-Taylor, Avril (1979), The Heritage of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. London: Dobson Books.
  • Bourne, Stephen (2019), Black Poppies: Britain's Black Community and the Great War. Gloucester: The History Press.
  • Leah Broad. Cataloguing Avril Coleridge-Taylor, 14 December 2022, includes ongoing catalogue of works