Music Week 7 and 8 – Samuel Coleridge Taylor

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (15 August 1875 – 1 September 1912) was an English composer and conductor of mixed race; his mother was an English woman and his father was a Sierra Leone Creole physician. Coleridge-Taylor achieved such success that he was referred to by white New York musicians as the “African Mahler” when he had three tours of the United States in the early 1900s. He was particularly known for his three cantatas on the epic poem, Song of Hiawatha by American Henry Wadsworth Longfellow which feature on this weeks’ playlist. Coleridge-Taylor premiered the first section in 1898, when he was 22.

In 1904, on his first tour to the United States, Coleridge-Taylor was received by President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House, a rare event in those days for a man of African descent. His music was widely performed and he had great support among African Americans. Coleridge-Taylor sought to draw from traditional African music and integrate it into the classical tradition, which he considered Johannes Brahms to have done with Hungarian music and Antonín Dvořák with 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.

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 still effective as a conductor.

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