Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: The Centenary Legacy (1st September 2012)

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor1 September 2012, was the centenary anniversary of the death of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.   Below is the appreciation of Coleridge-Taylor, man of music and protagonist for equality, which I wrote to mark this significant milestone for the Huffington Post UK, along with a reiteration also of the appreciation which William Zick of the AfriClassical (USA) website has posted on that site.

You, the reader, are also most welcome to add as a Comment (below) your own contributory link to this post, in appreciation of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and his enduring legacy.

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Dominique-Rene de Lerma donation of Coleridge-Taylor bibliography and list of works to the SCTF website

Various SC-T books and CDsIn a hugely significant step towards realising our intention to bring Coleridge-Taylor’s life and works to public attention as he deserves, the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation was delighted in 2012 to announce that the distinguished American researcher and scholar Dr. Dominique-Rene de Lerma generously entrusted us with publication on our website of his extensive bibliography and list of composed and performed works (documents, manuscripts, performances and other material) relating to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.  You will find Dr. de Lerma’s entire list of publications on this website, under the menu entitled Bibliography.  His list of Samuel-Taylor’s Works are also available, under the menu entitled Works.

A brief biography of Dominique-Rene de Lerma is attached below.

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Patrick Meadows (1934-2017)

Patrick MeadowsLionel Harrison writes:

Admirers of the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and visitors to the Foundation website will undoubtedly be aware of the enormous contribution made by Patrick Meadows towards rescuing SC-T’s music from the relative (and undeserved) obscurity into which it had fallen.

Patrick’s own ‘interview with myself’ posted elsewhere on the site describes how he came to be involved with publishing those works which had never before been printed or which, in the case of Thelma, was believed lost until Catherine Carr turned it up.

Please note (2017) that scores prepared by the late Patrick Meadows are now handled by Musica Mundana Musikverlag GmbH. The best way to contact them is probably via www.musica-mundana.com

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SCTF Speakers Join Panels For Commemorative Events

Two Autumn 2012 events in London (on Friday 5th and Tuesday 16th October) will commemorate the centenary of the death of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, with speakers from the SCT Foundation presenting their findings on the composer’s life and works.

Friday 5th October

Victoria and Albert Museum, Hochhauser Auditorium, Sackler Centre, Exhibition Road, South Kensington, London SW7 2RL, at 18.30:

Death of a Musical Genius: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Remembered

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor died 100 years ago, aged 37.  He was born to an English mother in London and a doctor from Sierra Leone. To mark this special anniversary, hear a newly commissioned celebration and talks and excerpts of Coleridge-Taylor’s music, led by prominent and talented artists, scholars and historians who will pay tribute to his musical genius.

TALKS:

Writing ‘From an English Point of View’: Coleridge-Taylor at the Royal College of Music – Dr Katy Hamilton, Junior Research Fellow in Performance History at the Royal College of Music

Shaping the Genius: Influences and Evolution of Coleridge-Taylor’s Music – Richard Gordon-Smith, Composer, Conductor and Music Educator, and Hilary Burrage, Executive Chair of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation

To Know Thy Self, Looking Beyond – Coleridge-Taylor from a Composer’s Perspective – Errollyn Wallen MBE, Composer

LIVE PERFORMANCE:

An Original Collective Laudation to the genius that was Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, with poets Malika Booker and Dorothea Smartt and ensemble Music Off Canvas – Introduced by Nkechi Ebite, The Books Project and Diana Roberts, Woodhouse Professional Development Centre Manager(RCM)

PANEL DISCUSSION:

Insight on Coleridge-Taylor – Featuring the musicians, poets, speakers from the evening, with audience Q&A.

H Beard Print Collection, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Jointly organised with the Royal College of Music, The Books Project and the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation.  With special thanks to Black Cultural Archive and Historian Jeffrey Green.

£9, £6 concessions

Book on-line or call 020 7942 2211

~ ~ ~ ~ ~

Tuesday 16 October

Camden Local Studies and Archives Centre, 2nd Floor, Holborn Library, 32-38 Theobalds Road, London WC1X 8P, 18.30 (door open, 6pm):

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: A Free Talk with Music

Presented by

Richard Gordon-Smith (composer) and

Martin Anthony Burrage (violin, piano)

of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation, to mark the centenary of the composer’s death in the street of his birth.

Free

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SCTF Patron Daniel Labonne Writes About Community Embedded Arts

Daniel LabonneDaniel Labonne, an SCTF Patron and founder of the original Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Society back in the 1990s, has published a book, Empowering The Performer, which draws on his experience of setting up an arts organisation in Africa. Here Daniel Labonne describes ‘Six Reality Checks Behind A Book’, explaining how he came to set up a regional centre for performing arts in southern Africa, and some quarter century thereafter his charity, FACE (The Foundation for Arts, Creativity and Exchange) and to write the book he has just published, Empowering The Performer.

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New Nonet Commissioned In Honour Of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

As we reach the centenary of the final birthday, on 15 August 1912, of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation and HOPES: The Hope Street Association are pleased to announce that recently they jointly commissioned a Nonet, with the same instrumentation as Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s own Nonet in F minor, op. 2* (1895), from the composer Richard Gordon-Smith.

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Memories of Hiawatha in the Royal Albert Hall

Two of our readers have recently very generously sent us material relating to the Hiawatha performances at the Royal Albert Hall in years around the 1930s.  We are grateful to George Parnell for this Programme of Hiawatha performances, and to Wendy Breese for sending us her recollections of time in the Royal Choral Society.

It would be interesting to learn if anyone knows the year of the Programme we have; and also to learn whether anyone recalls the performers named on it.  (You will note that amongst them is Chief Os-Ke-Non-Ton.)

Sir Malcom Sergent of course features in both these items of memorabilia.

Wendy Breese recalls her time In the Royal Choral Society:
My mother and grandmother were members of the Royal Choral Society and took part in costumed performances of Hiawatha at The Royal Albert Hall.

They used to tell my sister and me how they had to picnic in Kensington Gardens opposite as the facilities in the hall could not cope with the large numbers of singers. The told us how they ran down the steps to the arena in their squaw costumes, which my sister and I subsequently had in our dressing-up box in the 1940’s. (Sadly I don’t know what happened to them.)

When we were old enough my sister and I also joined the Royal Choral Society, and sang alongside our mother in the altos. Our grandmother had retired from the choir by then so we were never all four together.

We also made a 12″ LP recording of Hiawatha at Maida Vale studios, conducted by Sir Malcolm Sargent.

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Tiki Black: Inspiration from Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Tiki Black writes: I was born with fingers that suggested a predisposition for playing the piano. So when I saw and touched a piano for the first time, my heartstring got stuck and my eyes almost came out of their orbits. It is this handicap that made it impossible for me to understand the financial strings that prevented my mother from buying me a piano and enrolling me at the conservatoire.

I knew that this would affect the way I heard and understood music in general and classical music in particular. I also knew that my lazy nature and the remains of a grudge will never allow me to grasp the piano in the same way later on in my life as I would have had right there and then. For one, I was a child brought up to believe that as long as I performed well at school, I could have all that I wanted.

I went to school between France and Cameroon, encountering music as diverse as the musicians’ experience will allow them to report. One of my schools was the lycee Frederic Chopin where I grew interested in the music of the polish composer, all the more as I was enrolled in the corresponding boarding school which had… a piano! Under the encouragement of one of my best friend (nickname: La Thouille), and the instructions of a beginners’ lesson book entitled “la méthode rose” (that La Thouille has offered me), I started practising assiduously 2 hours a day, trying to learn as much as I could, under the threat of a new move to Cameroon or elsewhere in France where they would have forgetfully omitted to make a piano available.

Ambidextrian enough within a few months to read and play my favourite piano piece, the Etude n. 69 op 2 from Chopin, I judged (clearly without the more mature advice of a piano teacher) that I knew enough to do what I truly wanted to do, play the way I felt, understand music the way that my heartstring and eardrums interpreted them and that all school rules were both too late or too religious to allow me to expand to.

Tiki Black

Tiki Black

It is in this quest, that I started serial songwriting, moved to Britain and somewhere in the midst of all that, that I met with the works of Samuel Coleridge Taylor. You see, hearing of a Black classical composer was as rare in that period (for me at least) as finding a place with a piano readily available and tuned. It felt the same. He became my piano oasis, my hope that, although not a classical musician or a pianist myself, I could establish myself just where I wanted, as the person I wanted to be. Colour (and beyond, gender and education) should never have to matter where the heart is.

I was introduced to Coleridge Taylor via his song “Deep River” (which I endlessly link to on the homepage of one of my websites). It was classical music but it had a familiar depth. Noone could reach my emotions like Chopin but there was always that one set of feelings that was not expressed in Chopin’s works. And there, right in Samuel’s Deep river, it laid, as if having forever waited for me. I played it over and over and over again (and I still do) as if it were a lost feeling that had finally found its composition, its expression, because it just was. In fact, I reckon that half of its plays on youtube are just from me.

I must say it took me quite some time to buy anything else that he had created. Just the idea of him was great enough, encouraging enough for me. Then the specific interpretation of Deep River filled any other possible gaps. What if I did not like any of his other works?

We did not really have the same style, far from that. We did not have the same story. Really, we did not have anything in common that we had worked to achieve, except I was hoping, creating our own distinctive works in a style that was not associated with us, in spite of all the prejudice of sarcastical probability. But creativity makes up it own rules where rules fail to encourage creativity.

So here I am now, composing my own music, not classical or other, in fact without the boxes of genres, letting my creativity flow freely in and out of the deep river of my emotions.

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Queries about “O Ye That Love The Lord”

Jon Larimore writes: This coming Sunday our choir is presenting Coleridge-Taylor’s “O Ye That Love The Lord”. I’m wondering when this anthem was composed and if it was part of a larger work by Coleridge-Taylor, what that work might be? I found a wealth of information, Continue reading

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Video: Angela Brown sings “The Stars”

Charles Kaufmann writes: You may be interested in seeing the YouTube video I’ve just posted featuring soprano Angela Brown singing with our orchestra a song by Coleridge-Taylor, “The Stars,” which is a setting of a poem by his friend Kathleen Easmon Simango. Noteworthy about this video are the two images of the original manuscript of The Stars in Coleridge-Taylor’s distinctive handwriting: Continue reading

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Keep Me From Sinking Down – insights into a new transcription

Lionel Harrison

Lionel Harrison

As many visitors to this website will be aware, Patrick Meadows and I have produced the first printed editions of many of SCTs works (the opera Thelma, the early chamber music, the A minor Symphony and so on). We are now in the process of producing a type-set edition of SC-T’s transcription for violin
and orchestra of the spiritual ‘Keep Me from Sinkin’ Down‘.

The history of the piece is as follows: during SC-T’s visit to the Norfolk, Connecticut, Festival in 1910, he overheard Mrs Stoeckel (the wife of the festival patron, Carl Stoeckel) playing the negro hymn ‘Keep Me from Sinking Down, Good Lord‘ on the piano. As Geoffrey Self writes in The Hiawatha Man, “Impressed with its beauty, he thought he had found a subject for the slow movement of the violin concerto he was then planning. It was a tune Mrs Stoeckel had learned from her father, to whom it had been passed down by a slave. In the event, SC-T found it impractical to use this tune and instead, he wrote a slow movement based on another negro hymn, ‘Many thousand gone‘.” This, too, was ultimately set aside (and survives only in a short-score version for violin and piano), the final version of the violin concerto having a slow movement which is an entirely original composition, not based on any folk material.

In spite of that, both Maud Powell, the renowned American violinist for whom SCT was writing his concerto, and Carl Stoeckel pressed SC-T for an arrangement of ‘Keep Me from Sinking Down, Good Lord‘, to be made for violin and orchestra. Unable to resist this plea, he made the transcription and sent it in time for it to be used as an encore in the premiere performance of the Concerto which was given in June 1912 at the Norfolk festival. As far as Patrick and I know, the manuscript of this transcription (which runs to just over 200 bars) has lain undisturbed in the Stoeckel family papers at Yale University Library for the intervening 100 years.

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Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: a musical life by Jeffrey Green – a review by Dominique-Rene de Lerma

Dominique-René de Lerma

Dr Dominique-Rene de Lerma

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: a musical life by Jeffrey Green

Dr Dominique-Rene de Lerma writes:

Over more than three decades, English historian Jeffrey Green has presented a series of discoveries on Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), an English composer who did not follow his contemporaries into British folk music but instead responded to a yearning for Africa, the homeland of a father he never knew.

While the composer was still a student, his substantial and original talent became manifest in works of unusual quality, and he gave sympathetic notice to Native Americans, via Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, in Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, a choral work.

In the half century following his premature death at the age of 37, Coleridge-Taylor’s choral music was heard almost as often as the major works of Handel and Mendelssohn, and his work and three visits to
the US provided an exceptionally important impetus for the Harlem Renaissance. This biography corrects errors of the past and reveals that which had been hidden. One comes away from this study with a new sense of the composer, his colleagues and supporters, and the social and political
environment in which he lived.

D.-R. de Lerma, Lawrence University

Green, Jeffrey. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: a musical life. Pickering &
Chatto, 2011. (For sale by (Dist. by Ashgate Publishing)) 296p bibl index
afp ISBN 9781848931619, $99.00; ISBN 9781848931626 e-book, contact publisher
for price
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UK charity Black Cultural Archives collaborates with SCTF

BCA newspaperWe are delighted that the Black Cultural Archives in London have invited the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation to collaborate with them on shared information and the BCA archiving materials concerning Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.  This is exactly the sort of joint working which SCTF seeks in order to take forward our objective of ‘bringing people together through music’.

Victoria Lane writes: Black Cultural Archives (BCA) is currently preparing to open the doors to the UK’s first national Black heritage centre, in spring 2013, on Brixton’s Windrush Square, London. This will realise our Founder’s vision and will be a landmark moment in British history, marking BCA out as a premier Black heritage organisation in the UK.

Black Cultural Archives is a registered charity, founded as a community group in 1981 to collect, preserve and celebrate the contributions made by Black people to the culture, society and heritage of the UK. An archive and a Black heritage centre both offer crucial insight into multicultural Britain and inspire future generations.

During its 30 year history, BCA has amassed an extensive collection of ephemera, documents and photographs, together with interactive and ‘living history’ elements, such as oral and video testimony. The archive is brought to life by the collections and learning teams, who deliver workshops and learning sessions to provide context and deeper understanding of the Black experience in Britain.

The importance of preserving these collections and adding to them for future generations is at the heart of BCA’s mission. We already give access to the public and have catalogued and preserved material to professional archival standards but the new heritage centre will give us the proper environmental storage conditions to ensure the long-term preservation of our collections.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor forms an important part of BCA’s collections and has been part of BCA’s programmes in the past, especially with a concert organised on the South Bank in 1985. We have an extensive collection of sheet music and programmes. Follow this link to BCA’s Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Collection which has been amassed over the years.

We are always looking to develop this collection so if you have any archival material relating to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor including letters, photographs or other papers that you would like to preserve and share for future generations, BCA would be happy to discuss how you might loan or gift these items for when we move to our new premises.

Please feel free to contact Victoria Lane, Collections Manager, if you would like to contribute. You can send Victoria an email, or call her on +44 (0) 20 7582 8516. The BCA website is: www.bcaheritage.org.uk

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Premiere of Thelma, review by SCTF patron Daniel Labonne

Daniel LabonneDaniel Labonne writes: 2012 is the centenary year of the death of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Having spent most of his life in the Surrey town of Croydon, it is right that Croydon and Surrey devote a programme of activities to pay a proper tribute to the Afro-British composer. You will remember that SC-T’s father was a Sierra Leone doctor and his mother a London woman. In Victorian England, the half-cast conductor and composer was unusual. It is not only the premature death (he died age 37), but it is the hard-working creative artist he was that makes him a positive role-model. He was also quite daring, trying his hand at various forms of musical expression. Sometimes at his own peril, as suggests Jonathan Butcher, the arranger-stage director of Thelma.

Thelma is a full length opera by Coleridge-Taylor, created in a world premiere at Fairfields Halls, in Croydon, on the 9th,10th,11th February 2012. On the opening night, I was among the spectators at Ashcroft Theatre and I fully enjoyed a performance by the Surrey Opera. There were some 90 performers – musicians, choir and lead roles. The storyline takes us to the land of the Vikings at the time of Christian conversion in the 10th-11th century. To venture so far, culturally speaking, and so deep into the past may be considered either a weakness or a mark of courage. But when we consider the earlier success of Hiawatha trilogy, it becomes clearer why the composer kept reaching out to far-away tales and drama to inspire his musical work. Native Americans, Old Japan, Vikings… But can we really hold it against him, given his personal background, that beyond the merits of musical work, he should attempt to make a statement about ‘difference’?

Jonathan Butcher found the libretto awkward and regrets that SC-T had not invited another writer to collaborate, instead of producing the lyrics of Thelma. The likelihood is that Coleridge-Taylor was always in need of money and he had been betrayed before over shared rights… We must also remember the fact that, at 37, he was still experimenting. The production of Thelma is therefore an adaptation but ‘the plot has been retained exactly as SC-T imagined it’. I liked what I saw and heard. Particularly appealing is the staging of the undersea kingdom. The musical rendering succeeds in sustaining the attention throughout the two and a half hour performance. But does any moment bring a tear to my eye? No. Tim Baldwin, in the role of King Olaf, had both the vocal skills and the mastery among a cast that does reflect a touch multicultural inspirations. The unique setting was effective, thanks to simplicity of lines and curves brought alive by the quality of lighting.

The task accomplished is both worthwhile and enjoyable. And the Surrey Opera deserves gratitude for raising the curtain over yet another facet of the talents of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. From the 14th February to the 30th December, the celebration of Croydon’s man of music will take many forms. I am personally pleased that, in the centenary festival, a gala concert including SC-T’s Violin Concerto in G Minor and Hiawatha Wedding Feast features on the programme of activities.

That is exactly where the SC-T Society of Croydon left it in 2000. The good news is that, since then the SC-T Foundation has taken over and lacks neither drive nor artistic skills, given the relationship with the Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, and others. Samuel Coleridge Taylor deserves more recognition and ongoing exposure, both locally and nationally. And – why not? – internationally. 2012 is the year to get it right.

Daniel Labonne
(ex. Croydon SC-T Society artistic director)

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Reviews of Thelma, the premiere

Thelma SCT opera premiere Feb 2012Robert Eichert is the latest recruit to the SCTF panel of writers. He attended the recent premiere of Thelma, and writes:

World Première of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Opera, Thelma (or The Amulet)

Over four hundred people, including the mayor, local MP and descendants of the composer, braved the freezing weather to attend Croydon’s Ashcroft Theatre on the 9th of February for Surrey Opera’s eagerly anticipated world première of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s opera, Thelma.

Catherine Carr’s pre-performance talk covered her rediscovery of the Thelma manuscript at the British Library and furnished useful additional background. During the question and answer session it emerged that an audience member had been present at one of the staged productions of Hiawatha in the 1930’s.

Following Catherine’s discovery, work still had to be done by the talented team at Surrey Opera to prepare Thelma for performance, notably the transcription of the original manuscripts and the adaptation of the libretto. The plot of Thelma was relatively uncomplicated to follow with the ample programme notes and surtitles to assist.

The excellent orchestra was conducted with flair by Jonathan Butcher. The minimalist set and lighting was highly effective and enhanced the mood. Indeed, the mist from the soldiers’ encampment in the first act wafted through the orchestra and reached some of the audience. The costumes looked the part, especially those of the undersea dwellers, the Necks, with their shell hats and seaweed robes that looked as if they had been shredded in the dreaded Maelstrom.

In keeping with Coleridge-Taylor’s other works, the music was rich in melody. There were several good solos and duets and one moving piece sung by the four lead characters. The choir and principals performed well. The audience gave more applause at the end for their favourite characters. But the music was the real winner.

All in all, Thelma was a splendid collaborative effort. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s home town did him proud.

Robert Eichert
17.02.2012

Other reviews of the premiere of Thelma, finally performed on 9-11 February 2012.  If you know of other reviews of Thelma, please do tell us via the Comments box below.  Thank you!

The Stage: http://www.thestage.co.uk/reviews/review.php/35207/thelma

The Guardian (Andrew Clements): http://www.guardian.co.uk/music/2012/feb/10/thelma-review

BBC Music Matters: http://www.bbc.co.uk/iplayer/episode/b01br0v6/Music_Matters_Richard_Goode_Szymanowski_Tribute/

Framescourer: http://framescourer.blogspot.com/

Sierra Express: http://www.sierraexpressmedia.com/archives/35002

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Notes: Tom Service of the Guardian writes on SC-T and Thelma

Tom Service of The Guardian has posted an article in his Classical Music blog, discussing the SC-T opera Thelma, to be premiered in Croydon today.
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Notes: Articles in anticipation of the premiere of ‘Thelma’, the opera

Media anticipation of the premiere (on 9 February 2012) of Coleridge-Taylor’s opera Thelma includes this range of articles and postings, as below.  Please share also any other articles about this premiere of which you know, via the Comments box which follows this list.  Thank you.

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Notes: ‘The Loves of Mars and Venus’ ballet music of 1717 – another ‘lost’ score refound

Evelyn Nallen writes: Next week in Cambridge is a concert of the music from the very first ballet, ‘The Loves of Mars and Venus’ (1717), which like ‘Thelma’ was thought to be lost.

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Notes: Radio 4 ‘Front Row’ discusses SC-T

Mike Somervell writes: Tonight coming home from work I heard the ‘Front Row’ trailer on Radio 4 which said it was discussing Samuel Coleridge-Taylor the musician………so naturally thought of you!  Follow this BBC iPlayer link for the Front Row SC-T piece. They talk about Coleridge-Taylor and about Thelma being performed in Croydon.

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Notes: Robert Eichert on children, education and Coleridge-Taylor

Robert Eichert writes:

I could not agree more about SC-T’s music telling a story and there can also be interesting background to the music. Obviously, there is Hiawatha, faithfully keeping to Longfellow’s epic poem about love and loss among native Americans.
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A radio programme-maker asks: Do you recall ‘Hiawatha’ at the Albert Hall, or elsewhere?

Native American dream catcherAndrew Green writes:
Can you help?   In this, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s centenary legacy year (2012), I’ll be fulfilling a long-held ambition to make a radio programme focusing on the famous Albert Hall ‘Hiawatha’ performances of the 1920s and 30s – the high-point in Coleridge-Taylor’s recognition as a composer of real worth.

My task now is to find as many people as I can with memories of these occasions – first-hand if at all possible, but second-hand will still be interesting (“My father used to tell me about going to the Albert Hall performances in great detail……” – the sort of stories Richard Gordon-Smith recalls here).
Can anyone help me to find these stories?

Equally, I’m keen to run to ground artefacts that will help bring the story alive. Is any of the scenery still around…..maybe a wigwam….maybe costumes, not least as worn by those famous so-named ‘Indian braves’!!!  And of course photos and newspaper cuttings can help as well.

Are there any memories out there of the performances which were taken outside London….in Scarborough and Sheffield, or wherever?

And a very long shot – who knows anything of productions outside the UK – in Australia, for example?

Anyone who’s been involved in concert performances of this music may have interesting things to say.

Lastly, I’m expecting to set the Albert Hall performances in the context of the huge general public interest in Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha well before and long after the Albert Hall productions:
Who remembers being made to recite or act out the verse when at school? Who knows of other music inspired by the poetry?

There must be many stories to be told. I look forward to hearing them! Thank you.
Andrew Green

Contact Andrew by email

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‘Thelma’, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s only full-length opera, performed at last

Thelma SCT opera premiere Feb 2012Jonathan Butcher writes: 
Up until 1900 Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (born in 1875) had had little to do with composing for the theatre. His main body of work was choral and orchestral and, of course, his most famous opus, and the one that catapulted him to fame more or less overnight, was his major oratorio, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, to words by Longfellow, a poem that Coleridge-Taylor had long admired. Sadly, although this was performed all over the world and for two weeks every summer for a good many years at the Royal Albert Hall (with its companion pieces The Death of Minnehaha and Hiawatha’s Departure), he made little or no money out of the work, because he sold it outright to Novello & Co. Ltd. – something he was to regret bitterly.

The great and revered actor/manager Herbert Beerbohm Tree engaged SC-T to write incidental music for one of his productions in 1900 – Herod, a play by Stephen Phillips. This happy association was to continue until SC-T’s untimely death in 1912 at the age of 37. His involvement with the theatre, with all its colourful characters, magic and intrigue, may well have been the very spark Coleridge-Taylor needed to spur him on to write his only full length opera, as, between 1907 and 1909, he was actively engaged in composing what we now believe he would have called, Thelma.

‘Thelma’, or ‘The Amulet’?
Had he lived longer Samuel may well have changed the title to The Amulet, an early consideration, but that can only be speculation. He may even have decided to incorporate it as an alternative title, in the way that Gilbert and Sullivan did with their operettas. The manuscript vocal score refers to its leading lady throughout as Freda and, at that stage in the work’s composition, SC-T may well have chosen the name to avoid any confusion with the famous novel, Thelma, by Marie Corelli, but when he got round to scoring the work, he only managed to write his libretto in the first few pages of the full score, probably due to lack of time. In many places, however, in the margins of the full score, our leading lady is referred to as Thelma.

Is this proof enough we say? Well no, not really, but in 1910 the New London Orchestra, under Landon Ronald, gave a performance of the Prelude to Thelma. So, my feeling is that this performance of the Prelude was a good opportunity to publicise the work and, in which case, why advertise it with an incorrect title? There is much speculation here and it will clearly continue. Some say that Thelma is a better word to sing than Freda – after all SC-T’s wife was a singer so he would have received pretty sound advice – or that Freda is a better title for a Nordic Saga, being a Scandinavian name, although SC-T did not spell in that way (Frida). The one thing that surely must be clear is the fact that had the opera reached the stage during the composer’s lifetime, a final decision about its title and any other musical or theatrical inconsistencies or errors would have been ironed out. This is standard practice with a new work.

A question of libretto
So why didn’t Thelma reach the stage and why have we had to wait so long for this to happen? In short – in C-T’s lifetime it was the fault of the work’s libretto and a libretto that he appears to have written himself. We have no evidence to suggest otherwise. Why SC-T should choose to write the text himself is very bemusing, as he is famously known to have loved good poetry and literature, but his attempt at an operatic libretto is, frankly, poor and some might say embarrassing. He took the work to the Carl Rosa Opera Company, in the hope that they would stage it, but they turned it down and it is thought that the weak libretto was to blame. Having said this, the plot is good and generally does all the right things. It includes the full range of voices and dramatically is very cohesive.

Thelma is a saga of deceit, magic, retribution and the triumph of love over evil, where two rival suitors, Eric and Carl, have to face the perils of the terrifying Maelström – a swirling ocean vortex – to retrieve a golden goblet, lost at sea when one of King Olaf’s (Thelma’s father) forbears was celebrating after winning a sea battle. Of course Thelma is in love with only one of the suitors and luckily the one that has a Godmother to protect him and who has magic powers – of course! However Carl does not play fair and the road to Thelma’s hand is not straightforward for Eric. Enough said, I think!

After Thelma was turned down by the Carl Rosa we can only imagine that SC-T returned home to Croydon, somewhat disgruntled, and put the score in the proverbial bottom drawer. Luckily he had produced a complete and, on the whole, readable vocal score and similarly a full score – both in three volumes, one for each act.

Samuel’s untimely death
Not long afterwards, on 1 September 1912, Coleridge-Taylor died, still a young man in his prime.  His widow Jessie (née Walmisley) tried to secure a government subvention to pay for a new libretto to be written for Thelma, but she was not succesful. She had hoped to engage the services of no less a person that Sir Richard Rodney Bennett’s father, but, as I say, it was not to be.

The various biographies of SC-T suggest that the manuscripts were lost, but this was not so and in fact in Avril Coleridge-Taylor’s biography she states only that Thelma is in manuscript, not lost, as other biographies do. This suggests that she had seen it or, perhaps, that it was even in her possession. Either way, in 1986 it was sold to the British Library, along with other SC-T manuscripts etc, by a Richard McNutt, who may well have been acting on Avril’s behalf. Avril, who was christened Gwendolen (but that’s another story!), was Samuel and Jessie Coleridge-Taylor’s daughter and a composer and conductor in her own right. They also had a son, Hiawatha, known as ‘Watha’, who was similarly a musician.

Locating ‘Thelma’
The problem in actually locating Thelma seems to have been that it was not very obviously catalogued, either in book form or, more recently, online (1999), so that when Catherine Carr, a doctoral student from Durham University, came down to London to do more thorough research, she was not expecting to come upon Thelma, but suddenly there it was in one of the boxes! Not in fact lost, but, shall we say, hidden!  Catherine’s doctorate is very extensive, as you would expect, and we owe her a great debt of gratitude for bringing the Thelma scores to our notice.

Had Catherine not done so the opera may have remained hidden for years. Having said this I should point out that Nicolas Bell at the British Library and, I assume, some of his colleagues past and present were aware that the manuscripts were housed at the Library but there seems to have been a misunderstanding over the cataloguing.

A more extended version of this article was first published in Opera magazine, January 2012.

The opera ‘Thelma’ will be performed on 9, 10 & 11 February 2012 in the Ashcroft Theatre of Fairfield Halls, Croydon, conducted by Jonathan Butcher.  Details of these performances are available here.

Contact Jonathan Butcher here.

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Notes: Andrew Tait on SCT Chamber Concert, 28 Jan 2012

Andrew Tait writes: I would like to bring to your attention some concert details for your list of events in this special year. Andrew Tait and Friends Saturday 28th Jan 2012
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‘Hiawatha’ at the Liverpool Philharmonic, 19 November 2011 (Culture Pod Visit)

Richard Gordon-Smith writes:

Philharmonic Hall, LiverpoolEvent 1 of the Curious Minds ‘Culture Pod’* A visit led, and here reported, by composer Richard Gordon-Smith, to hear the RLPO perform Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast.

The first Pod’s outing on our odyssey through the culture of creativity began at a restaurant, followed by a concert at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, where the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir and Orchestra under the baton of David Hill did justice to three late 19th Century works.  The concert began with Elgar’s inoffensive Wand of Youth Suite, in which he expands, at length, on music from his earliest writings.  The main piece on the programme was the mellifluous Faure Requiem which occupied the second half of the show.  The choral singing and orchestral playing were here exquisitely nuanced to bring out the full beauty of this masterpiece.  My main aim however in bringing the Pod to the concert was to introduce them to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s cantata Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast.

How easy it is to confuse in memory the quality of something witnessed in childhood with our own ability to comprehend it at the time!

Having first heard small sections of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s famous setting of Longfellow‘s poem on the radio, on 78 records or as brief snatches of song sung by my parents, for many years I mentally equated the work with Gilbert and Sullivan operetta or Cole Porter musicals – i.e. fun at the time, but not of serious musical significance.  It was some time in the early 1990s however, that I came across a complete recording of all three works of the Hiawatha trilogy (Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, The Death of Minnehaha and The Departure of Hiawatha) and at that point I realised why SC-T’s contemporaries thought so highly of him.  From 2001 onwards I was also lucky enough to conduct some of his works in the HOTFOOT Concerts at the Philharmonic given by the Hope Street Association**, when my respect for this modest genius rose immeasurably.

On the 19th November 2011 at the Liverpool Philharmonic we were captivated by the generous flood of melody sweeping over us, the driving force of the rhythms and the strikingly contemporary feel of Hiawatha.  Composers have different ways of unifying their compositions; a modern-day minimal composer may construct their work on one monolithic principal over endlessly repeated but gradually morphing patterns, whereas Beethoven built the Fifth Symphony from a single germ motif and in Bolero Ravel just repeated the same theme louder and louder by continually developing the orchestration.  Coleridge-Taylor creates unity by taking full advantage of Longfellow’s obsessive trochaic metre, setting it as a sustained paean of joy, hardly taking breath and carrying the listener along for half an hour of wild, sunny melody.

This young composer’s work must have seemed very refreshing and challenging  to his first audiences, though in genealogy it stems directly from the music of the British choral tradition and the German Romantics.  Of course the disruption to be caused by the serialism of the Second Viennese School under Schoenberg, Berg and Webern would soon erupt as they sought for ever more radical ways of constructing music, but until that time a ‘new voice’ was hailed in the form of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.  In this Centenary Year – 100 years from his sadly early death at the age of 37 – I am glad that on our first Culture Pod experience we were able to hear this excellent contribution to the celebrations in honour of the man who can rightly claim to be Britain’s first major black classical composer.

Footnotes


*Culture Pod is a group of creative advisors and practitioners who meet on a regular basis to sample, discuss and report on a variety of artistic/cultural experiences.  Each Pod Member in turn ‘curates’ (devises and leads) a cultural event which might take the form, as in this case, of a concert, or a play, a film, a dance, etc. related to their own field of practice.  The idea of Culture Pod grew out of a ‘think tank’ within the creative social enterprise company Curious Minds, who presently support our Pod.
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**Richard Gordon-Smith and his RLPO colleague violinist Martin Anthony (Tony) Burrage (who was on stage for this Hiawatha concert) have over the past decade and more explored many of the works of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, performing them annually for a dozen years until 2009 at the HOTFOOT on Hope Street community concerts devised and promoted by HOPES: The Hope Street Association.
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Details of Richard’s music and teaching can be found on his website: www.richardgordon-smith.co.uk

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Notes: Toby Lyles on William Grant Still WKCR-FM Concert

Toby Lyles writes: The music of composer William Grant Still was featured on the “Saturday Night at the Opera playlist of 01/21/2012” of Columbia University’s WKCR-FM. Still admired and was influenced by the works of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

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Events in 2012: the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor centenary legacy

2012 DiaryHere is the definitive list of SCT events for 2012!  We have established an Events calendar (or diary) as a special page on this website, on which we intend to list every event we know about, whether in the UK or elsewhere.  You may like to take a look here.

2012 marks one hundred years from when Samuel Coleridge-Taylor died, still a young man, on 1 September 1912.  This is, we therefore anticipate, the year in which many people in many different places will seek to acknowledge the unique imprint of Coleridge-Taylor’s life and works on British society and well beyond.

Please do send us details of your events – or of any other events of which you are aware – and we will ensure that these are listed on our Page, entirely without obligation and free of charge.

To assist everyone in notifying us of SCT events, we have created a ‘report form‘. Please just click on this link to send us your information, and we will do these rest.

We look forward to hearing from you about all the SCT activities you have planned. Thank you.

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Coleridge-Taylor’s ‘Christmas Overture’

Christmas tree decorationsLooking for five minutes of orchestral Christmas music which includes all the old favourite carols?  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Christmas Overture is probably just the ticket.

Amongst the easily recognisable Christmas carol themes encompassed in the Overture are God rest you merry gentlemen, Good King Wenceslas and Hark the herald angels sing.

Arranged by Sydney Baynes (best remembered for his Destiny Waltz) in 1925, some years after Coleridge-Taylor’s tragically early death, the music is thought to be derived from SC-T’s incidental music for The Forest of Wild Thyme op.74, a ‘charming poetical fairy drama’ for children by Alfred Noyes (and intended for production in 1910, but not then performed).

The score is available, e.g., from http://www.goodmusicpublishing.co.uk/info/default.aspx?id=GMCL166

You can listen to this work on The Night Before Christmas Naxos  and here: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=rWxa-tZdyLc

Reviews of the work and its recordings can be read here:

http://landofllostcontent.blogspot.com/2009/12/samuel-coleridge-taylor-christmas.html

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Queries: Limited instrumentation works by SCT?

I would love to be able to include at least one of Samuel Coleridge Taylor’s works in celebration of his centenary. The problem is that I am limited to a classical size orchestra (2222 4200, timps, strings).
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Notes: Luke Green on ‘By the Waters of Babylon’

Luke Green writes: My choir in Australia learned the beautiful ‘By the Waters of Babylon’ as an anthem. Really touching music.
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Notes: Cumbria Choral Initiative SCT Concert, 28 July 2012

On July 28th 2012 the Cumbria Choral Initiative is to perform the entire Song of Hiawatha as the opening concert for the Lake District Summer Music Festival in the Coronation Hall in Ulverston, Cumbria. We are excited about this project, designed to coincide with SCT’s centenary year.
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Notes: Chumki Banerjee on ‘discovering’ Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Chumki Banerjee writes about The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation: Uncovering long lost musical jewels, the quest continues

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SCTF hears ‘Hiawatha’ at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall (19 November 2011)

Sally Appleby & Tony Burrage

Sally Appleby, Tony Burrage

The opportunity to hear Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast played by the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra is not to be missed; so Saturday 19 November 2011 saw a gathering of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation enthusiasts in Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall for that very purpose.  Indeed, one or two stalwarts were even brave enough to sport the ‘Native American’ accoutrements by tradition associated with such an outing.

But of course it was not just for a good night out – fun though it was – that we met.  There is always plenty to talk about when SCTF people get together.  We have news to share and plans for the SCT centenary legacy year to take forward, as well as just getting to know each other better.  And some of us had travelled a fair distance, so before the concert we needed to eat – another chance to chat….

SCTF meet-up & concert, Liverpool HOST restaurant, Hope Street

SCTF meet-up & concert, Liverpool HOST restaurant, Hope Street

11.11.19 SCTF Robert Eichert, Richard Gordon-Smith & Chumki Banerjee with Jessie SCT's book Liverpool

Robert Eichert, Richard Gordon-Smith & Chumki Banerjee

….. and of course to talk about the music:

With colleagues from as far afield as Brighton, Croydon, London and Sheffield there were plenty of different experiences and views to share and ideas to develop.

Who knows as yet where the SCT quest may take us?  We hope to share historical and musical resources, put on and encourage events, make programmes, build connections and much else as our agenda moves forward.

But finally our own animated discussions were over and we moved on to congregate in the Philharmonic Hall Grand Foyer, where the buzz which precedes a great concert was palpable…

11.11.19 SCTF meet-up & concert, Liverpool

SCTF meet-up & concert, Liverpool

After the performance it can I think safely be said that everyone was glad they had been able to attend. We are grateful to the RLPS for very generously inviting us as their guests, and we are now even more convinced that the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor – performed on this occasion by the RLPO and the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Choir with tenor Thomas Randle and conductor David Hill – is well worth the very special efforts which some of those present had had to make to be with us.

11.11.19 SCTF meet-up & concert, Liverpool

SCTF meet-up & concert, Liverpool

Amongst those who attended were Sally Appleby, Chumki Banerjee, Hilary Burrage, Martin Anthony (Tony) Burrage, Catherine Carr, Robert Eichert, Richard Gordon-Smith, Bhavesh Hindocha, Geoff Johnson, John Peace and Sue Pomeroy. Also at the concert were members of the Liverpool Culture Pod, as reported by Richard Gordon-Smith in another blog on this website.  We hope this will be the first of many SCT events which we and others who couldn’t join us this time will together be able to enjoy.

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Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s early chamber works – discovering the Piano Quintet op.1

Tony Burrage (concert dress)

Tony Burrage

Ten years ago today (7 November 2001) was the first performance in living memory of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Piano Quintet, op.1.  The work was part of a lunchtime recital programme by players from the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra, from a score discovered and prepared from the original by Martin Anthony (‘Tony’) Burrage, an RLPO violonist, and director of Live-A-Music / Ensemble Liverpool, the chamber group which gave the concert.

This Liverpool Philharmonic recital was the culmination of work throughout the 1990s by Tony Burrage to identify and explore specifically the chamber music of Coleridge-Taylor and to consider it alongside some of his English-speaking (near) contemporaries.

Coleridge-Taylor’s early works were for chamber ensembles – probably the only performance forces available to him at the time. These works lay almost completely unacknowledged for the best part of a century. The Opus 1, or first formal work, Piano Quintet was resurrected from total obscurity by Martin Anthony (aka Tony) Burrage (a violin and piano graduate of the Royal Academy of Music and member of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra), as Director of Ensemble Liverpool / Live-A-Music. This ensemble recorded the Opus 1 Piano Quintet in 2001 at a concert on 7 November in Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall.

Also recorded at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall concert was Coleridge-Taylor’s 1895 Fantasiestucke op.5 for string quartet (first performed in modern times by Ensemble Liverpool / Live-A-Music, in 1993 to mark the Cornwallis initiative in Liverpool from a score also discovered by Tony Burrage, and originally published in 1921). The Opus 1 and Opus 5 pieces have also been performed elsewhere by Ensemble Liverpool / Live-A-Music, including during the 2002 Three Choirs Festival in Worcester, as part of the Ensemble’s Across the Divide programme of works by a diverse range of turn-of-the century English speaking composers: Amy Cheney Beach (1867-1944), Coleridge-Taylor himself, William Hurlstone (1876-1906), Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) and Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924).

[Copies of a 2001 live concert recording of some of Coleridge-Taylor’s chamber music can be accessed via the Royal College of Music (RCM) and the British Library.]

Coleridge-Taylor’s Piano Quintet and Fantasiestucke show the influence of Johannes Brahms (1833-97; his Clarinet Quintet was written in 1891) and Anton Dvorak (1841-1904; the American Quartet was composed in 1893), as well as his mentors, English composers Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) and Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934; the Serenade for Strings was written in 1892/3). Other English contemporaries of Coleridge-Taylor, with whom he may have been in touch, were Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), Gustav Holst (1874-1932), John Ireland (1879-1962) and Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953), as well as Coleridge-Taylor’s good friend and fellow student at the RCM, the tragically short-lived William Hurlstone (1876-1906).

The first ever public performance of the Piano Quintet Op. 1 was on 9 October 1893 in Croydon Public Hall, when the young composer himself played the piano part. (Other performers included a string quartet actually led by a woman, Jessie Grimace.) The concert came about as a result of Coleridge-Taylor’s newly acquired status as a Royal College of Music composition scholar.

This experience must have been a huge ordeal for the shy eighteen-year-old, as yet barely acquainted with the ways of the London conservatoires (it is said he hid from everyone immediately after the concert); but it was, in the words of the Croydon Advertiser, an ‘astonishing’ event which left no doubt about either the performing capability or, even more strikingly, the compositional talent, of the retiring young man who was able even so early to produce an entire concert of his own work.

The Opus 5 Fantasiestucke, composed just two years after the Piano Quintet, was first performed on 13 March 1895, at the Royal College of Music in London. The work, in five movements, is dedicated to Coleridge-Taylor’s composition teacher, (Sir) Charles Villiers Stanford. One tangible result for Coleridge-Taylor of this early performance was winning the Lesley Alexander prize for composition (£10, a very useful sum at that time for an impecunious student); and another was a ‘quite brilliant’ Spring report from his RCM teachers.

After his first engagement with chamber works – including the Clarinet Quintet, also of 1895 – Coleridge-Taylor veered towards wider forces and the more popular end of the musical spectrum, perhaps because of financial pressures.

We shall never know if, like some other composers, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor would have returned to the more intimate focus of the chamber ensemble in later maturity; but some performers of these early pieces like to think he would have done so.

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SCTF invites articles about Coleridge-Taylor’s US impact

Hands on keyboardThe Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation is inviting articles for publication on this website from historians, scholars and other commentators about the impact of SCT’s life and work in the United States, from the time of his visits until the present.

We are aware that this is an area of increasing interest, as more information has emerged about the direct and indirect ways in which Samuel Coleridge-Taylor has helped to shape developments in the USA, both in New York (especially Harlem) and Boston, and elsewhere.

We will be delighted to publish all appropriate submissions in this category on this website (www.sctf.org.uk) and we are hopeful also that a selection of what are deemed to be the most illuminating of these will also be distributed on one or more American websites.

Articles may be of any (website readable) length and should be written in an accessible style; references are welcome, but only when they illuminate the text substantively.  Illustrations and photographs are also welcome, with the proviso that in submitting them the author confirms that there is no copyright bar to their publication on the SCTF website.

Potential authors are invited to make contact with us via email here, to submit possible (ideas for) articles or to discuss their intended submission.

We would also very much welcome expert commentary and guidance on general aspects of this emerging field of study; in this instance please add your Comments in the response box below.

In either case, we look forward to hearing from you. Thank you.

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“I want to be nothing in the world except what I am – a musician.” (Discovering ‘Thelma’, Coleridge-Taylor’s only opera)

Catherine Carr

Catherine Carr

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s sole opera, Thelma (Op.72), was composed in 1907-09, but only in the past few years has it been given any serious consideration. Here Dr Catherine Carr recounts how she came to learn of the opera. She also shares some insights into the research she undertook to bring Thelma to life, and tells us about some of her many fascinating discoveries concerning this centrally important and hitherto neglected work….

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Recalling my Father’s reminiscences on Hiawatha

Richard Gordon-Smith writes:

Albert Memorial, Royal Albert HallMy father David Gordon-Smith* was born in 1915.  In the very class-conscious (by today’s standards) 1920s and ’30s my father’s parents would have been considered ‘lower middle class’.  Their cultural aspirations included occasional theatre and concert attendance, musical evenings in their home for friends, participation in amateur operatic performances and the acquisition of moderately good antiques.  Attendance at the Royal Albert Hall during the 1924-1939 period was probably not frequent, but Hiawatha was something that everyone went to, so they duly ‘feathered up’ with thousands of others to take the train from Brixton to Kensington.  1929 onwards was the time of the Great Depression and, as today, anyone with a job clung to it. Cheap, affordable entertainment on the spectacular scale of the annual Hiawatha fortnights were therefore greatly valued.

My father told of one such expedition and said that the performance reminded him more of a circus than a concert, with conductor (Sir) Malcolm Sargent as the ring master.  The audience, most of them in versions of Native American fancy dress – axes, bows and papooses included – joined in with some of the better-known numbers, which participation Sargent partially encouraged.

There was a charming naivety about the whole proceeding which would probably make us cringe now, but at that time audiences were in some ways less demanding than today – although greatly admiring Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’ music, they equated Hiawatha with Gilbert and Sullivan (‘G&S’) opera rather than Handel’s Messiah in the expected level of sophistication.  My father saw people actually dancing in the isles until asked to refrain.

What annoyed him later was that his parents had invited a large party of friends back to their house after the performance, where they continued to carouse, play the piano and sing SC-T and G&S numbers until the early hours of the morning.  He went to bed, having an exam the following morning, but his room was next to the lounge where the impromptu party was taking place but, even after the guests had come into his room and casually thrown their coats onto the bed where he was trying to sleep, renditions of ‘Onaway, awake beloved!’ kept this particular beloved from his dreams for most of the night.

I don’t know if any of this ramble through second-hand memories is of use, but I hope it gives you the rather jaundiced view of a young man of the time.  I feel my father, who died in 1991, sitting at my shoulder telling me I have rather over-embellished this account, so I had better end there!

*David Gordon-Smith was born in Brixton and claimed to be technically a Cockney, having been born ‘in sound of Bow Bells’.  Looking at the map, I should say that the wind would have to be in the right direction on an otherwise quiet day!  He moved to Croydon with his young family, including me, around 1950.  He was ordained fairly late, at the age of fifty, having previously had a career in advertising.  David Gordon-Smith was a curate in South Croydon, then Priest-in-Charge on the Isle of Dogs, before becoming Vicar of St Peter’s Church in Bethnal Green, East London.

>>  Do you have memories of Hiawatha events?  If so, we’d love you to share them in the Comments box below!

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Bringing Coleridge-Taylor’s scores to performance by ‘time-share’

SCT music scoreSamuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was, and remains, Britain’s greatest Black classical music composer.  He died however aged only 37, and until this last year there has been no formally constituted organisation to celebrate his legacy and take forward his reputation.  This is what the SCT Foundation, a Community Interest Company, seeks now to do.

September 1st 2012 marks the centenary of this composer’s death.  The SCTF is therefore already working to ensure that the 2012-13 concert season  includes as much of the music of Coleridge-Taylor as possible*.  (The full list of Works, comprising some 100 opus and un-numbered compositions, is available here on the SCTF website, under ‘Works‘.)

[ *NB 1 January 2013 is also the 150th anniversary of the Emancipation Declaration;
SCT was much involved in equal rights, as a founding member in 1900 of the Pan-African Congress.  SCT’s centenary year is of course also the year of the UK-based Olympics.]

We realise however that not all SCT’s music is well known; indeed, some of it has not been heard within living memory.  We hope therefore to ensure that the legacy centenary is used to best effect to bring Coleridge-Taylor’s important musical contribution to a wider audience.  Our particular focus at the moment is on two things:

Firstly, we hope to list on our website all performances of SCT’s music from now on; we are therefore keen to invite performers to notify us of all concerts (anywhere in the world) which include SCT’s work.

Secondly, we are conscious that not all SCT’s work is yet available, or even in a format which enables performance.  We have therefore developed an idea whereby ‘time share’ arrangements can be made for difficult-to-obtain (and realise) scores.  We would like to invite those with an interest in any particular pieces (which are not easily available) to indicate their interest, and we will try to introduce these people to each other, with a view to their sharing the costs of hopefully bringing the work to the concert platform.

This ‘introductions’ scheme will enable those involved – who may be UK-based, or perhaps based elsewhere in the world – to spread the risk of initial investment (re copyright, score preparation, printing etc) whilst also helping them where possible to use the realised scores for performance; and where there can only be one copy at present of the prepared work, those who have invested in its preparation will be able to ‘time share’ the work to perform it.  This idea is we feel in the ethos of the SCTF – ‘bringing people together through music’.

To enquire further, or to register an interest in specific works, please contact Hilary Burrage, the Executive Chair of SCTF on hilary.burrage@sctf.org.uk as soon as possible.

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Jeffrey Green: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a Musical Life

Jeffrey Green ~ Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a Musical LifeSamuel Coleridge-Taylor, a Musical Life is to be published in June/July 2011. It was written by historian Jeffrey Green.

Jeffrey Green tells SCTF that by using copious contemporary comments, different aspects of the composer have been documented. Green’s discoveries over the completion and premiere of Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast may surprise many.

The “first black” influence on Coleridge-Taylor, long stated to have been in 1896 through African American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar, has been dismissed as the poet was not in England until 1897, after the composer had published a poem celebrating the 50th anniversary of the independence of Liberia, West Africa.

Coleridge-Taylor’s African and English descent, his family upbringing in Croydon and the scholarship at the Royal College of Music (1893) have all been re-assessed and freshly documented. The composer’s financial contracts with publishers are contrasted to those of other composers, and his finances have also been examined through the Inland Revenue files on tax and inheritance.

The book takes a modern stance on musical analysis, leaving this to CD booklets, other commentators and the ears of the reader who can easily access much of Coleridge-Taylor’s music on CD.

The near-collapse of the music publishing industry in Edwardian Britain, Coleridge-Taylor’s several successful creations for the London stage, his associations with others of African descent in Britain and the USA, and his abilities as a conductor and judge are detailed.

This biography, published by Pickering and Chatto, is a social history told through the life of a composer whose creations gave much pleasure to many people – and still find audiences today.

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Patrick Meadows, publisher of SC-T scores: an interview with myself

Patrick Meadows writes:
Soundpost music publishing logoDuring  my tenure as Director Artístico of the Deià Festival in Mallorca between 1978 and 2008, every year, about the time the concerts were to begin, at least once and often several times, someone from the newspapers, radio, and TV requested an interview.  We were always grateful for the resultant publicity, but almost never were the questions asked truly relevant.

Please note (2017) that scores prepared by the late Patrick Meadows are now handled by Musica Mundana Musikverlag GmbH. The best way to contact them is probably via www.musica-mundana.com

One question which almost without fail was asked, for instance: “Isn’t classical music for an elite audience?”

The answer, of course, is yes; at least those who frequent such concerts consider themselves part of an “elite”, as do most of the musicians dedicated to classical music, and they are proud of their support of this vital art form.

Another FAQ: “Do any young people attend the concerts?”  The answer here is more complicated – Not as many as I would like, but yes, young people come to the concerts, especially when their friends or young artists are playing.

“Who attends the concerts – tourists from foreign countries?” was another.  Again the answer is yes, but the tourists who come do so because it is their custom at home, and they are happy to experience the great composers in the magical surroundings of Son Marroig.  Many of the tourists also come from peninsular Spain.

Almost never did the interviewer ask about the composers represented in the concerts.  In my view, the programming was the most interesting angle of the Festival.  I had several guidelines for choosing the artists – there were always more offers than it was possible to accept, even though the fees were not so great.  One such guideline was to insist that the artist should always include at least one composer from his native land.  That’s easy for a German or an Austrian, or even a French musician; but a Bulgarian, Pole, Mallorcan, Dutchman, or even a Briton had to make a real effort to come up with something from a compatriot.  In this way our programs were already significantly different from the average music festival.

Another method we used to enhance the programs and try to attract a different audience was to watch for promising young musicians, often prize winners just beginning their careers.

A third system was to look for combinations of instruments not so often found in established festivals: piano quintets, wind quintets, septets, octets, nonets, string quintets, for instance.

Of course, you would find the Beethoven Septet from time to time in other venues, or the Spohr Nonet, as well as the ubiquitous Schumann and Brahms piano quintets, and the numerous piano trios by the usual composers: Mozart, Mendelssohn, Brahms, et al.

In fact, if you left it to the visiting artists, you would hear only these composers, with maybe the occasional Shostakovitch or Dvorak.  And if as the organizer you must attend every concert, 15 or 20 each year, for 30 years, you might, as we did, begin searching for other pieces to mix into the repertoire, and try to convince the players to be a little more adventurous.

And here was the point of pride I always tried to get across to the interviewers, with very little success.  Most of these journalists knew very little about the subject.  They could have named the celebrities of the film industry, or sports, or pop music, but had little appreciation of the difference between a conventional classical evening in a conservative festival and an evening with composers they had never heard of – often they did not even know Debussy or Shostakovitch.

Little wonder, then, that when we had heard in Deià all the Beethoven cello sonatas and violin sonatas, all the major piano trios and piano quartets and piano quintets, as well as the central repertoire for various combinations of wind instruments, and began searching for alternative proposals for invited artists – little wonder, I repeat, that few of the interviewers picked up on the uniqueness obtaining in Deià.  The fact that here you would perhaps hear Romantic works contemporary with the greatly revered composers, and be wonderfully surprised by the discovery of other eloquent voices from the past gave a certain character to the Festival, and word got around.

Members of the public would ask where they could find other music by such composers as Glière, or Ries, or Onslow, and musicians sometimes added works to their repertoire which they would otherwise have overlooked.

This search was intensified in 1992 when I mentioned to an American friend that I would like to include some Romantic composers from the United States, and she sent me an article about the first concert in my native country of the States consisting entirely of American composers.  That concert took place in Cleveland, Ohio in 1884, according to the article.  I wrote to the Chamber of Commerce in that city, who sent my letter on to Case Hall, the venue of that concert, and they in turn passed the letter on to a librarian who miraculously found a copy of the original program.  She sent me a photocopy, and the chase was on.  Only one of the pieces was ever published, and here began the next and, for me, most thrilling episode of the Festival.  Tracking down the manuscripts of the Gilchrist Piano Trio in G Minor and the J. H. Beck String Quartet, the principal pieces on that day in 1884, required much persistence, but in 1984, one hundred years after that significant concert, we heard those in Son Marroig.

In the process, I learned there were hundreds of unpublished manuscripts held in the Philadelphia Logan Free Library, and made a pilgrimage to have a look for myself.  The greatest find was the chamber music and a remarkable cello concerto by Arthur Foote, which I have since published, but more than that, it made me aware that there could be other treasure troves in other libraries, and other countries.  Since then we have heard works by Alexis de Castillon, from Paris, Carlos Gomes from Brazil, and – wonder of wonders – a piece for 2 pianos by Franz Liszt, first played by Chopin and Liszt in Paris in 1834.  I have since published the Liszt and the Gomes, always for the same reason – to hear them in Deià.

Which leads me to the main point of this interview with myself.  Somewhere around the year 2000, looking for other groupings for winds and strings – everybody was playing the Spohr Nonet and the Beethoven Septet, I ran across mention of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Nonet.  The manuscript was in the Royal College of Music in London, where he’d studied for several years, and I received a photocopy of the manuscript.  In order to hear it, I made an edition, and in 2002 a local group of players performed the work in Son Marroig.

I put sample pages on my website, and one of the musicians who bought my edition informed me of several errors.  Thus began a long collaboration with Lionel Harrison, a pianist and composer living in London; he’s probably the person who knows more about Coleridge-Taylor than anyone else, or at least one of this composer’s greatest fans.  He owns every recording ever made of Coleridge-Taylor’s music, or so I believe.

After we published the Piano Quintet in G Minor – which had previously been unearthed in the RCM by Martin Anthony (Tony) Burrage and performed by him and RLPO colleagues at a public concert in Liverpool Philharmonic Hall, with a private recording, in 2001 – Lionel was to be influential in getting the Piano Quintet commercially recorded by the Nash Ensemble.

Soon we published the A minor Symphony from this Afro-English composer, and the Haytian Dances for string orchestra, a five movement version of his well-known Noveletten.

Lionel and I both had read Geoffrey Self’s The Hiawatha Man, a biography of Coleridge-Taylor, and lamented the lost string quartet and the Grand Opera Thelma, or the Amulet, finished in 1909 but never performed, declared lost in Self’s book and elsewhere.  The composer died in 1912, thirty-seven years old, never having heard this major work.

Then the grand surprise: Lionel, looking in the British Library‘s on-line catalogue for another work by Coleridge-Taylor, discovered the manuscript of Thelma!!  It had apparently been there all the time, if I understand correctly what Lionel told me.  We got copies and settled down to a couple of years’ labour of love.

Here I backtrack a little.  In 1988-1992 I helped establish an orchestra in the Spanish city of Granada.  It was then called the Orquesta de Cámara de la Ciudad de Granada, and now has become the Orquesta Filarmonica de Granada.  For the inaugural concert, the director and I wanted to present a new work written for the orchestra, as well as an earlier work by a Spanish composer which had never been recorded.  We commissioned a work by a composer from the city of Granada, and found a musicologist in Catalonia who had begun editing several early symphonies by one Carles Baguer, from the time of Haydn.  There were no playing parts for this piece, and I spent desperate weeks learning the Finale program for publishing music to produce a score and parts.  Since then I have spent nearly thirty years using the program on a daily basis, an almost obsessive activity demanding hours of the most intense concentration with a long learning curve, at least in my case.

In 2005 I lost my partner of 29 years and co-founder of the Deià Festival, a flautist and singer named Stephanie Shepard.  Since then more and more I work on scores.  I gave up the Festival, no fun without her, and dedicated myself almost exclusively to making editions of music which would otherwise not be available for performance.  And just in time; for many chamber groups and orchestras have begun looking for such music, partly due to the saturation of the grand classics already out there, and partly because there is a growing public for these alternative programs.

There are labels such as Sterling, CPO, and Naxos who are releasing works by such composers as Ferdinand Ries – a composer who studied with Beethoven, who himself had studied with Ries’ father – Heinrich von Herzogenberg, Swiss composer Schnyder, a “lost” piece by Paul Dukas, Philipp Scharwenka, the wonderful violin concerto by Frederic Cliffe, and so on.  Often there is no performance material, and they ask me to prepare it for them.

Thus what began as a drive to hear unusual pieces has led me into a niche market with a seemingly endless list of scores worthy of revival.

At this moment, the upcoming celebration of the hundredth anniversary of Coleridge-Taylor’s legacy is promising to bring his name to the fore.  Whereas in the past he was known principally for his early success, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, we will get to know his songs, his symphony, his remarkable chamber music, and finally in 2012 his opera, to be performed in London by the Pegasus Opera.  The composer only heard Thelma in his head, and I have heard it in the computerized playback, but soon a much larger public will be able to enjoy his greatest endeavor.

Already the Thelma tunes live again in my head, and in Lionel’s; now others will come to know them.  I’m sure Coley, as Lionel tells me he was known to his friends, would be very happy indeed.

Patrick Meadows can be contacted via his Soundpost website, where it is also possible to order Coleridge-Taylor (and other) scores.

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Coleridge-Taylor conducts his work in Liverpool (19 October 1908)

Coleridge-Taylor concert programme, Liverpool, 19 Oct. 1908 (detail)We have here photographs from an original published programme covering three concerts in the Fifth Season of the ‘Liverpool Symphony Orchestra Ltd’.  The second of these was a concert in the Sun Hall, Kensington, on Monday, 19 October 1908 commencing at 8 pm, the latter half of which was works by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, conducted by the composer himself.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in Liverpool 19.October.1908 Gentlemen (no Ladies) of the Liverpool Symphony OrchestraColeridge-Taylor’s work was already by 1908 known to Liverpool audiences. Parts of his Hiawatha Op.31 had been performed in the ‘old’ Philharmonic Hall (which was to be destroyed by fire in 1933). That concert series was promoted by the Liverpool Philharmonic Society.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in Liverpool 19 October 1908 front page of programme, with handwritten annotation that the concert of his works was conducted by Coleridge-Taylor himself

The entire programme comprised:
SCT in Liverpool 19 Oct.1908  Works performedIt is striking that this is a programme was performed in Sun Hall, Kensington by the (then) Liverpool Symphony Orchestra at much the same time as artists such as theba renown violinists Fritz Kreisler (on 31 October) and the then-still-teenage Joseph (Joska) Szigeti (on 12 November, along with the pianist Ferrucio Busoni and tenor John McCormack) were booked to play at the pre-war Philharmonic Hall in Hope Street.

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The case of the patched trousers: was Coleridge-Taylor impoverished as a student?

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (part) entry in 1955 Oxford Companion to MusicThere has been quite a debate about whether Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was, or was not, financially comfortable as a child and young man.  Jeffrey Green‘s  meticulous research, for instance, has established that Coleridge-Taylor’s grandfather / father-figure, Benjamin Holmans, was a man of significant wealth, having two electoral votes (as was then the rule) because he paid rent on two Croydon properties.

Nonetheless, there are still those who suppose that in his youth Samuel (‘Coleridge’, as he was then known) was by no means well off – albeit we see from his posthumous estate that later in his short life he acquired a more substantial financial status.

In such a context this entry [picture] in the 1955 edition of The Oxford Companion to Music is interesting.

Yes, we do have first to concede that there is in the non-PC text poetic licence in the account of how and why Samuel’s biological father was nowhere to be seen, but in 1955 such glossing over of illegitimacy and the like was not unusual.

What is more striking is the unsourced quote we see here about Coleridge-Taylor attending the Royal College of Music ‘with a large circular patch on his trousers’, this being cited as evidence of serious poverty.  One gathers trouser patches were not the norm at the RCM even back in the early 1890s.

So when and from where, we are left to wonder, did this quote emanate?  Does anyone know the source of the report? And why apparently was it felt at the time to be a significant observation?

How does this fit with the RCM sponsorship claimed in the OCM entry on behalf of Colonel Herbert Walters?

And how does it fit with Jeffrey Green’s report that the continued involvement of Alice’s mother Emily Ann Martin – according to Bill Greenwell probably the Holman’s housekeeper when the family had previously lived in Kent – was important? Emily continued to visit her daughter Alice (who later raised a family with George Evans) in Croydon into the 1900s, providing money whilst Benjamin Holmans (Snr), very likely Alice’s biological father, provided the home. This grandmaternal support was, Jeffrey Green tells us, crucial in Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s childhood.

Does then the OCM reference to patched trousers tell us that Samuel was less favourably treated as a family member, at least in cash terms, than others in his relatively comfortable home?  Or was there austerity in personal matters in that household as a general rule, perhaps to ensure the success of (the householder) Benjamin Holman’s business?

Or is there another explanation for the trouser patch report, even a romantic, possibly fictional, notion by someone of sacrifice for one’s art?

Maybe Samuel Coleridge-Taylor did for whatever reason experience poverty in his student days, but things improved quite shortly thereafter when paid work came his way as Hiawatha became popular.

But that’s only one suggestion.  Others seeing this entry in the 1955 edition of The Oxford Companion to Music may have different views about how accurate the report of the patched trousers is, and what it tells us…

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Engagement, Education And Enjoyment Together

Children in a music workshopQuite a lot of Coleridge-Taylor’s music tells a story, or refers to an interesting ‘real’ idea.  This music frequently employs attractive rhythms and lively tunes, as well as demonstrating very well the more formal aspects of composition.

Is there scope here for developing musical activities which offer both education and enjoyment, especially for those not overly familiar with ‘classical’ music as a genre?

And does the story of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, the man and activist for black people’s rights, also provide considerable scope for educational themes even beyond arts and music?

We hope you will join us in exploring how best to use the life and personal example of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in present-day educational environments.

If you have ideas, lesson plans, projects or other relevant material / proposals which you might share with us, please don’t hesitate to be in touch via our ‘Contact’ page.  We look forward to hearing from you.

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Working with Coleridge-Taylor’s Music in the ‘Community’

violins, white electric & brown woodAre there special ways in which the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor can be used to bring people together?

Does this depend on both the audience and the personal preferences of the performers, or should all music, regardless of the individual experience of the composer, be seen in the same way?

There is probably some resonance in the idea that SC-T’s music does appeal to some people in ‘community’ settings, who would not otherwise have an interest in ‘classical’ music.

So should musicians who would like to, use this special appeal to help to share classical music with others?

This question is also posted as a Discussion topic on the SCTF Forum, for further consideration.

(Please note that the first time you respond via the Forum you will need to register for a password – which you can then if you wish change to something you will easily remember.)

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The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Society in Croydon (1994-)

SC-T Newsletter 1999The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Society was inaugurated in Croydon in 1994.  It was founded (and then chaired) by Daniel Labonne, who at the time lived in that historic town, just south of London.

The SCT Society was active for some ten years, and it was Daniel Labonne who then offered the inspiration to set up the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation in 2010; we hope to build on the example which the SCT Society has set.

Your reminiscences and observations about the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Society and its programmes will be very welcome as a part of the history which we record on this website.  We’d also of course like to know about previous Coleridge-Taylor related performances, talks and the like which may have been given in Croydon or elsewhere.

Please do post your recollections (and information for our archive) in the Reply box below, or email them to us here.

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A Note On Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Early Work

Coleridge-Taylor’s early works were for chamber ensembles – probably the only performance forces available to him at the time. These works lay almost completely unacknowledged for the best part of a century. The Opus 1, or first formal work, Piano Quintet was resurrected from total obscurity by Martin Anthony (aka Tony) Burrage (a violin and piano graduate of the Royal Academy of Music and member of the Royal Liverpool Philharmonic Orchestra) who is Director of Ensemble Liverpool / Live-A-Music. This ensemble recorded the Opus 1 Piano Quintet in 2001 at a concert on 7 November 2001 in Liverpool’s Philharmonic Hall.

Also recorded at the Liverpool Philharmonic Hall concert was Coleridge-Taylor’s 1895 Fantasiestucke for string quartet (first performed in modern times by Ensemble Liverpool / Live-A-Music, in 1993 to mark the Cornwallis initiative in Liverpool from a score also discovered by Tony Burrage, and originally published in 1921). The Op. 1 and Op. 5 pieces have also been performed elsewhere by Ensemble Liverpool / Live-A-Music, including during the 2002 Three Choirs Festival in Worcester, as part of the Ensemble’s Across the Divide programme of works by a diverse range of turn-of-the century English speaking composers: Amy Cheney Beach (1867-1944), Coleridge-Taylor himself, William Hurlstone (1876-1906), Dame Ethel Smyth (1858-1944) and Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924).

[Copies of a 2001 live concert recording of some of Coleridge-Taylor’s chamber music can be accessed via the Royal College of Music (RCM) and the British Library.]

Coleridge-Taylor’s Piano Quintet and Fantasiestucke show the influence of Johannes Brahms (1833-97; his Clarinet Quintet was written in 1891) and Anton Dvorak (1841-1904; the American Quartet was composed in 1893), as well as his mentors, English composers Sir Charles Villiers Stanford (1852-1924) and Sir Edward Elgar (1857-1934; the Serenade for Strings was written in 1892/3). Other English contemporaries of Coleridge-Taylor, with whom he may have been in touch, were Ralph Vaughan Williams (1872-1958), Gustav Holst (1874-1932), John Ireland (1879-1962) and Sir Arnold Bax (1883-1953), as well as Coleridge-Taylor’s good friend and fellow student at the RCM, the tragically short-lived William Hurlstone (1876-1906).

The first ever public performance of the Piano Quintet Op. 1 was on 9 October 1893 in Croydon Public Hall, when the young composer himself played the piano part. (Other performers included a string quartet actually led by a woman, Jessie Grimace.) The concert came about as a result of Coleridge-Taylor’s newly acquired status as a Royal College of Music composition scholar.

This experience must have been a huge ordeal for the shy eighteen-year-old, as yet barely acquainted with the ways of the London conservatoires (it is said he hid from everyone immediately after the concert); but it was, in the words of the Croydon Advertiser, an ‘astonishing’ event which left no doubt about either the performing capability or, even more strikingly, the compositional talent, of the retiring young man who was able even so early to produce an entire concert of his own work.

The Opus 5 Fantasiestucke, composed just two years after the Piano Quintet, was first performed on 13 March 1895, at the Royal College of Music in London. The work, in five movements, is dedicated to Coleridge-Taylor’s composition teacher, (Sir) Charles Villiers Stanford. One tangible result for Coleridge-Taylor of this early performance was winning the Lesley Alexander prize for composition (£10, a very useful sum at that time for an impecunious student); and another was a ‘quite brilliant’ Spring report from his RCM teachers.

After his first engagement with chamber works – including the Clarinet Quintet, also of 1895 – Coleridge-Taylor veered towards wider forces and the more popular end of the musical spectrum, perhaps because of financial pressures.

We shall never know if, like some other composers, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor would have returned to the more intimate focus of the chamber ensemble in later maturity; but some performers of these early pieces like to think he would have done so.

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A Tribute To Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

 A Tribute to Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: CD cover of live recording, Liverpool Philharmonic Hall recital, 7 November 2001, by Ensemble Liverpool / Live-A-Music - Piano Quintet Op.1 & Fantasiestucke Op.5 The black British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875 – 1912) is known almost exclusively for his large-scale work, ‘Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast’. There is however much more to this fascinating man than just one work, including the story behind his very early chamber music works such as the Opus 1 Piano Quintet of 1893.

Life and art are intertwined in the biography of this gentle, committed advocate of equal rights who was also a hugely talented musician…..

If ever there was a tale to be told, this is it. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor lived only 37 years and is one of Britain’s best kept musical secrets. Black History Month, in October, will offer an opportunity to reveal more about the story behind the life of this remarkable man.

Samuel Coleridge (he named himself for the poet) was born in Holborn London on 15 August 1875, the dark-skinned son of Dr Daniel Taylor, a London-trained physician from Sierra Leone whom the child never saw, and of an abandoned English mother, Alice Hare, who later married a railway worker and with him struggled to support their family in Croydon. Samuel’s arrival was quite possibly out of wedlock – a shocking start in life in those unforgiving Victorian times. And yet, from this unpromising beginning, he was by the time of his death in 1912 a nationally feted figure, a composer, conductor and professor of music who travelled extensively, both within the United Kingdom and even, three times, to the United States.

A talent emerging
Samuel’s change in reputational (if not financial) fortunes began when he got to know a wealthy Croydon benefactor, Colonel Herbert Walters, who helped to pay for his childhood violin and piano lessons. The boy’s talent then took him at an early age to study performance and composition at the newly-established Royal College of Music in London, where by the age of eighteen in 1893 he had produed his first mature pieces, including the magnificent Opus 1 Piano Quintet*.

There were, as with every composer, many formative influences, but even from his earliest works Samuel Coleridge-Taylor showed an interesting combination of approaches to composition; he employed unusual time measures (5/4 at one point in the Fantasiestcke) whilst incorporating also into his music the sorts of melodies and harmonies which he, though never having heard them at first hand for himself, believed might be found in his black (‘Anglo-African’) cultural heritage. This later resulted in several works such as the African Suite with its Danse Negre, as well as his Negro Melodies and much else.

Slavery, inequality and widening experience
Given Coleridge-Taylor’s personal family history, and his concerns throughout adulthood with slavery, inequality and injustice, it is telling that the Hiawatha trilogy, his best-known composition, relates the story of an Amerindian child raised by his grandmother who, as an adult, seeks out his father before leading his people forward courageously, making prophesies about the future of his race and the arrival of the white man.

Indeed, by 1900 and at the age of just 25, Coleridge-Taylor was reflecting art in life, as an elected representative to the great 1900 Pan-African Conference in London, which publicised the plight of African peoples throughout the British Empire. By then too his professional career was taking wings, and he was for some years the protégé of amongst others Sir Edward Elgar, as well as his original musical mentor, the first Principal of the Royal College of Music, Sir George Grove, and the composition professor, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford.

Samuel was never to become wealthy – which, there being no Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation to promote his work after his death, meant his music was effectively lost for many years. But as the composer developed in adulthood as a musician and as a man, he commanded huge respect across the very broad spectrum of his friends and colleagues.

Mature work
By his death in 1912 Coleridge-Taylor had produced well over one hundred works, but it was his early extended choral trilogy, Scenes from the Song of Hiawatha, composed between 1898 and 1900, which brought him to the public eye. For many years even after his death this piece was performed annually at the Royal Albert Hall, in elaborate costume with processions and much theatre.

Other music by Coleridge-Taylor included many interesting and varied works, including several operas (A Tale of Old Japan springs tantalisingly to mind), chamber works (mostly from earlier in his career) and a Violin Concerto only recently recorded after many years of neglect, sometimes by those who should have known better. Slowly however there has been a re-emergence of his music, as manuscripts are rediscovered and if necessary edited into performable scores. The annual HOTFOOT concert of HOPES: The Hope Street Association in Liverpool has since 1996 presented a considerable number of Coleridge-Taylor pieces, including excerpts from Hiawatha, the African Suite, the Romance for Violin and Orchestra, the Petite Suite de Concert and the Ballet Suite.

For several years around the Millennium these and other performances of Coleridge-Taylor’s music were encouraged by Daniel Labonne, who chaired the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Society.

Visits to the United States of America
Coleridge-Taylor carried out a large number of appointments as conductor or adjudicator at festivals and competitions, constantly travelling around Britain and beyond, and visited the United States three times, in 1904, 1906 qnd 1910 (probably departing from Liverpool; he knew John Archer of Liverpool, who was later to become the first black British mayor, in Battersea, and whose portrait is now in Liverpool Town Hall).

One interesting aspect of these travels is that Coleridge-Taylor is thought on occasion to have sent his manuscripts ahead, and there is a suspicion that his very early String Quartet, now lost, may have gone down with the Titanic.

Whilst in America Coleridge-Taylor conducted many of his own works, often performed by black musicians whose recent family history included slavery and oppression (at one point he refused to return to the USA until he had assurances that his singers, if not players, would be black people). During all his visits he was received as a great celebrity, eventually conducting the New York Philharmonic Orchestra as the only black person present.

Because of this travel a considerable amount of Coleridge-Taylor’s music is to be found in repositories such as the Free Library of Philadelphia, rather than all at the Royal College of Music or elsewhere in Britain.. Coleridge-Taylor remains to this day a role model in the United States, with music societies and schools named after him.

A premature end
In 1912, after twelve years of happily married life (to Jessie Walmisley, another pianist) and fatherhood (his two children, Hiawatha and Gwendolyn, both also became musicians) but also of hard-pressed poverty, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor died of pneumonia, a condition which previous good health – or antibiotics, had they been available then – would simply have seen him indisposed for a week or two.

And so, in his prime (who knows what other music he might have produced, given time?), died a thoroughly decent man, much loved and respected across the nation, and an inspirational musician…..

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The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation CIC

SCTF-incorporatedSamuel Coleridge-Taylor (15 August 1875 – 1 September 1912) is acknowledged as the greatest Black British composer of ‘classical’ music, his best-known work being Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast; but there were many other facets also to the achievements of this important musician and humanitarian.

The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation has therefore been registered  from 21 September 2010, as a limited Community Interest Company (Certificate of Incorporation No. 7383078)  to bring people together through music, and to celebrate this composer’s life, work and legacy.

The objects of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation, which is a not-for-profit limited company, are:

to promote the work of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and to encourage interest and involvement in classical music using his life and work as an example of excellence in achievement and in overcoming adversity.

The SCTF origins
The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation has been set up with active support from the Liverpool-based charity HOPES: The Hope Street Association which, with Live-A-Music and its recital partner Ensemble Liverpool, has been researching and bringing to performance the work of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor for the past two decades.

The impetus for the Foundation’s development has been the specific request of Daniel Labonne (pictured, left), the Founder-Chair of the original Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Society in Coleridge-Taylor’s home town of Croydon, who is still very much in contact with us at SCTF.

From the past to the present
Whilst the language of the SCTF objects may sound formal, or even quaint, the intent behind them is very much of the here and now. Our intention is to use music, as Coleridge-Taylor himself did, to bring people together, and, e.g., to share and promote his music for others to enjoy.

No doubt part of this aim will be to encourage more performances of the core repertoire, such as Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast – hopefully to be again performed by people of all sorts, as in times past (especially in the inter-war years) when this work was produced annually in many parts of Britain and beyond.

But we also intend to continue the exploration, with all others (if they wish) who are currently active in this field – or who would now like to become involved – of the lesser-known works, both large-scale choral and orchestral, and the (mostly early) chamber compositions.

An example and a date to look towards
And alongside all this, the SCTF will seek to learn more from the personal example of Coleridge-Taylor, a founding member in 1900 of the (London-based) Pan-African Conference and an unwaveringly decent human being who lived his life, sometimes against the odds, according to his belief that there is hope, and good, in all of us.

Saturday 1 September 2012 will see the centenary of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s tragically early death, from exhaustion and pneumonia. Whilst this loss, when he was aged just 37, is deeply saddening on both a human and a musical level, we hope the Coleridge-Taylor centenary will encourage us to look beyond that, to the celebration of the life and work of this composer, bringing better recognition to a musician and humanitarian who already has his place amongst the 100 Great Black Britons.

Making progress, now
If you would like to be part of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Foundation’s future, with absolutely no obligation beyond whatever connection you choose to make, please just say the word.

You can email to make contact with us here.

We look forward very much to collaborating with you in promoting the legacy of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

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2012 Is The Centenary Of Coleridge-Taylor’s Legacy.

Detail-of-SCTs-grave-from-photograph-in-Jessie-Coleridge-Taylors-bookSamuel Coleridge-Taylor died on 1 September 1912. He was just 37 years old.

2012 is therefore the centenary of the legacy of this important musician, a man who made his mark not only in music, but also as an example in his time of decency and fairness in the way in which he saw and responded to the issues of the day.

There will be many, in Coleridge-Taylor’s home town of Croydon, in the world of ‘classical’ music, and in the wider community of the United Kingdom, the United States and numerous other places, who will wish to celebrate the legacy of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, as a man and as a musician, at this time.

Growing awareness
The interest in Coleridge-Taylor’s life and work is growing, as realisation of his contribution to musical and civic affairs grows.

We will seek to reflect this growing interest and understanding and we hope you will send us News to report and share here.

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