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.

About Lionel Harrison

I'm a retired civil servant who, before setting out on a career of public duty, took a B. Mus. degree at Edinburgh University. I always kept my musical hand in by playing chamber music (which I still do although not in public!) and doing a spot of conducting, including as MD of operatic societies and choirs. I became hooked on the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in the late 1970s when someone asked me to conduct a performance of Hiawatha's Wedding Feast. Since I retired, I have worked closely with Patrick Meadows in producing editions of the chamber music, the Symphony and, of course, Thelma (although our publishing activities haven't been restricted to SCT's works, as a glance at Patrick's Soundpost website will show).
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3 Responses to Keep Me From Sinking Down – insights into a new transcription

  1. “Keep Me from Sinking Down” was performed at Washtenaw Community College (Ann Arbor, Michigan) on December 4th, 2011 by the Ypsilanti Symphony conducted by Adam Riccinto, with the solo part taken by me. This was likely the first performance since its1912 premiere. I have a copy of a copyist’s score of the work, and a copy of Coleridge-Taylor’s manuscript piano score; both were obtained and given to me by William Thomas of the Coleridge Ensemble. He acquired them in the course of the extensive Coleridge-Taylor research done by him in the 90’s that led to his production of the world premiere recordings of the composer’s Nonet, Fantasiestücke, and Five Negro Folksongs for Piano Trio. In 1996 (in the hope of bringing it to performance) I used those materials to create a new full score and parts with Finale, and that is what we used for our performance. Is there actually a score in Coleridge-Taylor’s hand?

    Thanks for all your incredible work in bringing Coleridge-Taylor’s music back to public attention!

  2. John McLaughlin Williams says:

    This evening I’m playing C-T’s Romance, and also Keep Me From Sinking Down in New York City. Details here.–coleridge-taylor.html

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