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The Composer

The Composer  

Samuel Coleridge Taylor was born in London in 1875, the son of a doctor from Sierra Leone and an English mother. He became a brilliant musician and composer, best known for Hiawatha's Wedding Feast.

Coleridge Taylor showed signs of a great musical talent at an early age and entered the Royal College of Music in 1890. Originally intending to become a violinist, he also studied composition under Sir Charles Stanford who is said to have remarked that he had more talent in his little finger than his fellow students had in their entire bodies.

Samuel Coleridge Taylor  -  link to an enlarged version



Leaving the Royal College of Music in 1897, Coleridge Taylor married Jessie Fleetwood in 1899 and became both the conductor at the Handel Society and Professor of Composition at Trinity College, London. He composed without using a piano, putting together the whole score in his heart and mind. The crowning achievement of his career was the trilogy - Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, The Death of Minehaha and Hiawatha's Departure - to which part of Longfellow's poem was set. This work was first performed in stages between 1898 and 1901. Coleridge Taylor published 59 works in total.


1901 Census entry for Samuel Coleridge Taylor and family -  link to an enlarged version

Although he never visited his father's native land, he was greatly interested in African music and in political issues concerning black people. In 1900, Coleridge Taylor helped organise the international Pan-Africanist Conference in London, at which, in the words of its chairman, 'for the first time in the history of the world black men had gathered together from all parts of the globe with the object of discussing and improving the condition of the black race'. Together with Duse Mohammed, he founded a London pan-Africanist newspaper, The African and Orient Review. In the early 1900s, he toured in the USA where his work was also greatly appreciated; an all-black Coleridge Taylor Musical Society was set up in Washington.

Coleridge Taylor died of pneumonia in 1912 in his 38th year, survived by his wife, a son (named Hiawatha) and a daughter. His achievements were all the more impressive considering that, in the England of 1901, black people were widely caricatured in the press, literature, music and in the popular imagination.

For more on Samuel Coleridge Taylor, follow this link to link to a www siteChannel 4's Black History website.

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