Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was an acclaimed British conductor and composer. The son of an Englishwoman and a man from Sierra Leone, he showed great musical talent as a child; he learned violin and piano from his father and started singing in a church choir when he was only ten years old. At fifteen, he entered the Royal College of Music in London (Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughan Williams were friends and fellow students).
Coleridge-Taylor’s fame rests largely on Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, a choral cantata that he wrote in 1898 and later joined with two other cantatas into The Song of Hiawatha, op. 30. Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast was premiered at the Royal College of Music in 1898 and was an instant sensation; the English composer Hubert Parry called the performance “one of the most remarkable events in modern English musical history.” But Coleridge-Taylor produced many other works besides this. He wrote nearly 100 compositions in his short life—he died at age 37 of pneumonia, brought on in part by overwork—and his output includes an opera, a symphony, a violin concerto, orchestral suites, theatre scores, chamber music, and many extraordinary songs.
Coleridge-Taylor achieved considerable success in his lifetime. He was invited three times to the U.S. to conduct his own works and on one visit was even welcomed at the White House by Teddy Roosevelt. His music, however, fell into obscurity after his death. Recent years have seen renewed interest in his life and work, but more performances and analyses of his music are sorely needed. The same is true of the music by his daughter, Avril Coleridge-Taylor (1903–1998), who was not only a composer but also a soprano, pianist, conductor, and elocutionist—and who will be featured in a future post on this site.
- Self, Geoffrey. The Hiawatha Man: The Life and Work of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Aldershot: Ashgate, 1995.
- Thompson, Jewell Taylor. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: The Development of His Compositional Style. Meuthen, N.J.: Scarecrow Press, 1994.
- Goodall, Howard. “Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.” BBC Radio 4, Great Lives podcast episode. October 21, 2005.
- Heart & Hereafter: Collected Songs of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Elizabeth Llewellyn, soprano, and Simon Lepper, piano. Orchid Classics ORC100164, 2021, compact disc.