Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

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 one hundred compositions in his short life—he died at age thirty-seven 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.

Additional Resources

Did you know?

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s music was so popular in the U.S. that it inspired an African-American group of singers to form the Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society in Washington, D.C., which invited him twice to the U.S. to conduct his own works.

Video Recordings

Soprano Estelí Gomez and pianist Anthony Padilla perform Coleridge-Taylor's "This is the Island of Gardens," from Songs of Sun and Shade (1911). The performance comes from Finding Refuge: A Concert of Songs for the Times, presented by the Brownsville Society for the Performing Arts on March 30, 2021.
Soprano Margot Rood, contralto Emily Marvosh, and pianist Julia Scott Carey perform Coleridge-Taylor's "Oh, the Summer" (1911).

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