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Happy Birthday Samuel Coleridge-Taylor!

British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born on August 15th in 1875. One of the more popular composers in England and the United States during the turn of the 20th century, he composed many works for choir, piano, and larger instrumental ensembles; however, his works are seldom performed today.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was born in London to Englishwoman Alice Hare Martin and Dr. Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor, a man of Creole descent from Sierra Leone. He was raised in Croydon, Surrey, in a home containing many family musicians. In 1890, at age 15, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor began studies at the Royal College of Music. Originally studying the violin, he switched to composition under the tutelage of Charles Villiers Stanford. He then went on to become a professional musician, both teaching music at the Crystal Palace School of Music and conducting the orchestra at the Croydon Conservatoire.

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, photograph taken in 1901 by Henry John Kempsell (1867-1925).

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, photograph taken in 1901 by Henry John Kempsell (1867-1925).  This photo shared from the National Archives, UK, and is in the public domain. 

By the late 1890’s, his composition garnered wider appreciation, and after his Ballade in A minor was performed at the Three Choirs Festival (thanks in part to the lobbying efforts of Edward Elgar) his works became commonplace concert repertoire. One of his most famous works, the cantata Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, based on poetry by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, became one of the most popular choral works of its time in England, rivaled only by Mendelssohn’s Elijah and Handel’s Messiah. During this time, he went on tour in America three times, where he was met with praise and admiration for his compositions. He was so popular, even two public schools in the United States (one in Louisville, Kentucky, and one in Baltimore, Maryland) were named after him.

However, his popularity did not translate to wealth, as the composer had sold the publishing rights (and therefore the royalties) for some of his most famous pieces, including Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast. He died of pneumonia at the young age of 37, which has sometimes been attributed to the stress he was under due to his financial situation. Below you will find the pieces in the NLS Music Collection composed by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

Viking Song (BRM04048)
Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast (BRM04030)
The Death of Minnehaha (BRM03754)

On-away, awake, beloved!, for tenor (from Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast) (BRM03960)
Life and Death, for medium voice (BRM09478)
Willow Song, for voice (BRM11418)
Eleanor, for voice in C (BRM01988)
Viking Song, for soprano and alto duet (BRM02821)
Oh, the Summer, for soprano and alto duet (BRM02820)

Petite Suite de Concert (BRM05722)
Le Caprice de Nanette (BRM07388)
Un Sonnet d’amour (BRM07387)

Othello Suite (BRM02480)

4 African Dances (arranged for the Piano), op. 58
– No. 1 (BRM23416)
– No. 2 (BRM06082)

Three Dream Dances (BRM09099)
Deep River, op. 59 no. 10 (BRM08220)
Moorish Dance, op. 55 (BRM35846)
Four Characteristic Waltzes, op. 22 (BRM01197)
Scenes from an Imaginary Ballet, op. 74 (BRM23951)

Please contact the Music Section if you’d like these pieces, or have any questions about other materials in the collection!

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