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Spotlight on Classical Organ Music Composed by those of African Descent (Part 2 of 4)

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  • Spotlight on Classical Organ Music Composed by those of African Descent (Part 2 of 4)

    Dear People (as the conductor Robert Shaw would begin his addresses),

    This week's post was difficult to write from the standpoint of gathering information to distill into five points. The historical and musicological understanding of this week's composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), is largely in its infancy. He died terribly young, and lived in a time of casual racism and patronizatiion (very clearly reflected in the sources that I consulted that were contemporaneous with his lifetime).

    It's not all doom and gloom, however. There are some dissertations being written about him, and there have been efforts to get his music more widely played. Calliope, a musical organization in Boston, put in his nearly-forgotten Endymion's Dream, and Chineke! Orchestra of recent BBC fame endeavors to play one of his pieces every season.

    Facts about Samuel Taylor-Coleridge
    1. Samuel Taylor-Coleridge's claim to fame is his choral-orchestral The Song of Hiawatha, a trilogy consisting of Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, The Death of Minnehaha, and Hiawatha's Departure. The first of these won him praise from the "old heads" of music in England. The text comes from Longfellow's work of the same name. Coleridge-Taylor named his son Hiawatha in admiration of the eponymous Indian chief.
    2. Coleridge-Taylor's earliest recognition as a composer came by way of a scheduling conflict: Elgar, having been commissioned to compose a work for the 1898 Three Choirs Festival, found that he had overbooked himself. He asked the organizers to work with Coleridge-Taylor instead, and called him "far and away the cleverest fellow going amongst the younger men." The result of that commission was the Ballade in A minor.
    3. Coleridge-Taylor, in addition to his son Hiawatha, had a daughter named Avril. Like Imogen Holst, Avril Coleridge-Taylor followed in her father's footsteps and became a notable composer-conductor.
    4. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was a student of the famed organist/composer/pedagogue Charles Villiers Stanford. Stanford was one third of the triumvirate responsible for the musical renaissance in the UK (Parry and Mackenzie being the other two), and personally taught many in the 'modern' English school of composition.
    The music

    I offer to readers this week Coleridge-Taylor's Impromptu No. 1 from Op. 78 -- Three Impromptus. This is a rather late set of pieces in the composer's output, as I believe the opus numbers for his catalogue go only up to 82. I won't say much about the piece, as I'd like for you to listen and draw your own conclusions. I will say, however, that it is compositionally quite different from the organ works that his teacher and many of the European organ composers of the era were putting out.

    Coleridge-Taylor didn't put much out specifically for the organ--six pieces I believe--but Hull (who wrote a very solid book on organ playing to which I still refer on occasion) arranged a few others for the instrument.

    For more information...

    As I mentioned earlier, there is not a wealth of information on Samuel Coleridge-Taylor yet, or at least there is not in forms that could be easily accessible by most members of the forum (RILM, Grove's, etc.). I would recommend this video of Avril Coleridge-Taylor talking about her father, as well as the standard Wikipedia article.

    If you want a sense of what I was talking about in terms of casual racism and the like, you may reference the contemporary articles on the composer through Google Books.
    Last edited by DEWII; 02-09-2019, 06:29 AM.

  • #2
    Fascinating, thank you!


    • #3
      I wanted to "dig out" this thread - last week I received both op 78, the three Impromptus, and a collection of "Three short pieces" for the organ. All great stuff, and worth having a closer look! I'm thinking about including the impromptu no. 3 in my next recital which is planned for mid-September.


      • DEWII
        DEWII commented
        Editing a comment
        I'm glad that this has been of use to you I would love to be able to hear your recital.