Wednesday, May 15, 2013

An English composer who burned out too soon...

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was one of England's most promising composers. Born in London in 1875 his remarkable musical talent emerged very quickly, the violin becoming his main instrument as a child. While a student at the Royal College of Music in London he began composing works that to this day are regarded as beautiful and skillful compositions. Having already caught the attention of composers such as Sullivan and Stanford his big break came when the composer Elgar began supporting his talent, convincing the Three Choirs Festival to commission the young composer. Coleridge-Taylor went on to achieve enormous popularity in the UK for his series of 3 cantatas, 'The Song of Hiawatha' (a setting of Longfellow's poem) while at the same time writing music for the concert hall and theater, and becoming a professor of composition at London's Trinity College of Music and Guildhall School of Music.

Yet he never had the chance to fully develop his remarkable talent. He died tragically young from pneumonia complicated by exhaustion from overwork, at the age of just 37. In the last months of his life he had completed a violin concerto which he never lived to hear, and which showed a new maturity and sense of expression in his style which was never fulfilled. His early death was a huge loss to the musical life of Great Britain, and a potentially important voice had been silenced at a crucial time in classical music as the philosophy of Schoenbergian theory, which would eventually destroy the careers of many composers with outlooks similar to Coleridge-Taylor's, was beginning to emerge.

Despite Coleridge-Taylor's enormous popularity in Britain (for many years hardly a school or college missed the opportunity of performing his Song of Hiawatha) his talent is still undervalued today, with many of his works still awaiting their first recordings. Coleridge-Taylor himself made very little money from his success, having sold the royalty of his Hiawatha trilogy to his publishers for a small one-off payment. The circumstances of his death, leaving behind an impoverished family (for whom King George V took the unusual step of awarding an annual pension) contributed greatly to the subsequent adoption of a system of royalties for composers in the UK.

A short tribute to the English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) with contributions from his daughter, Avril Coleridge-Taylor (recorded in 1974), and excerpts from Hiawatha's Wedding-Feast, The Death of Minnehaha and the Violin Concerto, Op.80.

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