Sunday, 15 November 2015

Black Victorians - Samuel Coleridge Taylor

Not the poet who wrote Kubla Khan, but a composer, named after the poet.

He was born in London in 1876. His mother Alice Hare Martin was white, and English. His father was from Sierra Leone, Dr Daniel Peter Hughes Taylor, but they weren't married, and Dr Taylor went back to Sierra Leone without knowing Alice was pregnant. She named her baby after the poet.
Alice's brother was a professional musician, and Samuel studied the violin at the Royal College of Music. He later taught at the Crystal Palace School of Music and conducted the Croyden Conservatoire. He married a fellow student at the Royal College of Music, Jessie Walmisley, though her parents objected because he was of mixed race. Together they had a son called Hiawatha, after the famous poem, and a daughter called Gwendolyn who became a conductor/composer in her own right.
One of his great successes as a composer was the music Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, hence the name of his son. However, he got no royalties from the music, as he had sold it outright for 15 guineas. Musicians concerned about his young family after his death used this example as one of the cases that led to the formation of the Performing Rights Society.
He was helped by Elgar, who recommended him to the Three Choirs Festival, and also made three tours of the United States. He was even invited to visit Theodore Roosevelt at the White House in 1904.
He wanted to do for traditional African music what Brahms did for Hungarian music and Dvorak did for Bohemian music. It seemed the future was bright for him, but sadly he collapsed at Croyden railway station and died just a few days later, of pneumonia, aged only 37.

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