Saturday, September 01, 2012

SAMUEL COLERIDGE-TAYLOR died on 1 September 1912, aged 37

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's short life ended exactly a century ago today. Half British, half African (his father was a doctor from Sierra Leone), he grew up in Croydon - and died there too, of pneumonia exacerbated by overwork and exhaustion. Having had no notion of how popular his oratorio Hiawatha would become, he'd accepted a small flat fee for its publication and saw no financial benefit from its hundreds of performances. His story helped to inspire the creation of the PRS - but for him it was too late.

Had he lived, and emigrated to America, he might have become the international star he deserved to be - though there he was celebrated enough to be dubbed 'the black Mahler'. As things are, his fans still struggle to keep his memory alive.

Long-time JDCMB readers may remember this:

But slowly, bit by bit, the recognition is arriving. The British Library has an online gallery devoted to him, which you can view here. Charles Elford has written a touching, fictionalised account of SCT's life, entitled Black Mahler and aficionados may also be interested to track down the volume, available at various libraries, by the composer's daughter, Avril. Apart from this, there isn't a great deal of literature about him. He had a short life and spent most of it struggling for survival, fighting the prejudice that dogged his every move, and ultimately working himself to death. His story came to its tragic conclusion almost before it had a chance to begin.

NB [UPDATE]: I fear some readers have been confusing Samuel Coleridge-Taylor with Samuel Taylor Coleridge. While his parents may have named the British-African composer in honour of his eminent forerunner, this has nevertheless been a problem for a long time. So, just to clarify:

SAMUEL TAYLOR COLERIDGE: 1772-1834. English poet, critic and philosopher, author of The Rime of the Ancient Mariner, amongst much else. (Fact: he attended, uh, Jesus College Cambridge, where he appears to have had a nervous breakdown.)

SAMUEL COLERIDGE-TAYLOR: 1875-1912. British-African composer, counting the cantata Hiawatha among his greatest achievements...see above... This one is our anniversary man today.

Now, ANOTHER UPDATE, Sunday 2 Sept, lunchtime: Hilary Burrage has more about Samuel Coleridge-Taylor in The Huffington Post (thanks for alerting us to this in the Comments, Hilary!). Read it here.

Last but by no means least, here's an extract from a US documentary in the making, apparently due out next March.