SAMUEL COLERIDGE-TAYLOR
(1875-1912)

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, an English composer and conductor born to a British mother and Creole father from Sierra Leone, had ancestral ties to African-American slaves who went on to become Black Loyalists during the American Revolution. His grandfather bought him a violin in 1881, and the next year Samuel was noted by a music teacher, Joseph Beckwith, who gave him lessons for the next eight years. Later Samuel would return the favor by teaching Beckwith’s son. Samuel married Jessie Walmisley, a fellow student from the Royal College of Music, in 1899, despite objections by her parents on account of Samuel’s multi-racial lineage. At the wedding he encountered more than a few smug, racist remarks, including several by the clergyman. In the first decade of the 20th century, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor became increasingly aware of his African roots and became more assertive about the casual racism he witnessed in his daily life. He was the youngest delegate at the First Pan-African Conference in 1900, through which he met Paul Laurence Dunbar and W.E.B. Du Bois. His relationship with Dunbar eventually led to him setting some of Dunbar’s poetry to music. Samuel had a son named Hiawatha and a daughter Avril, who grew up to excel as a pianist, conductor, and composer. Often passing as white due to her ancestry being predominantly so, Avril was frequently allowed to work in capacities that were off-limits to most Black artists. However, she moved to South Africa in the 1950s, and when the government found out about her father's race, she was no longer permitted to work in her craft. Samuel Coleridge-Taylor died in 1912 at the age of 37 from pneumonia, and allegedly overwork, and was survived by his wife and two children. In his Violin Sonata in D Minor, published in 1917, the first movement opens fairly melancholically, transitioning into a sweetly singing and reminiscent line, which turns more rambunctious and playful, but only briefly, then moving between characters with boldness. The piece is romantic in style, no doubt, though it also contains elements that call to fiddle traditions of the time, such as the sustaining of an open string alongside a melodic line, as well as the treatment of rhythm and double-stops on the violin. -- By Emily Singleton