You know how when I get hyper-focused on finishing a writing project, I push everything else aside and work only on that? Sure you do! I spent the bulk of this week’s leisure and writing time on finishing second-round edits on The Savior Worlds (The Song of Forgotten Stars, book 4), but I got that done last night, so at long last let’s turn to the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.
Coleridge-Taylor was English by birth, and he was mixed race: his mother was a white Englishwoman, and his father was a Sierra Leone Creole physician. Coleridge-Taylor quickly achieved success as a musician and was one of the more popular composers of his day. Musicians in New York even referred to him as the “Black Mahler,” so successful was his brand of late Romanticism. Coleridge-Taylor’s most famous works are a trio of cantatas he composed based on Longfellow’s Song of Hiawatha, and the most successful of those was Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, a work which would have made Coleridge-Taylor a very wealthy man had he not sold the rights for 15 guineas in a moment of financial need. Coleridge-Taylor was far from the only composer to make this mistake; Sergei Rachmaninov would have been extremely wealthy had he retained the rights to his Prelude in C-sharp minor. Alas, the artist must often be concerned with the here and now at the expense of the future, and financial distress may well have contributed to Coleridge-Taylor’s ill health that led to his early death when he was just 37.
A year after the trio of cantatas was complete, Coleridge-Taylor added an overture, which we hear today. It is a thrilling, brooding, and lyrical piece of late Romanticism, most reminiscent of Antonin Dvorak in its melodic feel and its enticing energy. Coleridge-Taylor, as an Englishman, was primarily influenced by the music coming from the continent and not from the early threads that would become jazz in America. He belongs to a tradition that was already shifting in new directions, and one wonders what he might have done had he lived to see the dawning of Modernism.
Here is the Hiawatha Overture by Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.