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Centennial Celebration of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Oct. 5-6 festival showcases Afro-British Composer’s Music and Life

During his short career as a composer, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor produced dynamic works that were performed far and wide. His star was rising in the classical music world when a bout with pneumonia took his life at 37. Despite his premature passing, he left behind an impressive collection of compositions that continues to inspire both musicians and audiences.

“He was pretty much a ‘rock star’ in his day,” said John Snyder, professor of music theory in the Moores School of Music. “He was revered as a composer and was an icon for people of color.”

The Moores School of Music (MSM) will pay tribute Oct. 5- 6 to the influential composer with “Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: A Centennial Celebration,” a festival and concert marking a century since his death on September 1, 1912.

The concert will showcase a musical collaboration between the Symphony Orchestra and Concert Chorale of the Moores School and the Prairie View A&M University Concert Chorale.

“His work is very melodious, and he was an incredible orchestrator” Dr. Snyder said. “He also was very clever with rhythms. These performances provide great opportunities for Houstonians to revisit his work and learn more about this wonderful composer.”

Coleridge-Taylor was born in 1875 in London to an English mother and a father from the British colony of Sierra Leone on the XX coast of Africa. His father was educated in England, studied medicine and qualified at age 25 as a member of the Royal College of Surgeons, according to Jeffrey Green, author of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, a Musical Life (Pickering & Chatto Publishers, 2011.)

Coleridge-Taylor was raised by his mother and maternal grandfather in Croydon, England his biographer writes. He studied violin and composition at the Royal College of Music and taught at the Crystal Palace School of Music.

Among his iconic works is the cantata “Hiawatha’s Wedding-feast.” This particular piece was so popular that he composed two accompanying works “The Death of Minnehaha” and “Hiawatha’s Departure.” This trilogy became his hallmark and was performed regularly on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. His other popular works include “Piano Quintet in G Minor,” “Nonet in F Minor” and “Symphony in A Minor.”

In the early 20th century, his work influenced the creation of the 200-member chorus, The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Society, in Washington, D.C. Other vocal groups around the globe have been formed in his honor including a Houston-based chorus that existed in the 1930s. Coleridge-Taylor following in the United States grew during and after three national tours. During his last U.S. trip, he conducted the New York Philharmonic. His impact in America contributed to the founding of two schools named for him in Louisville, Ky., and Baltimore.

The festival begins on Friday, Oct. 5 with 2 p.m. panel discussion detailing Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s life, influences and work led by Dr. Snyder. The panelists are Green, the most recent Coleridge-Taylor biographer; Dr. Yvonne Kendall, Professor of Music at University of Houston-Downtown; and Dr. Earl L. Stewart, Associate Professor of Black Studies at the University of California, Santa Barbara.

Performance details are as follows:

  • 7:30 p.m., Oct. 5 – Moores School faculty will perform a recital of songs, piano and chamber music. Performers include soprano Cynthia Clayton, mezzo-soprano Melanie Sonnenberg, baritone Timothy Jones and pianist Nancy Weems.
  • 7:30 p.m., Oct. 6 – Performers include the Moores Symphony Orchestra with conductor Franz Krager, the Moores Concert Chorale directed by Betsy Weber, Prairie View A&M University Concert Chorale directed by A. Jan Taylor, violinist Andrzej Grabiec and guest tenor soloist Zachary Averyt.

Tickets for this event are $17 and $12 for students and seniors. For more information on tickets, contact the Moores box office at 713-743-3009, or visit the MSM website.

~ Mike Emery