Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was an English composer of mixed European and African descent who achieved such success that he was once called the "African Mahler".

By 1896, Coleridge-Taylor had earned a reputation as a composer. He was later helped by Edward Elgar, who recommended him to the Three Choirs Festival. His Ballade in A minor was premiered there. His early work was also guided by the influential music editor and critic August Jaeger of music publisher Novello; he told Elgar that Taylor was "a genius".

On the strength of Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, which was conducted by Stanford at its 1898 premiere and proved to be highly popular, Coleridge-Taylor made three tours of the United States. In 1904, he was received by President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House, a rare honour in those days for a man of African descent. Coleridge-Taylor sought to do for traditional African music what Johannes Brahms did for Hungarian music and Antoní­n DvoÅ™ák for Bohemian music. Having met the African-American poet Paul Laurence Dunbar in London, Taylor set some of his poems to music. A joint recital between Taylor and Dunbar was arranged in London, under the patronage of US Ambassador John Milton Hay.

Coleridge-Taylor's greatest success was undoubtedly his cantata Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, which was widely performed by choral groups in England during Coleridge-Taylor's lifetime and in the decades after his death. Its popularity was rivalled only by the choral standards Handel's Messiah and Mendelssohn's Elijah. The composer soon followed Hiawatha's Wedding Feast with two other cantatas about Hiawatha, The Death of Minnehaha and Hiawatha's Departure; all three were published together, along with an Overture, as The Song of Hiawatha, Op. 30. The tremendously popular Hiawatha seasons at the Royal Albert Hall, which continued till 1939, were conducted by Sargent and involved hundreds of choristers, and scenery covering the organ loft. Hiawatha's Wedding Feast is still occasionally revived.

Coleridge-Taylor also composed chamber music, anthems, and the African Dances for violin, among other works. The Petite Suite de Concert is still regularly played. He set one poem by his near-namesake Samuel Taylor Coleridge, The Legend of Kubla Khan.