African-American composer honored
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was a man who defied societal conventions and rose to prominence at the turn of the 20th century.
After 100 years of his untimely passing at age 37, music faculty and students from the Moores Symphony Orchestra and Concert Chorale and Prairie View A&M University’s Concert Chorale on Friday and Saturday evening at the Moores Opera House to pay homage to his music.
John Snyder, professor of music theory at the Moores School of Music and chair of this weekend’s festivities, summed up the legacy of the composer at a preview lecture Friday evening.
“A name not well-known in English music, he would surpass (Edward) Elgar — not an easy feat,” Snyder said. “(Coleridge) was an icon in the African-American community because he made it big — he composed, he got things published, he taught and he conducted.”
Friday’s program consisted of Coleridge’s smaller works, beginning with three selections from his voice composition, “6 Sorrow Songs,” performed by Timothy Jones on bass-baritone and accompanied by Katherine Ciscon on piano.
The night ended with selections from a piano composition, “24 Negro Melodies,” by pianist Nancy Weems.
Saturday’s performance by the Moores Symphony Orchestra consisted of Coleridge’s “Ballade in A Minor, Op. 33” and “Concerto in G Minor for Violin and Orchestra, Op. 80.”
Members of the orchestra had nothing but praise for his music.
“This is the first time I’ve heard his music, and it’s a pleasant mix of classical composition styles. A lot of it is up-tempo, really energetic and a lot of his melodies and harmonies are warm and pleasant,” said Leah Cables, percussionist and performance graduate student.
“Whether it’s major or minor, it’s beautiful music. It’s a nice blend of pretty, classical music with an exciting flare.”
Coleridge emerged during a transition in music at the end of the Romantic period that began during the 1810s and ended shortly after his death in 1912, just before Neoclassicism would emerge between the world wars.
“He had a lot of influence from (Czech composer Antonín) Dvorak, who at the time was trying to stray away from (Johannes) Brahms, which is a bit esoteric for music terms,” said vocal performance junior Alyssa Weathersby.
“He was a different flavor of English composer. He picked a very American topic with ‘Hiawatha,’ which debuted at the Royal Music Academy.”
Coleridge’s opus, “Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, Op. 30, No. 1,” the event’s finale, is based on Canto XI of William Wordsworth Longfellow’s poem, “Song of Hiawatha,” which was composed for tenor solo, chorus and orchestra.
Perhaps the reason his name faded from the annals of time had to do with the world war that exploded two years later or the sweeping changes in music that would see the rise of modernism compete with the rebirth of classicism between the world wars.
Regardless of the reason, he was not forgotten over the weekend in the Moores Opera House.