Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Remembered

By - Monday 10th December, 2012

Croydon celebrates its greatest composer

This month sees the final events of Croydon’s Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Centenary Festival. Coleridge is Croydon’s best known composer. Born in 1875, he died on 1 September 1912 a few days after collapsing at West Croydon Station.  The music world lost a talented composer, teacher, conductor and Festivals adjudicator, who had a major following among the British public because of his Song of Hiawatha which became a favourite with choirs and remained so through the inter-war period, and was revived for several years after the Second World War. Britain also lost its most publicly known black personality and the growing black rights movement a strong supporter.

This year’s Croydon Festival was put together by a Committee led by Jonathan Butcher as Artistic Director who is Director of Surrey Opera based in Clyde Rd. It had the support as Vice-Presidents of leading composers and musicians and local MPs Gavin Barwell and the late Malcolm Wicks. A wide range of Coleridge’s music (orchestral, choral, song, chamber) was performed, including the world premiere of his opera Thelma (by Surrey Opera). The Committee has received no major funding, and despite its positive contribution to the image of Croydon minimal support from the Council.

  • A Gala evening on 15 December St. John the Evangelist Church in Upper Norwood starting at 7.30pm will feature his Violin Concerto in G minor op. 80, Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast and Ballad in A minor. The violinist is Sam(uel) Staples, the tenor soloist is Stephen Anthony Brown. Jonathan will conduct the Westminster Philharmonic Orchestra.  
  • Starting at noon on 30 December there will be an event centred around the placing of a plaque on Coleridge’s  last house Aldwick in St. Leonard’s Rd, Waddon. The partners involved in this event are the owner of the house, the Festival Committee, Surrey Opera, the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Network, and Nubian Jak Community Trust which erects plaques to famous black Londoners.

It has been a very busy and exciting year, and despite the lack of any official funding, a wide range of events have been organised, which have won many fans to the composer’s music and encouraged an interest in his life and numerous musical activities. Particular thanks must go to:

  • Jonathan, whose drive has ensured the success of the year long programme of events
  • The Festival Committee – led by Chairman, Stephen Harrow
  • Walton Shooter, who has liaised with the Sierra Leone community and the SL High Commission here in London. Walton has also taken charge of the Box Office at many of the Festival events
  • The Committee and members of Surrey Opera, who have enthusiastically supported Jonathan and the Festival in numerous practical ways
  • Jeff Green, SC-T’s most recent biographer, through talks and writings
  • Fred Scott, Croydon piano teacher and Soundpractice agency, who has ensured that SC-T’s music was included in several concerts at Fairfield Halls, and arranged that the musical Song of the World by Stella Coussell was performed at the Ashcroft Theatre last month

Jeff and Fred are founder members of the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Network which has promoted the commemoration, including the Croydon Festival and events elsewhere. Jeff’s pamphlet Coleridge-Taylor: A Centenary Celebration is published by Norbury based History & Social Action Publications.

There have, of course, been many events organised by others outside Croydon, including talks by Black British Music expert Kwaku of the SC-T Collective, an exhibition at the National Portrait Gallery, and a commemorative event at the Victoria & Albert Museum. There have been many concerts either devoted to his music or in which his music has been included.

The year has, inevitably, had some disappointments: The Three Choirs Festival, which had originally commissioned an early work from Coleridge,  could have included more than just his  Clarinet Quintet and his Petite Suite de Concert. However they are ‘putting the record straight’ next year by programming the entire Song of Hiawatha! The BBC Proms are possibly the most guilty as they only included one extract from The Death of Minnehaha, in a concert really devoted to celebrating Desert Island Discs! Shame on them! But BBC Radio fared rather better, when SC-T was featured as Composer of the Week on BBC Radio 3, which included a number of specially recorded choral items sung by the BBC Singers. There was also a splendid programme devised and presented by Andrew Green – Sumptuous was the Feast – all about the phenomenon that was SC-T’s The Song of Hiawatha which culminated with the epic Albert Hall performances in the 1920s and 30s!

The Festival organisers and the Network hope that interest in Coleridge’s  music will continue to grow as people realise the range and styles of his compositions. So this does not mean that attention to him will die.

  • Soundpractice is arranging another performance of  Song for the World next year, and will make a video with excerpts of the show aimed at primary schools
  • The National Portrait Gallery is running a special session for visually impaired people on the portrait of Coleridge as a boy on 28 February next year
  • He will feature in activities around the 100th Anniversary of his Black British friend John Archer’s election as Mayor of Battersea in November 2013

The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Network will continue to provide and promote events like the Festival and more information can be found here.

Sean Creighton

Sean Creighton

A former employee of and freelance project worker with community and voluntary organisations, Sean is active with Croydon Assembly and with the Planning and Transport Committee of the Love Norbury group of residents associations. He is Chair of the Norbury Community Land Trust. He is a historian of Croydon and South-West London, British black society, social action and the labour movement. He coordinates the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and Croydon Radical History networks. He runs blog sites covering Croydon, Norbury and history events, issues and news. He runs a small scale publishing imprint called History & Social Action Publications. He gives talks on a range of history topics and leads history walks.

More Posts - Website