Long-forgotten English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor makes comeback in world’s biggest classical music survey
2 April 2021, 10:22
A neglected 20th century Anglo-African composer makes his first appearance in the Classic FM Hall of Fame.
Brilliant English composer Samuel Coleridge Taylor, once hailed by 20th-century critics as a “musical genius”, has made his first-ever appearance in the Classic FM Hall of Fame, the world’s biggest survey of classical music tastes.
His moving ‘Deep River’, originally scored for solo piano, appears at No. 293 in this year’s countdown. This year, more than 52,000 people across the UK voted for their 300 favourite pieces of music.
Coleridge-Taylor’s piece is a transcription of an anonymous African American spiritual, whose melody draws inspiration from the original song lyrics (‘Deep river, my home is over Jordan; Deep river, Lord, I want to cross over into campground’).
The composer took the song and transcribed it in a Brahmsian style for the piano, as part of his 24 Negro Melodies series of works.
“What Brahms has done for the Hungarian folk music, Dvořák for the Bohemian, and Grieg for the Norwegian, I have tried to do for these Negro Melodies,” Coleridge-Taylor once said of the collection.
Read more: 9 Black composers who changed the course of classical music history >
Born in Holborn in 1875 to an English mother and a father originally from Sierra Leone, Coleridge-Taylor worked with the starry likes of Elgar and Stanford, and once met President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House.
A progressive writer of his time, Coleridge-Taylor’s compositions wove together western classical instrumentation with traditional African sounds, and were deeply popular with many African American music lovers.
‘Deep River’ was recently rediscovered by the three eldest Kanneh-Mason siblings, cellist Sheku, pianist Isata and violinist Braimah, who arranged the beautiful melody for piano trio.
Coleridge-Taylor died tragically at just 37, before he could reach his full musical potential. But the melodies he did write during his relatively short life – from The Song of Hiawatha to his African Suite – are being recognised today as an important part of the classical canon.
Listen to the Classic FM Hall of Fame 2021 from 9am Good Friday to 9pm Easter Monday on Global Player, the official Classic FM app.