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Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875–1912)
Coleridge-Taylor was born in Holborn, London, in 1875, the illegitimate son of an English mother and a father, a doctor of Creole descent, who returned to his native Sierra Leone before his child was born. Raised in Croydon by his mother and her own father, the young Samuel was a chorister at St George’s Presbyterian Church, and it was here perhaps that he first encountered the organ. It was his prowess as a violinist and composer, however, which secured him a place at the Royal College of Music in 1890. At the College he was taught composition by Sir Charles Villiers Stanford, winning an open scholarship for his efforts in 1893. Thereafter, his music received frequent public performances, attracting the attention of no less a figure than Sir Edward Elgar, who referred to him as ‘far and away the cleverest fellow amongst the young men’.
Although educated firmly in the European classical tradition, from the late 1890s Coleridge-Taylor became increasingly interested in the music associated with his natural father’s race and heritage. Having heard the Jubilee Singers of Fisk University, Nashville, performing in London he began collecting African-American melodies for use in his compositions, and his output thereafter generally displayed to a greater or lesser extent the influence of their folk idioms. These included an extensive use of offbeat rhythms, rich and colourful chromatic harmony, and textures frequently alternating between solo lines with accompaniment and more solid chordal passages.