- Born August 15, 1875, in London
- Died September 1, 1912, in London
- Composed in 1893
- First CMS performance on October 18, 2022, by the musicians on this program
- Duration: 27 minutes
On September 2, 1912, The Times in London ran the obituary for Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. It read, in part: “We regret to announce that Mr. Coleridge-Taylor, the composer, died yesterday. . . He left his home Wednesday afternoon, intending to visit the Crystal Palace, but was taken ill near West Croydon Railway Station and fell. Recovering sufficiently to return home by tram, he at once went to bed and a doctor who was called stated that he was suffering from influenza. Pneumonia supervened and Mr. Coleridge-Taylor died at 6 o’clock last evening. The sudden death of Mr. Coleridge-Taylor at the age of 37 will be felt as a serious loss by all who are interested in musical matters.”
The son of an African doctor and an Englishwoman, Coleridge-Taylor showed an early talent for music as both a violinist and composer. His first work was published when he was only 16 years old, and his first symphony was written four years later. He went on to study at the Royal College of Music with renowned professor Charles Villiers Stanford, alongside his contemporaries and classmates Ralph Vaughan Williams and Gustav Holst (whom Coleridge-Taylor had beat out for a scholarship).
Success came swiftly for Coleridge-Taylor in the days immediately following his graduation. In 1898 he was commissioned by the Three Choirs Festival on Edward Elgar’s recommendation, the result of which was the secular cantata Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast, based on the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It became a hit on the scale of Handel’s Messiah. Multiple trips to the United States soon followed in 1904, 1906, and 1910, during which he was invited to visit President Roosevelt at the White House and embarked on multi-city tours across the United States, conducting his own works and performing alongside African-American musicians and composers such as Henry Thacker Burleigh. Upon returning to England, Coleridge-Taylor enjoyed a thriving career as a conductor and teacher, and wrote hundreds of works before his premature death.
The Quintet for Piano and Strings comes from Coleridge-Taylor’s student days, during a time when he was particularly focused on chamber music. The work is one of singular grandeur and elegance, showcasing the astonishing sophistication of the teenage Coleridge-Taylor and rivaling pieces by composers twice his age. From the dramatic opening block chords in the first movement the music quickly shifts gears to its sweeping primary theme. Each transition between sections is managed effortlessly with a near-Mozartian ease. The second movement is a jewel box of sparkling melancholy melody; undulating rhythmic patterns and syncopations contrasted with a dance-like middle section propel the third movement forward. A flourish ushers in the fourth and final movement, which features a fugal section that begins in the strings before dropping out to frame the solo statement of the fugue theme in the piano. The subsequent return of the primary theme brings the work toward its conclusion.