Have you ever wondered what makes a piece distinctively Russian? Or distinctively Spanish, or Hungarian, or American?
Up until the 19th century Western Classical music had largely been dictated by musical standards set in German, French and Italian traditions.
However, in the mid-late 1800s, there was a nationalist movement in music across Europe and Russia, and composers began to look closer to home for musical inspiration. They began to revitalise folk songs and musical ideas and motifs associated with their nation’s people and history.
In the UK, the revival of British music was attributed to the likes of Elgar, Vaughan Williams, Parry and Stanford.
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was a British composer who lived at the tail end of this nationalist movement. He was mixed race – his mother was British and his father was descended from African-American slaves, who later re-settled in Sierra Leone.
Coleridge-Taylor was encouraged by his friends and contemporaries to draw on his ancestry, and to celebrate the music of Africans and African Americans. He succeeded in doing this in 1904 with his work 24 Negro Melodies.
Feel free to follow along to the sheet music here.
from 24 Negro Melodies Op. 59 No.10
“What Brahms has done for the Hungarian folk-music, Dvorak for the Bohemian, and Grieg for the Norwegian, I have tried to do for these Negro Melodies.” – S. Coleridge-Taylor
Deep River is a spiritual song of African-American origin, and like many spirituals, survives today thanks to the oral tradition of song. Coleridge-Taylor used this spiritual as the basis of this composition. Deep River is No.10 of his collection of 24 Negro Melodies.
Who was Samuel Coleridge-Taylor?
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was an English composer of mixed race. He was brought up in Croydon and from an early age he showed great musical ability. He studied at the Royal College of Music, initially focusing on violin, before changing to composition. He studied under Charles Villiers Stanford (whose most famous pieces are sacred choral works composed in the Anglican tradition). Coleridge-Taylor’s peers included English composers Gustav Holst and Ralph Vaughn Williams.
A few weeks ago Imogen shared her Grade 2 piece Dusty Blue. Today she is playing Arabesque by Burgmuller. She has been working really hard this term. I’m so happy I still get to teach her over Skype as she never fails to make me laugh and smile! We hope you enjoy her performance!
Calling all subscribers, if you would like to share your playing please let me know. I’d love to feature it here.