Wednesday, July 12, 2017

HIAWATHA in CHICAGO
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor's "Hiawatha's Wedding Feast," his once world-famous cantata, returns to the Windy City in November 2017.

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Samuel Coleridge-Taylor as a young man.
BACKSTORY
by David Katz, founding music director and principal conductor
of the Chicago Bar Association Symphony


Anglo-African composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was black—his mother was English, his father from Sierra Leone—the first classical composer of African descent to be recognized internationally for his music.

Coleridge-Taylor achieved fame overnight with the premiere of Hiawatha's Wedding Feast, his setting of lines from Longfellow's epic poem, The Song of Hiawatha, which premiered at the Royal College of Music in November 1898, when the composer was just 22 years old. Hiawatha proved a sensation, was soon performed hundreds of times, selling hundreds of thousands of copies across the globe.

Because of the success his Hiawatha cantata garnered for him, Coleridge-Taylor toured the U.S. three times, meeting President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House and conducting the work in many places, including St. Louis, Detroit, Pittsburgh, Milwaukee, Boston, Washington, and in Chicago.

Racial prejudice being what it was (and sometimes, unfortunately, still is) it is perhaps not surprising that the music of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor disappeared into the void in the years following his early death at the age of 37. But for a time, during the first decades of the last century, as the article on Wikipedia states, "Hiawatha's Wedding Feast became so famous in Britain that for many years it rivaled Handel's Messiah and Mendelssohn's Elijah in the public's affections."

The composer in his studio
Thirty-five years ago, I conducted the first Hartford performance of Hiawatha's Wedding Feast heard in that city in fifty years. The moment seems right for this charming, tuneful, gentle and fragrantly themed choral-orchestral work to again be heard live in Chicago, where I hope it will capture some of the excitement and joy the work once generated in a very different time. I am proud that the CBASO and CBA Chorus, joined by a tenor soloist selected from The American Prize, will be the ones to present its latest revival, and it is my plan for us to work with colleagues from the Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College to bring additional attention and additional scholarship to our performance of the music of this unjustly forgotten composer.

On our November concert, I will pair Hiawatha's Wedding Feast with Dvorak's New World Symphony.

On Coleridige-Taylor's headstone near London are inscribed these words by poet (and the composer's close friend) Albert Noyes: Too young to die, his great simplicity, his happy courage in an alien world, his gentleness, made all that knew him love him.

I hope, after our encounter with his music, both audience and musicians will discover we feel the same way.

***

A short documentary about the composer on You Tube, narrated by his daughter and including excerpts from the cantata: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FsYU8WfmIoA

The Wikipedia Article: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/The_Song_of_Hiawatha_(Coleridge-Taylor)#Background

A good recent performance on YouTube: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Yr1sdM67oH8
(The recording includes all of the cantatas that make up SCT's "Song of Hiawatha." Hiawatha's Wedding Feast is first, running about 30 minutes.)

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