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A salad-days genius

The violin concerto by
Samuel Coleridge-Taylor -
reviewed by

'... a clean-cut precision throughout the work ...'

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Violin Concerto; Antonin Dvorák: Violin Concerto. Philippe Graffin. © 2004 Johannesburg Philharmonic Orchestra

Coleridge-Taylor's was an extraordinary career. A contemporary of Holst and Vaughan Williams at the Royal College, largely approved by Stanford, recommended to Joachim, given a leg-up by Elgar, he was a celebrity with Hiawatha before reaching twenty-five. Jaeger at Novello said Hiawatha was their most successful investment since Elijah, and he had an advantageous contract with the firm long before Elgar. Washington DC founded in 1901 its Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society for black singers. By then he was already deified in the States, and his human life ended less than a month after his thirty-seventh birthday.

As Op 80, the violin concerto comes at the very end of Coleridge-Taylor's career. It was dedicated to the American violinist Maud Powell, as remarkable in her way as the composer, and equally prodigious as a youngster. She completed her studies (1882) with Joachim in Berlin, not long after he had received the dedication of the Dvorák violin concerto, largely rewritten before allowed to go public. Perhaps Powell studied it with Joachim; certainly she gave its American performance a couple of years later with the Philharmonic Orchestra in New York. The last movement remains irresistible [listen -- track 6, 1:55-2:54].

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Copyright © 14 July 2004 Robert Anderson, London UK


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