February 8, 2012

Black Mahler: The Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Story by Charles Elford

This is the life story of turn of the century English composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. Coleridge was born in 1875 to a black father and white mother but raised by an adoptive mother in the London suburb of Croydon. He started playing the violin at a very young age and turned out to be an exceptional musician. By the time he was 15 an opportunity arose for him to go to the Royal College of Music and with the help of his teacher and some others looking out for him he was able to attend and there turned his focus to composing. At the Royal College is where he met his best friend William Hurlstone, a fellow composer, and his future wife Jessie. After college Coleridge had a very busy life filled with teaching, conducting, but mostly composing. He always sold his work outright and though he managed to pay the bills, he always struggled financially. His chance at success came when he composed ‘Hiawatha’, which was an instant hit. But being a great artist didn’t mean he always made the best business decisions, and so this too he sold outright to the gain of the publisher and his tremendous loss. For the rest of his life Coleridge tried to outdo himself as a composer leaving some great works along the way.

I absolutely loved reading this man’s story! In fact, I immediately had to go listen to his music. He was a great influential person not just in the music world, but also as a face for blacks all over the globe. I felt terrible for him when he got cheated out of the success of his greatest work, even when laws changed because of him. I also liked the back and forth style of the book. The author goes between a concert held in his honor where family, friends, others along his life were present and participating to the chronological story of his life. The only issue I had with this book is that though sometimes the transition between present and past were seamless and obvious, other times it was random and awkward. 3.5 stars
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