The Negro melodies and to ascertain whether they

The aims and objectives of this paper are to discuss the  Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s  (SCT) 24 Negro melodies and to ascertain whether they are in fact melodies that are a true representation of the African music on which they are based or are they  pieces of music that are of their time, based firmly upon the ideas and compositional style of western art music, with all of the influences that were learnt, internalised and assimilated by SCT or through his teachers at the Royal College of Music, his listening to the output of his contemporary composers such as Elgar and his influences such as Brahms. To discuss these facets the paper will look at many facets beginning with an Introduction to SCTs life and his output up until his first visit to America. The second part of the dissertation will look at not only music from West Africa, but also the slave trade and the routes by which Africans came to America. The reason for this are important as they will inform us of the true authenticities of the West African music experience and the examination of where slaves originated from will give us some context with which we can use to make a comparative analysis of the works that we are going to look at.

The original aim was comprised of a number of facets

1.    To provide a complete analysis of the 24 Negro Melodies both in a musical and historical context.

2.    To discover how these works were influenced by Negro Spirituals, African/American folk song, literature and SCTs meetings and subsequent relationships with Paul Laurence Dunbar and W.E Dubois.

3.    To see where and how much was influenced by European western art music.

The parameters for this scope of research after reflection have been too wide and the resulting investigation, correlation and report would have taken up far more narrative than this module allows for in terms of words. The melodies actually cover four regions those being West Africa, South and South-East Africa, the West Indies and North America. I have narrowed down this dissertation to examining the work as a whole rather than 24 individual pieces. The melodies come from West Africa, the West Indies and North America and  South East and South Africa. A note here is that there is no  documented evidence of slaves coming from South Africa, I believe that  it would be difficult to prove any tie-in  with Spirituals, but they are covered here as part of the whole work. Three melodies that I think really encompass what SCT tried to do are labelled below and I give them a mention here.




The Three Melodies  are as follows

1.    No 7 Oloba West African


No 8 The Bamboula – West Indies

No 22 Sometimes I Feel Like a Motherless Child American Negro


There are 7 melodies from Africa, 1 from the West Indies and the rest are from America. As you can see in the opening extracts, each of the songs is in the same key as the original and at the beginning of the song the original text and melody is cited. To try to get an overview of the whole continent that they are supposed to represent. With this in mind I aim to introduce a context and background to the regions highlighting musical and cultural episodes and then using these models to make a comparative analysis of the piano works so that we can see if they are true representations of their African ancestry embodying all that is African in a Western European style, or are they some sort of pastiche of the African music from which  they have come and in no way do they represent anything other than another piece of 19th century romantic piano music with nothing more than  an exotic name  conjuring up a faraway misunderstood place.

The point of this project is not to belittle the compositions in anyway but to see if the melodies themselves are the start of a new musical language that was continued by African-American composers or if it was just a continuation of a long-held tradition in Western Art music where there may have been a nod to music of another culture, but it was only that without any understanding of the meaning or context of the works in which they were supposedly paying homage too.









1     Research Questions

In light of the fact that the dissertation differs somewhat from the original proposal I have had to come up with a new series of questions that will go on to prove or disprove my dissertation title.

1.    These questions are as follows: Where did the inspirations for the 24 Negro Melodies come from

2.    Are the melodies original or are they ideas based upon original melodies?

3.    Are the melodies true representations of the African regions they are based upon?

4.    Are they truly African music or European Art music or a combination of both?

To try to answer these questions I will be exploring the following lines of enquiry in order to come to a conclusion.

1.    A look at a brief history of the slave trade to put into context the dispersion of Africans throughout North, South America and the Caribbean and how they came to be in the regions that we are talking about.

2.    An examination where the Africans came from in so that we can make sure that local and authenticities are looked at and traced to the regions.

3.    An introduction and some insight into the nature of Spirituals will be looked at so that the context of these is put into perspective and why they were of such importance that SCT.

4.    A brief look at some other African pieces he wrote prior to the 24 Negro Melodies.

5.    A look at the words and the tunes that these spirituals came from initially i.e. what were the denominations of the slave masters that forced the slaves into singing these hymns that were then turned into spirituals.

6.    Once we have established these facts then we will look at the four melodies in context comparing and analysing them side by side with the African, Caribbean and American origins that they were based upon to see where they differ or are the same.

7.    Once this exercise is complete we will have a rough idea of how the songs fall into the

2     Outcomes

At the end of this paper I hope to demonstrate one way or another that the Opus 58 works of SCT can be clearly classified as works that fit into a pattern that is cognisant with 19th Century Western art music in a recognisable piano form or that it does not quite fit into that sub-genre of music and to outline the reasons why I think that it fits into something else and to quantify, qualify and explain what I think that another genre is. I also want to use this paper as a springboard into further research that will become a   body of work that is a critical analysis of the 24 Negro Melodies and other works and a basis for future investigation into what I believe is sub-genre of music in the classical idiom that was taken up by a succession of African-American composers and championed.


3     Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Biographical summary

3.1             Early Life

Samuel SCT was born in August 1875 and was Afro-British, his father was from Sierra-Leone and his mother was Irish. His father was a doctor from Sierra-Leone and returned to his home after completing his medical training before SCT was born. He was something of an oddity in Victorian London, there not being very many mixed-race children in London let alone the rest of Britain.  He was born at a time when Britain had its highest point of political and popular engagement with the African continent so it was fortuitous that his music was received as well as it was. Nevertheless, he showed great musical promise from a very young age playing the violin and at the age of 15, he gained a scholarship to the Royal College of Music where some of his contempories were Ralph-Vaughn Williams, Gustav Holst and the man who was to become his dearest friend William Hurlstone. His compositional output is what one could regard a standard for a late romantic composer of the 19th century, this consisted of church music, chamber music, vocal sol music opera, part songs and organ solos. He was a Professor of music at both Trinity College of Music and Guildhall School of music and the director of the London Handel Society.

3.2             Early Years at the Royal College of Music.

When SCT first enrolled at the Royal College of music he went initially as a violinist, it was whilst he was there that he discovered his interest in composition. It was arranged for him to become a composition student of Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. In 1893 SCT competed for one of nine open scholarships and was awarded a fellowship in Composition. SCT was held in very high regard by his teacher Stanford and 1895 when he had completed his Clarinet quintet Standfor introduced in to the violinist composer Josef Joachim who rehearswed it with his quartet in Berlin.. SCT wrote various compositions whilst at college a large proportion of them are chamber pieces. He was also comfortable with larger genre pieces so as well as these chamber pieces he created whilst at college he also produced some larger scale works including a ballade for orchestra, a symphony and a piece for solo violin and orchestra which composed in his final year at the college 1897. The Four Characteristic Waltzes Op.22 for piano  were very successful, being transcribed for various ensembles including orchestra.   With his reputation as a young and upcoming composer grew.  In 1898 on the back of the success of the Op.22 work he was recommended by Sir Edward Elgar to his agent, August Jaeger to produce a piece for the 3 counties festival. The piece he presented was the Ballade in A Minor Op 33. for orchestra. The piece was very successful and this brought him to the attention of the wider public. At this time, he also wrote the piece which he would become most famous for Scenes from the Song of Hiawatha, a cantata based upon the poem by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow. It comprised of three separate works

1.    Hiawatha’s Wedding Feast,

2.    The Death of Minnehaha

3.    Hiawatha’s Departure.  

The first part of this trilogy premiered in 1898 to great success and it became one of the most popular pieces of the time. It is said that the only pieces more popular were Handles Messiah and Mendelssohn’s Elijah. The Op.59 works were produced at the height of his fame coming after Hiawatha was a success both in Britain and in America. This success of that cantata is what led him to be invited to America.  SCT declined an invitation to America in 1901 so the first of his three visits there was not until 1904. Whilst he was on that trip he conducted them in a concert and he was invited by the Oliver Ditson company a music publishers based in Boston to arrange an album of Negro folk songs for the piano which are based on Negro Spirituals and African songs (Jewel, 1994). The whole 24 melodies are a journey through different parts of Africa, the Caribbean and North America and they were published in 1905.

3.3             African Themed works before 1905

Prior to the publishing of the Op.59 works there had been some forays into music with an African title. These are as follows

·         Op.17 – 7 African Romances, Songs (1897)

·         Op.19 – 2 Moorish Tone-pictures for Piano (1897)

·         Op.25 – Dream Lovers, Operatic Romance (1898)

·         Op.35 – African Suite for Piano (1898) 

·         Op.54 – 5 Choral Ballads for Baritone and Chorus (1904) ?

·         Op.58 – 4 African Dances for Violin and Piano (1904)


? The Op.54 work is included in this list because although it does not have a titular reference to Africa it is based on 5 Longfellow poems about slavery.

The African-American poet and writer Paul Dunbar visited London in 1896 and he met SCT. After their meeting SCT and Dunbar started collaborating together.  The first of these collaborations was the Op.17 work 7 African Romances and the Op.19 work Dream Lovers which was premiered in 1898. These works although having the word African in the name were not really pieces that had anything to do with the African continent. The are still pieces based firmly on the tenets of Western Art music.

 As we can see from the dates of these pieces they all come from around the same period, apart from the Op 58 work which immediately precedes the Op.59. There is no evidence that this work was completed at the same time, however we would be naive to think that the Op.58 and Op.59 works were not the result of his time spent in America. The meeting between Dunbar and Coleridge-Taylor is though highly significant it is from that initial meeting, his collaborations with him and other ethnic writers Kathleen Easmon a Sierra Leonean living in London and his work on the poems of Sarojini Naidu a Bengali poet that his interest in using melodies and influences from his own cultural background were formed.



3.4             Visits to the United States

As was mentioned earlier SCT declined a trip to America in 1901 principally becayuse he was appointed the conductor of the Westmoreland Festival, however he did go on his first vist in 1904. This invitation was sponsored by the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society. This organisation was founded in Washington D.C and was comprised of about 200 African-American choristers specifically to perform his works. He made furthere visits to America in 1906 and 1910 conducting whilst he was there, it whilst he was conducting the New York Philharmonic that they coined the phrase the “African Mahler” His first visit though is the one  of most significance pertaining to the 24 Negro melodies. The tour to America started on the 25th October 1904 with SCT sailing from Liverpool and arriving in Boston on the 2nd of November.  Between the 5th and 13th of Novemenbr he spent the time travelling to Washinton DC. From the 16th to 18th of November he conducted a “Colerdige-Taylor Festival” which included him conducting the band of the United States Marines the first black man ever to do so. He also had some very interesting collobaorations especially his collaboration with Harry T Burleigh whio is the man that inspired Dvoraks writing of the symphony no 9 “From the New World” . That symphony was also based on the sounds of spirituals and so the connections between Dvorak, SCT and sprutuals cannot be overlooked and is a subject for further research.  SCT conducted the Samuel Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society and at the concert on the 18th of November in the audience was the manager of the Oliver Ditson company a music publishers based in Boston. He was subsequently invited by the company to arrange an album of Negro folk songs for the piano which are based on Negro Spirituals and African songs (Jewel, 1994). The whole 24 melodies are a journey through different parts of Africa, the Caribbean and North America and they were published in 1905.









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