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An old black and white photograph of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor looking to the left

New Samuel Coleridge-Taylor work discovered in RCM Library

Friday 13 May 2022

Royal College of Music librarian discovers a previously unknown composition by alumnus Samuel Coleridge-Taylor.

The Royal College of Music is delighted to announce the discovery of a previously unknown composition by RCM alumnus Samuel Coleridge-Taylor. The undated, autograph manuscript contains Nourmahal's Song, a short, unpublished piece which was previously assumed to be related to his two-movement piano work, Nourmahal’s Song and Dance op 41. Jonathan Frank, Assistant Librarian at the RCM, undertook detailed comparison of both pieces and found no musical similarities between the two. Having consulted several work lists, including those made with Coleridge-Taylor's cooperation, no mention of this song was found, and it became clear that the work had remained unknown to modern scholarship until now.

Coleridge-Taylor’s annotations indicate that this dramatic song – or scena – was intended to have orchestral accompaniment. However, the original orchestration, if one was ever written, has not survived. A 1936 orchestration by Louis Kirkby Lunn Pearson, which is also present alongside Coleridge-Taylor's manuscript, was completed with the approval of Coleridge-Taylor's son, Hiawatha. It was then passed on to Sir Henry Wood, for consideration for performance by the Worthing Symphony Orchestra. However, despite being advertised, the performance of Nourmahal's Song never took place.

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Speaking of the discovery, Jonathan Frank said: ‘It has been fascinating to research this manuscript and discover more about its origins and reasons for being unknown until now. The accompanying materials tell a fascinating story about its later orchestration and attempted performance, and the involvement of Sir Henry Wood adds an exciting new layer. It is a joy to see this music come to light after more than a century and I am thrilled that it is now made available for the first time to performers and researchers.’

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor attended the RCM between 1890 and 1897 and can be described as one of the College’s earliest success stories. He was initially awarded a scholarship for the violin, though his talent as a composer was soon recognised and nurtured by Charles Villiers Stanford under whom he would study from 1891 onwards. Whilst studying at the RCM Coleridge-Taylor composed around 30 pieces, many of which were published and performed both inside and outside the RCM. He achieved great esteem thanks to his trilogy of cantatas The Song of Hiawatha, which became one of the most performed choral pieces in Britain at the time. Coleridge-Taylor gained unusual and important status as a prominent Black musician in late-Victorian and Edwardian Britain.

Peter Linnitt, Librarian at the Royal College of Music said: ‘Samuel Coleridge-Taylor was one of the earliest composers to come through the RCM and was one of Stanford’s most famous students. The RCM holds a rich archive of material relating to him including the largest single collection of his manuscripts in the library. The discovery of a new work by him is amazing and gives us another opportunity to introduce students and researchers to this wonderful composer.’

A detailed write-up will be published in Fontes Artis Musicae (volume 69, issue 2, April-June 2022) in the coming weeks. In the meantime, the manuscripts have been digitised and are available to view here: https://archive.org/details/RCM-MS-4938.

More information about the Royal College of Music Library is available here.