Samuel Coleridge-Taylor, Five Fantasy Pieces for String Quartet, Op.5

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) was born in London, the product of a mixed race marriage, his father, a doctor, being an African from Sierra Leone and his mother a white Englishwoman. His father returned to Africa when he was a small boy and he was brought up by his mother in Croydon. His musical talent showed itself early and he was admitted to study the violin at the Royal College of Music where he eventually concentrated on composition when his gifts were ascertained. His teacher was the renowned composer, Sir Charles Villiers Stanford. He and his compositions gained considerable fame during his lifetime. His oratorio Hiawatha's Wedding Feast for a time became as popular as Handel's Messiah and Mendelssohn's Elijah. He made several visits to the United States because of his interest in American Negro cultural life. His fame was such that on one visit he was invited to the White House by Theodore Roosevelt.

The Fantasy Pieces or Fantasiest├╝cke, to use the German name first coined by Schumann, were composed in 1898, several years before the famous Cobbett Fantasy Competitions. The tradition of fantasy pieces was well-established by the time Coleridge-Taylor came to compose his. They would consist of a set of character pieces, each of a different mood and type. The opening piece, aptly titled Prelude begins in a restless somewhat agitated fashion but it is immediately replaced by a calmer subject. The rest of the movement is taken with an interplay between the two. The Serenade which follows is quite lyrical with each phrase elided seamlessly in to the following one. Next comes a scherzo, Humoresque, which seems to have a vague Bohemian aura to it. A stately and elegant Minuet with its diffident trio section serves as the fourth piece. The themes of the exciting finale, Dance, are loosely related to those of the opening Prelude.

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