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Composed: 1898

Length: c. 10 minutes

Orchestration: 2 flutes, piccolo, 2 oboes, 2 clarinets, 2 bassoons, 4 horns, 2 trumpets, 3 trombones, tuba, timpani, percussion (cymbals), and strings

About this Piece

Musically precocious, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor entered the Royal College of Music in his native London as a violinist at the age of 15. Within a year, he had six choral pieces published. A year after he left the school, he received his first commission, from the Three Choirs Festival, on the recommendation of Elgar. “I am sorry I am too busy to do so,” Elgar wrote when the Festival offered him a commission. “I wish, wish, wish you would ask Coleridge-Taylor to do it. He still wants recognition, and he is far and away the cleverest fellow going amongst the young men.”

What the Festival got was indeed a clever young man’s piece, a wild orchestral ride brimming with invention and energy. Like a poetic ballad, the piece is organized in stanza-like sections. Its main theme is dramatically driven and explosively orchestrated; its tender lyrical foil achieves contrast mainly through meter and texture.

Coleridge-Taylor, who would later be called “the black Mahler” by orchestral musicians in New York, conducted the highly successful premiere himself at the Festival in 1898.

—John Henken