Composers Datebook®

Coleridge-Taylor in Washington

Composers Datebook - 20231116


On today’s date in 1904, the Washington Post’s headline read, “Hiawatha Tonight: Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s masterpiece to be sung at Convention Center.”

The 29-year-old British composer, on his first visit to America, was to conduct the 200 members of the Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society of Washington D.C., accompanied by the Marine Band orchestra.

So who was this British composer and what had he done to inspire an American chorus to name itself after him?

Coleridge-Taylor was born in 1875 to an African father from Sierra Leone and an English mother. Showing remarkable musical talent, he studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London and rapidly established himself as a major choral composer with a trilogy of oratorios, all based on Longfellow’s epic poem Hiawatha, that became wildly popular in England, but the 1904 concert in Washington was the first time all three had been performed on the same concert.

The Coleridge-Taylor Choral Society was America’s first African-American concert choir. Attending the Washington performance were many members of the federal government and distinguished members of both Black and white society.

Music Played in Today's Program

Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912) Hiawatha's Departure; Welsh National Opera Chorus and Orchestra; Kenneth Alwyn, cond. Argo 430 956

On This Day


  • 1766 - French composer and violinist Rodolphe Kreutzer, in Versailles; Beethoven dedicated his Violin Sonata Op. 47 to Kreutzer, but there is no record he ever performed the work;

  • 1829 - Russian composer and pianist Anton Rubinstein, in Vikhvatinets, Podolia (Gregorian date: Nov. 28);

  • 1870 - Australian composer Alfred Hill, in Melbourne;

  • 1873 - American composer and "father of the blues" William Christopher (W.C.) Handy, in Florence, Ala;

  • 1895 - German composer, violist and conductor Paul Hindemith, in Hanau;


  • 1850 - Verdi: opera "Stifellio," in Trieste at the Teatro Grande;

  • 1861 - Brahms: Piano Quintet No. 1 in g, Op. 25, at a private read-through in Hamburg, with Clara Schumann the pianist; A year later to the day, the work received its official premiere in Vienna, with members of the Hellmesberger Quartet and the composer at the piano;

  • 1904 - Colerdige-Taylor: first American performance in Washington, D.C. of the complete trilogy of oratorios ("The Song of Hiawatha," "The Death of Minnehaha," and "Hiawatha's Departure") based on Longfellow's poem "Hiawatha," with the composer conducting;

  • 1919 - Charles Tomlinson Griffes: "Poem" for flute and orchestra, Walter Damrosch conducting the New York Symphony Society Orchestra;

  • 1934 - William Dawson: "Negro Folk Symphony," by the Philadelphia Orchestra, Leopold Stokowski conducting;

  • 1940 - Miaskovsky: Symphony No. 21, at the Moscow Festival of Soviet Music; This work was commissioned by the Chicago Symphony, who gave the American premiere on December 26, 1940;

  • 1948 - Morton Gould: "Philharmonic Waltzes," commissioned and performed by the New York Philharmonic, with Dimitri Mitropoulos conducting;

  • 1945 - Milhaud: Suite for Violin and Orchestra, by the Philadelphia Orchestra, with Eugene Ormandy conducting and Zino Francescatti the soloist;

  • 1981 - Broadway premiere of Sondheim: musical "Merrily We Roll Along";

  • 2001 - Magnus Lindberg: “Parada,” at a three-day recording session (Nov. 16-18) in London with Philharmonia Orchestra, Esa-Pekka Salonen, conducting;


  • 1900 - First concert by The Philadelphia Orchestra, conductor Fritz Scheel, pianist Ossip Gabrilowitsch.

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About Composers Datebook®

Host John Birge presents a daily snapshot of composers past and present, with timely information, intriguing musical events and appropriate, accessible music related to each.

He has been hosting, producing and performing classical music for more than 25 years. Since 1997, he has been hosting on Minnesota Public Radio's Classical Music Service. He played French horn for the Cincinnati Symphony and Pops Orchestra and performed with them on their centennial tour of Europe in 1995. He was trained at the Cincinnati College-Conservatory of Music, Eastman School of Music and Interlochen Arts Academy.

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