SAMUEL COLERIDGE-TAYLOR and WILLIAM HURLSTONE

A short biographical sketch by Steven Erselius

South Norwood in south East London is fortunate enough to have had two composers of distinction, and they happened to have been life long friends. A number of similarities can be seen in the lives of Samuel Coleridge-Taylor and William Hurlstone. As students, both were peers at the Royal College of Music and they often commuted there together. At this time, Holst and Vaughan Williams were also registered students and it is interesting to note that Sir Charles Stanford, who taught composition, regarded Hurlstone as the most gifted of his pupils.

After graduatation, Hurlstone and Coleridge-Taylor continued to work locally as well as further afield, teaching, conducting and adjudicating. In particular, Hurlstone organized and performed in a series of concerts at the then newly built Stanley Hall in South Norwood. Tragically however, both composers died young having composed for the most part light orchestral music, choral and more 'serious' chamber music.

Strangely, both men collapsed mortally ill at railway stations and died shortly after at their homes. Coleridge-Taylor from pneumonia type symptoms and Hurlstone from the bronchial asthma from which he had suffered since infancy. He was only 29. Delirious and near to the end, they both conducted imaginary performances of their most recent compositions. Music they would no longer have the chance to hear in reality. In thecase of Coleridge-Taylor, we have his violin concerto. But Hurlstone had only began to write his last work, a piece he regarded as his best. He left us around half a dozen completed works for orchestra, about the same number of major works of chamber music, a piano concerto, songs and solo piano music.

In 1930 the Croydon council named Hurlstone Road in his honour. The composer himself had lived in Selhurst Road. Coleridge-Taylor, mysteriously, had a premonition of his own death. He had just began a rare holiday from his normal schedule of extreme overwork. Hurlstone had died some years earlier. Coleridge-Taylor said to his wife 'I had a dream where I met William Hurlstone. We could not shake hands however. This means I will die shortly!' Indeed, within a week he was dead.

A book on Coleridge-Taylor written by Charles Elford can be found here.


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Chameleon Group of Composers 2008