Samuel Coleridge-Taylor: Petite Suite


Born in August 1875 in Holborn, London, Samuel Coleridge-Taylor started learning the violin at a young age. At first it was Coleridge-Taylor’s maternal grandfather that taught him until he saw his obvious abilities and paid for him to have professional lessons. At age 15, Coleridge-Taylor started studying at the Royal College of Music, it was here he changed from violin performance to composition. Whilst at RCM he was tutored by Charles Villiers Stanford. 

Straight out of conservatoire, Coleridge-Taylor became a busy working musician. He worked with the likes of Elgar and Villiers Stanford throughout his relatively short life. Critics described him as a “musical genius” and his music soon gained success over in the USA. He toured the USA three times and was met by President Theodore Roosevelt at the White House. Coleridge-Taylor was particularly popular among African Americans, as much of his music sought to integrate African traditions with Western classical music.  


The Music

Petite Suite was composed in 1911 and is one of the composer’s lighter works. Cast into four contrasting movements, the suite is very appealing and showcases Coleridge-Taylor’s memorable melody writing. 


Movement I – La caprice de Nannette

The opening movement, a playful caprice, sets the scene for the rest of the suite. Coleridge-Taylor’s use of the whole orchestra creates excitement as the brass accentuate the string-heavy theme, whilst the percussion adds an extra dimension to the melodies. A fully-realised and orchestrated reprise of the main theme of this movement leads into the poignant coda section that sees the opening movement conclude in a thrilling manner.


Movement II – Demande et réponse

Perhaps the most well-known movement of the four, Demande et réponse opens with a graceful upper string theme. The quiet dynamic and thin textures make the orchestral entry later on all the more influential. The warm sounds from the brass radiate between the luscious strings and woodwinds. A cheeky central section sees a call and response sequence between the strings and woodwind play out. Bold brass interludes keep the tempo driving forwards, whilst also aptly bolstering the texture to create big and warm tones. As the orchestra unify, the movement closes quietly. 


Movement III – Un sonnet d’amour

The lyrical serenade that is the third movement is full of rich textures and memorable melodies. The slow-moving string motif grows and develops into a fully-orchestrated theme by the end of the movement. The nuanced sway of this movement adds to its charm and dance-like roots. Luscious horn themes ripple across the orchestra as the theme is passed around the sections. Similarly to the previous movement, the third ends quietly.


Movement IV – Tarantelle frétillante

The perky tarantella is full of energy and life as the orchestra works together to create a sequence of different themes. A cheeky pizzicato and upper wind theme takes over as the rest of the orchestra sit tight as the music begins to build up to the big climax. Crash cymbals and lower brass add to the impact of the small climaxes as the woodwinds keep bouncing around the main melody. The orchestra unite for the final three thrilling chords.


Ⓒ Alex Burns

Happy Reading!

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