About this work
The son of an English mother and an African father (a physician from Sierra Leone), Coleridge-Taylor enriched the late-Victorian musical vocabulary with an interest in not only African music, but music of African descendants living in the West Indies and the USA, and with the Native American culture and music. His favorite poem was Longfellow's "The Song of Hiawatha" (he even named his son Hiawatha!). This work may not enjoy great critical favor today, but the 1855 poem was written because Longfellow foresaw the scattering and reduction of the "Indian" cultures and sought to preserve some of their legends as he perceived them in his epic poem. This two-hour work draws on three portions of the poem, and is divided into three self-contained sub-works, "Hiawatha's Wedding Feast" (which includes the gorgeous tenor aria "Onaway, Awake, Beloved"); "The Death of Minnehaha"; and "Hiawatha's Departure." It had immense popularity in England, being the centerpiece of a festival held every year from 1924 to 1939 to sold-out audiences at the immense Royal Albert Hall. It is a visionary work, impeccably crafted, possessing a fine rhythmic sensibility and exquisite varieties of orchestral color. Its comparative lack of favor in the post-War world is a shame, for it is fine music.