Full orchestra dressed in black led by male conductor with curly hair

Royal College of Music makes a world premiere recording of music by Coleridge-Taylor

Monday 27 November 2023

The RCM Philharmonic has made the first ever recording of a Samuel Coleridge-Taylor piece, an excerpt of which can now be heard in a digital display for London’s newly reopened National Portrait Gallery. 

RCM alumnus Samuel Coleridge-Taylor composed Toussaint L’Ouverture in 1901, in reverence of the historical figure of the same name. Toussaint was a Haitian general; a prominent leader who rose to rule in 1801 and helped transform the slave rebellion. 

Toussaint’s surname (normally spelled ‘Louverture’) has nothing to do with the musical form, although Coleridge-Taylor’s piece happens to be a concert overture. The piece fuses elements of African musical idiom with the European style in which the composer had been trained. 

In April 2023, RCM’s Head of Conducting, Toby Purser, led the RCM Philharmonic Orchestra in a stirring performance of Coleridge-Taylor’s composition as part of the Royal College of Music’s Summer Season of events, where it was also recorded for the very first time.  


Toby said, ‘To me, the music captures not only the inspiring leadership and national pride that Toussaint L’Ouverture represents historically, but also the warm, romantic side of his family life. It was a real privilege to be able to perform and record the work with such a brilliant orchestra of RCM talent, especially with the College having been so central to Coleridge-Taylor’s own early career back in his day. Huge thanks must also go to our collaborators Wise Music, who made a brand-new edition especially for the project’. 

Part of the RCM’s recording now features in the newly reopened National Portrait Gallery’s digital display on Toussaint L'Ouverture. An in-gallery version of this display is due to be installed soon. 

In the digital display, which looks at contemporary re-imaginings of Toussaint, RCM alumnus and advocate Peter Brathwaite reflects on his own response to Toussaint. Peter’s project on Rediscovering Black Portraiture launched in 2020 and his book of the same name was published this year.

This news item appears in the 2023 Autumn edition of Upbeat magazine.

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