The Kennedy Center

Moto Perpetuo, from Lamentations for Solo Cello

About the Work

Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson Composer: Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson
© Dr. Richard E. Rodda

Finale (Perpetual Motion) from Lamentations: Black/Folk Song Suite for Unaccompanied Cello (1973)

Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson

Born June 14, 1932 in New York City

Died March 9, 2004 in Chicago

 Coleridge-Taylor Perkinson was born in 1932 into a musical family in New York City - his mother was a professional pianist, organist and director of a local theater - and he seemed destined to musical prominence by his very name, given after the London-born composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor (1875-1912), the son of a white English woman and a physician from Sierra Leone, who became a cultural hero to American audiences. (New York orchestral players described him as the "black Mahler" on his visit to that city in 1910.) Perkinson early demonstrated musical gifts, and he was admitted in 1945 to New York's prestigious High School of Music and Art; his mentor there, Hugh Ross, once introduced him to Igor Stravinsky. Perkinson began composing while still a teenager, and he received the LaGuardia Prize from the school for his choral work And Behold upon his graduation in 1949. He entered New York University as an education major in 1949, but transferred to the Manhattan School of Music two years later to study composition with Charles Mills and Vittorio Giannini and conducting with Jonel Perlea; he received his baccalaureate in 1953 and his master's degree the following year. The life-long influence of jazz on Perkinson's musical personality was nurtured at Manhattan by his classmates Julius Watkins, Herbie Mann, Donald Byrd and Max Roach - in 1964-1965 he played piano in the Max Roach Quartet and at various times served as arranger and music director for such eminent popular artists as Marvin Gaye, Lou Rawls, Barbara McNair, Melvin Van Peebles and Harry Belafonte. Perkinson took further advanced training in conducting at the Berkshire Music Center (1954), Netherlands Radio Union in Hilversum (1960-1963), Mozarteum in Salzburg (1960) and privately with Dimitri Mitropoulos, Lovro von Matacic, Franco Ferrara and Dean Dixon, and in composition with Earl Kim at Princeton University (1959-1962). He went on to teach at Brooklyn College and Indiana University, hold conducting positions with the Dessoff Choirs and the Brooklyn Community Symphony Orchestra, serve as music director for Jerome Robbins' American Theater Lab, Dance Theatre of Harlem and Alvin Ailey's American Dance Theater, and co-found the Symphony of the New World, the first integrated symphony orchestra in the United States, and serve as both its Associate Conductor (1965-1970) and Music Director (1972-1973). In 1998 Perkinson was appointed Artistic Director of the Performance Program at the? Center for Black Music Research at Columbia College Chicago. At the time of his death, in 2004, Perkinson was also serving as Composer-in-Residence for the Ritz Chamber Players of Jacksonville, Florida.

Perkinson composed Lamentations: Black/Folk Song Suite in 1973 for Ronald Lipscomb, who premiered the work on June 5, 1973 on his New York debut recital at Alice Tully Hall at Lincoln Center. The composer based Lamentations on traditional musical forms and infused it with reminiscences of existing melodies and styles for which he said that "the common denominator is the reflection and statement of a people's crying out." The finale, Perpetual Motion, is a virtuoso showpiece in which a constantly pulsing pedal note provides the driving background for the intricate melodic fragments threaded through it.