In 1904, Black British composer Samuel Coleridge-Taylor published six songs from the oeuvre of white British poet Christina Georgina Rossetti, only a few months after reading W.E.B. Du Bois’ groundbreaking work The Souls of Black Folk (1903). This seminal book included a chapter called “Sorrow Songs” devoted to discussing slave songs. It also introduced the concept of double-consciousness to describe how Black people, see themselves through the lens of the white society. This point of view creates a sense of doubleness in their identity and recognition of self. The songs that Coleridge-Taylor composed, which he titled Six Sorrow Songs, Op. 57, address themes of love, death, and spirituality. Coleridge-Taylor grouped these art songs under the title “Sorrow Songs”—showing a connection to Du Bois’ work and its influence. This fusion of art song and slave song opens up room for examinations of cross-genre relations, which highlights complexity of meaning and textual changes when interpreted and performed—revealing a sense of “doubleness” to the composition at this time in the composer’s life.
Serge Lacasse’s (2018) model for intertextuality offers a framework for considering the cross-genre relations that emerge in this song cycle. The concepts of architextuality, transfictionality, and polytextuality from his model are particularly relevant in this cycle, as they account for inter-genre relationships, fictional elements of the story (including speakers and the setting), as well as the overall compilation of the songs, respectively. Drawing this model together with scholarship on Sorrow Songs, this thesis focuses on the emergence of “Sorrow Songs” at this pivotal moment in the composer’s life, which will enable the consideration of the intertext of Western classical and African slave songs in this composition as well as the creation of a story in this musico-literary hybrid. Context is critical to this discussion so his trips to the USA, personal experiences, the socio-political events of the time, and the encounter with the influential Black figures will be discussed to understand how this song cycle reshaped Coleridge-Taylor’s musical path. Intertextual analysis of this song cycle reveals a sense of double meaning in Six Sorrow Songs, Op. 57, where one clearly sees Du Bois’ concept at work in the life of the composer living as a Black man in a white society, in his music combining Western classical and Sorrow Song genres, in the medium he chose to write for, a singer and a pianist, and in setting spiritual/religious poetry written by a white poet to these romantic songs.