This young man who stepped forth as one of the most notable of modern English composers had a simple and uneventful career. His father was a black surgeon of Sierra Leone who came to London for study. While there he met an English girl and this son was born, in London, in 1875.
Then came a series of chances. His father failed to succeed and disappeared back to Africa leaving the support of the child to the poor working mother. The child showed evidences of musical talent and a friendly workingman gave him a little violin. A musician glancing from his window saw a little dark boy playing marbles on the street with a tiny violin in one hand; he gave him lessons. He happened to gain entrance into a charity school with a master of understanding mind who recognized genius when he saw it; and finally his beautiful child’s treble brought him to the notice of the choirmaster of St. George’s, Croyden.
So by happy accident his way was clear. Within his soul was no hesitation. He was one of those fortunate beings who are not called to Wander-Jahre, but are born with sails set and seas charted. Already the baby of four little years was a musician, and as choir-boy and violinist he walked unhesitatingly and surely to his life work. He was graduated with honors from the Royal Academy of Music in 1894, and married soon after the daughter of one of his professors. Then his life began, and whatever it lacked of physical adventure in the conventional round of a modern world-city, it more than gained in the almost tempestuous outpouring of his spiritual nature. Life to him was neither meat nor drink,—it was creative flame; ideas, plans, melodies glowed within him. To create, to do, to accomplish; to know the white glory of mighty midnights and the pale Amen of dawns was his day of days. Songs, pianoforte and violin pieces, trios and quintets for strings, incidental music, symphony, orchestral, and choral works rushed from his fingers. Nor were they laboriously contrived or light, thin things made to meet sudden popularity. Rather they were the flaming bits that must be said and sung,—that could not wait the slower birth of years, so hurried to the world as though their young creator knew that God gave him but a day. His whole active life was scarcely more than a decade and a half, and yet in that time, without wealth, friends, or influence, in the face of perhaps the most critical and skeptical and least imaginative civilization of the modern world, he wrote his name so high as a creative artist that it cannot soon be forgotten.
And this was but one side of the man. On the other was the sweet-tempered, sympathetic comrade, always willing to help, never knowing how to refuse, generous with every nerve and fiber of his being. Think of a young musician, father of a family, who at the time of his death held positions as Associate of the Royal College of Music, Professor in Trinity College and Crystal Palace, Conductor of the Handel Choral Society and the Rochester Choral Society, Principal of the Guildhall School of Music, where he had charge of the choral choir, the orchestra, and the opera. He was repeatedly the leader of music festivals all over Great Britain and a judge of contests. And with all this his house was open in cheering hospitality to friends and his hand ever ready with sympathy and help.