D. Vaughan Thomas 1873-1934
Born 15 March 1873 at Ystalyfera, Glamorganshire, son of Jenkin Thomas. He took the name Vaughan in 1911 when he became a member of the Gorsedd of Bards in Carmarthen eisteddfod. He attended Watcyn Wyn's school in Ammanford, and from 1873 to 1883 the family lived in Ystalyfera, Llantrisant, Maesteg, Llangennech and Dowlais. The family moved to Pontardulais, and Vaughan Thomas received his early musical education from Dr. Joseph Parry, Swansea. He went to Llandovery College, from which he gained an open mathematical scholarship to Exeter College, Oxford He graduated 3rd class at Oxford in 1895, M.A. 1905, B.Mus. 1906, D.Mus. 1911. After leaving Oxford he taught mathematics in the United Services College, Westward Ho!, and then returned to Wales to start his musical career. He married, 1906, Morfydd Lewis, Pontardulais, by whom he had three sons, and he and his family lived for many years in Swansea. He made an unsuccessful application for the post of Music Director of the University of Wales in 1919. In 1927 he was appointed overseas examiner to Trinity College of Music, London, and travelled extensively in the Commonwealth and British Empire. He died at Johannesburg, South Africa, 15 September 1934.
His chief works include ‘Llyn y Fan,’ first performed at the national eisteddfod of Wales at Swansea in 1907, and again at Wrexham in 1912; ‘A Song for St. Cecilia's Day’ (Queen's Hall, London, 1909); and ‘The Bard’ (Queen's Hall, London, 1912). He wrote a large number of anthems, songs, and part songs, for both Welsh and English lyrics, and left a considerable body of instrumental work, most of which is still unpublished.
As a composer Vaughan Thomas is best remembered for the originality and scholarship which he brought to his settings of Welsh poetry, especially in his ‘Saith o Ganeuon.’ Less well known, but equally notable for their lyrical beauty, are his songs on English words by George Meredith. Vaughan Thomas was a pioneer in the movement to lead Welsh music forward from a limited choralism to a more sensitive practice and appreciation of other musical forms. In his lectures and recitals, and in his programme planning for the national eisteddfod, he gave a vigorous lead towards new standards.
The work of Vaughan Thomas is pervaded by an imaginative enthusiasm for the characteristic qualities of a national culture and their distinctive expression in music.
- Ty Cerdd
Evan Thomas Davies (1878-1969)
Born 10 April 1878 at 41 Pontmorlais, Merthyr Tydfil, Glamorganshire, son of George (a barber whose shop was in South Street, Dowlais), and Gwenllian (née Samuel) his wife. He was brought up in Dowlais, but moved to Merthyr Tydfil in 1904. His parents were musical; his father was precentor in Hermon, Dowlais, for nearly a quarter of a century, and his mother was a good singer, a descendant of the same family as the song-writer, R.S. Hughes. He was given private tuition and came heavily under the influence of Harry Evans. He visited the U.S.A. with a party of singers from Wales in 1898, and after returning he came to be regarded as the leading musician in his native district, and as a worthy successor to Harry Evans, his tutor. He was organist at Pontmorlais chapel, Merthyr Tydfil, 1903-17, and a part-time singing teacher in Merthyr Tydfil secondary school, 1904-20, making his home in ‘Cartrefle’ near the school-the house where Harry Evans had lived.
After gaining his F.R.C.O. his services as a solo organist were in great demand, and he was said to have inaugurated about a hundred new organs in Wales and England. In 1920 he was appointed the first full-time director of music of the University College, Bangor, where he was responsible for numerous musical activities, and collaborated with (Henry) Walford Davies, Aberystwyth, to enhance knowledge of music in a wide area under the auspices of the university's Council of Music. In 1943 he retired and moved to Aberdare, where he spent the rest of his life composing, adjudicating and broadcasting.
He first came into prominence as a composer after winning the first prize for ‘Ynys y Plant’ in the national eisteddfod held in London in 1909, and although he was not a very prolific composer, and tended to regard composing merely as a hobby, he had a beneficial influence upon Welsh music for more than half a century. Besides writing a few songs, he also composed part-songs, anthems and works for various musical instruments and instrumental groups, and about 40 of his tunes, chants and anthems are to be found in various collections of tunes. He recognised the excellent work on folk-songs that John Lloyd Williams had done before him at Bangor, and he was one of the first Welsh musicians to find sufficient merit in the folk-songs to arrange them for voice or instrument. His arrangements of over a hundred of these songs, (many of them produced when the composer was in old age) have great artistic merit. He also took an interest in Welsh national songs, and was co-editor with Sydney Northcote of The National Songs of Wales (1959). He married, 31 August 1916, Mary Llewellyn, youngest daughter of D.W. Jones, Aberdare. He died at home in Aberdare on Christmas Day 1969.
- Huw Williams, (1922 - 2002)
W. Bradwen Jones (1892-1972)
Born at Caernarfon, 5 April 1892, son of J.R. Gwyndaf Jones, proof-reader for Y Genedl, and Elizabeth Jones his wife. On his father's side he was related to Richard Jones, ‘Gwyndaf Eryri’, while his mother was the daughter of John Jones, ‘Eos Bradwen’. Because of his mother's family connections he was known as ‘William Bradwen’ when he was a child at school, and he chose to keep the name to the end of his life. He was brought up in a musical home; his mother gave him piano lessons from an early age, and he later studied organ playing with John Williams, Caernarfon, and with Roland Rogers, organist of Bangor cathedral. After short periods as organist and pianist to the Honourable F.G. Wynn at Glynllifon, Llandwrog, and from 1910 to 1915 as organist and choirmaster at Rug chapel, Corwen, he served with the Royal Welch Fusiliers in Palestine and Egypt, rising to the rank of lieutenant in 1918. In 1919 he was appointed (from among a hundred applicants) organist and choirmaster of St. Seiriols church, Holyhead, a post which he held until November 1951. From 1951 to the end of his life he was organist of Hyfrydle (Presb.) church, Holyhead. He won many diplomas in music, including A.R.C.M. (1920), L.T.C.L. (1921), L.R.A.M. (1922), A.R.C.O. (1925), F.R.C.O. (1927) and F.T.C.L. (1928), and as an accomplished pianist he became the official accompanist at the national eisteddfod, and in the county and provincial eisteddfodau for a very long time. But despite his undoubted skill as a pianist and organist, it was as a teacher and composer that he excelled and is remembered. For fifty years and more he gave private music lessons at Holyhead, and many of his pupils gained prominence as pianists and singers.
As a composer, he served his apprenticeship in the eisteddfod and he won about 25 of the chief prizes at the national eisteddfod for his compositions. His solo ‘Paradwys y bardd’ won a prize at the Liverpool national eisteddfod (1929), and his song ‘Mab yr ystorm’ at Aberavon (1932). At Wrexham national eisteddfod (1933) he accomplished the notable feat of winning seven of the main prizes in the music composition section. He played a prominent part in changing the nature of Welsh song in the second half of the 20th c., and through his experiments and those of a few of his contemporaries it was realised that the expressive rendering of the words could be enhanced by making the accompaniment an important and integral part of the song. Although he is chiefly remembered as a composer of songs, he also wrote part-songs, anthems, duets, works for the piano and string orchestra, several works for the piano, and pieces for the organ. (A complete list of his works appears in Welsh Music, vol. 5, no. 3, summer 1976). His MSS. were bought by the National Library of Wales in 1973.
He died in hospital in Holyhead, 3 December 1970, and was buried in St. Seiriol's churchyard, Holyhead.
-Huw Williams, (1922 - 2002)
J. Morgan Nicholas (1895-1963)
Morgan Nicholas was born on 4 June 1895 in Pen-y-cae, Port Talbot, the youngest but one of the seven children of Rhys and Margaret Nicholas. His father, a carpenter, who was also a good musician, and precentor at Saron Calvinistic Methodist chapel in Pen-y-cae, came of a family well established in the area and said to be descended from a family of Greek carpenters and musicians shipwrecked on the south Wales coast in the eighteenth century. His mother Margaret (née Jones) likewise came from an old established family which had for generations farmed Grugwellt Fach on Margam mountain, one of the old granges of Margam Abbey. Her brothers, John Morgan Jones of Merthyr and W. Margam Jones of Llwydcoed, were well-known ministers in the Calvinistic Methodist church.
Morgan Nicholas showed precocious musical talent at a very young age, and as a small child was said to be able to reproduce accurately on the piano pieces he had heard only once. At eight years old he was accompanist to the Aberafan choir at concerts and eisteddfodau, and at the age of twelve was highly praised by the adjudicators for his piano playing at the Swansea National Eisteddfod of 1907, being proclaimed winner out of 63 competitors. He was also one of the twelve players who accompanied the singing on harmoniums at the south Wales Calvinistic Methodist cymanfa ganu held in the National Eisteddfod pavilion in September of that year.
His exceptional talent caused him to be noticed by Miss Emily Talbot (1840-1918) of Margam, who paid for his education at the Eton Choir School, from where at the age of sixteen he won a scholarship to the Royal College of Music. In 1916, aged 20, he joined the army, serving in the Reserve Household Battalion, then the Welsh Guards and the Grenadier Guards. He was stationed at Windsor and deputised for Sir Walter Parratt as organist at St George's Windsor until his battalion went to France in 1917. During his time in France he discovered a piano undamaged in the ruins of a château and played it for some hours one evening, only to find that his commanding officer was listening in the shadows, a scenario that was repeated many times.
In 1920 he was appointed Music Organiser for Montgomeryshire, a post funded by Gwendoline and Margaret Davies of Gregynog, and pioneered the development of music teaching in Montgomeryshire schools. Four years later, in 1924, he moved to Clwyd Hall, the home of Sir Crossland Graham, serving as a church organist and choir conductor. From 1926 to 1947 he was organist and choirmaster of St Oswald's Church, Oswestry, and taught music at the local grammar school and at Ellesmere College. During the Second World War he also taught at Gordonstoun during the school's evacuation to Llandinam.
In 1947 he was appointed executive officer of the University Council of Music in Cardiff, a post he held until his retirement in 1960. In this capacity he had huge influence over all aspects of music-making in Wales, particularly through the regular summer schools for music teachers at Harlech. In 1951 he established and conducted the Welsh Festival of Britain choir, which sang at venues throughout Wales and in London's Festival Hall, and made an LP record. He also conducted the choir at the opening of the Commonwealth Games in Cardiff in 1958. After his return to Cardiff he became organist and choirmaster at Pembroke Terrace Calvinistic Methodist chapel, where his cousin, Morgan R. Mainwaring, was minister.
He composed works in many forms, a large number of which remain unpublished. His chorus for male choirs, 'Ysbryd yw Duw' and his song, 'Y Dieithryn', dedicated to the tenor David Lloyd, with whom he made two records as accompanist, are excellent examples of his work. But he also wrote instrumental pieces, for instance for the cellist Ffrancon Thomas, and some of his works were in the repertoire of the celebrated oboist Léon Goossens. Two pieces for oboe and piano, 'Rhapsody' and 'Melody', were dedicated to the memory of his daughter, who was a promising oboist. His best-known composition is his classic hymn-tune 'Bryn Myrddin', written for the words 'Mawr oedd Crist yn nhragwyddoldeb' by Titus Lewis.
He married Marion May Lloyd of Ton Pentre, Rhondda, on 27 April 1921, and they had two daughters, Joan, who died of polio aged 16, and Meriel. Morgan Nicholas died on 12 August 1963 and his funeral took place at Thornhill crematorium in Cardiff on 15 August. His ashes were buried at Oswestry.
Robat Arwyn 1959 -
Originally from Talysarn in the Nantlle Valley, Robat Arwyn graduated in Music from Cardiff University in 1980 before gaining a Librarianship Diploma from Aberystwyth University in 1981. He was Denbighshire County Council's Principal Librarian for over twenty years, but has now retired to concentrate on his music. He lives in Rhuthun with his wife Mari and grown up children Elan and Guto.
He has been a member of Côr Rhuthun (Rhuthun Choir) since 1981, and has been the accompanist and has composed pieces for the choir since 1987. Sadly, in October 2007, the choir's founder and conductor, Morfydd Vaughan Evans died, and Arwyn took over as conductor.
He was also a member of Trisgell between 1982 and 1995. This was a trio formed by Arwyn and two friends who sang with him in the basses in Côr Rhuthun, Arwyn Vaughan and Llion Wyn.
Robat Arwyn has published 13 volumes of songs, a variety of individual choral pieces and nine musicals, including Er Mwyn Yfory and Plas Du.
Over the years he has been commissioned by the National Eisteddfod, the Urdd, Radio Cymru and the Young Farmers Movement, as well as the London Welsh Male Voice Choir, Bois y Castell, Côr Seiriol and many other choirs.
Atgof o'r Sêr was the commission piece for the Denbighshire National Eisteddfod in 2001 which was written for Bryn Terfel, Fflur Wyn and Côr Rhuthun. During the Eryri National Eisteddfod in 2005 Er Hwylio'r Haul was performed by Bryn Terfel, Mari Wyn Williams and the Eisteddfod's Youth Choir. The first performance of his new work, Hwn yw fy Mrawd will be performed in the National Eisteddfod in Cardiff this year. The work is a biopic depicting the life of actor and singer, Paul Robeson and his strong links with Wales. Once again, Syr Bryn Terfel takes the lead role.
His latest commissions include Llwybrau (Paths) a piece for cello, first performed by Steffan Morris, Sion a Sian for Côr Cytgan Clwyd, I Am The Song for The City of Chester Male Voice Choir, Dyma Gariad Fel y Moroedd for Bro Aled Male Voice Choir, Cân Heb Ei Chanu for Wynne Evans (S4C), Nerth y Gân for Rhys Meirion, and Diamonds That Shine In The Night for Chester Ladies Choir.
He travels all over Wales with The story behind the song when he performs some of his songs, including Yfory, Anfonaf Angel and Benedictus, and explains the stories behind them.
Richard, a graduate from Royal Holloway, University of London, is an accomplished pianist having twice won the National Urdd Eisteddfod of Wales along with winning the coveted pianist of the festival award. Hehas played across Europe including the British Ambassador’s residence and Church in the Rockin Helsinki. He is a regular accompanist on S4C programmes and is regularly in demand as a session musician with the British Sinfonietta, Welsh Session Orchestra and The Novello Orchestra.
Having been assistant conductor and accompanist with Côr CF1, one of Wales’ most dynamic and successful choirs and vocal coach with the Big Talent school at the Wales Millennium Centre, he became musical director of the Côr y Gleision in September 2010 winning the Mixed Choir competition at theNorth Wales Choral Festival and the Cheltenham Festival of Performing Arts, and gaining third prize in this year’s National Eisteddfod. He has been a professional piano tutor since the age of 15 and continues to teach privately.
Richard has also worked as a Researcher and Musical Assistant on many television productions andworking as a composer, wrote the music for S4C’s children’s production Herio’r Ddraig, the recent S4C film, Pianissimo and short film Fi a Miss World. He has published many choral works, and his compositions and arrangements are increasingly in demand by choirs from across Wales and beyond.
Welsh-born composer, Hilary Tann, lives in the foothills of the Adirondack Mountains in Upstate New York where she chairs the Music Department and is the John Howard Payne Professor at Union College, Schenectady. Recent composer-residencies include the 2011 Eastman School of Music Women in Music Festival, 2013 Women Composers Festival of Hartford, and 2015 Welsh Music Center (Ty Cerdd). Her work has been supported by numerous organizations, including the Welsh Arts Council, New York State Council on the Arts, Hanson Institute for American Music, Vaughan Williams Trust, Holst Foundation, National Endowment for the Arts, and Meet the Composer / Arts Endowment Commissioning Music USA.
Praised for its lyricism (“beautiful, lyrical work” – Classical Music Web) and formal balance (“In the formal balance of this music, there is great beauty …” – Welsh Music), her music is influenced by a strong identification with the natural world. These two interests combine in her enjoyment of haiku (she is a published haiku poet) and in text selections from Welsh poets. A deep interest in the traditional music of Japan has led to private study of the shakuhachi and guest visits to Japan, Korea, and China. Her compositions have been widely performed and recorded by ensembles such as the European Women’s Orchestra, Tenebrae, Lontano, Marsyas Trio, Thai Philharmonic, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic, BBC National Orchestra of Wales, and KBS Philharmonic in Seoul, Korea.
Rhian Samuel was born in Aberdare, Wales, in 1944 to a Welsh-speaking, musical family. She has lived in Britain and the United States and her music is played in many countries. She writes orchestral music, chamber music, and vocal and choral music and has worked with many of today's foremost artists. To date more than 100 of her works have been published. In the USA she was joint winner of the ASCAP-Rudolph Nissim Award, 1983, for her choral-orchestral work, La belle dame sans merci. In the UK she won first prize at the Greenwich Festival (1979) for the choral work, So Long Ago, and has received subsequent accolades including the Glyndŵr Medal for services to the Arts in Wales. Her first large orchestral work was Elegy-Symphony (St Louis Symphony Orchestra, 1981). Her Tirluniau / Landscapes (2000), commissioned by the BBC, was premiered at the BBC Millenium Proms in the Albert Hall by the BBC National Orchestra of Wales, Tadaaki Otaka, cond. She has taught composition in both the UK and USA and is now Professor Emeritus at City University London while continuing to teach part-time at Magdalen College, Oxford. Her interests are very wide: she is co-editor of the Norton/New Grove Dictionary of Women Composers (1994), has written on operas of Harrison Birtwistle including Gawain and The Minotaur and her doctoral dissertation (Washington University, St Louis, 1977) is a study of musica ficta in the 16th centurychanson.