Mansel's Music Lives on; Manuscripts by the Late Welsh Composer Mansel Thomas Are Being Collected and Published by His Family. Here His Son-in-Law, Terence Gilmore-James, Talks about the Legacy of the Former Head of Music for BBC Wales

Western Mail (Cardiff, Wales), July 10, 2009 | Go to article overview
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Mansel's Music Lives on; Manuscripts by the Late Welsh Composer Mansel Thomas Are Being Collected and Published by His Family. Here His Son-in-Law, Terence Gilmore-James, Talks about the Legacy of the Former Head of Music for BBC Wales


MANSEL Thomas was one of the most important and influential musicians of his generation in Wales.

Famous as a composer, conductor and adjudicator, he was for many years the BBC's principal representative for Wales and was able to encourage and promote, with characteristic generosity, the early careers of many composers and performers who have since become celebrities.

He wrote a large and varied range of music - vocal, choral (mixed, female, children's and male voices), instrumental (solo and chamber), band and orchestral.

He was equally at home in sacred and secular fields, but expressed himself more naturally and spontaneously in works of short and medium duration than in extended forms, such as oratorio, opera and symphony.

Born in Pontygwaith in the Rhondda in 1909, he took up the Rhondda Scholarship to the Royal Academy of Music in London at the early age of 16 and won a number of awards and prizes. He spent five years as a freelance musician in London, notably as a conductor and composer.

In 1934 he conducted the London Symphony Orchestra in his piece, Theme and Variations at the Neath Eisteddfod, and this gift for orchestration was to become a considerable aspect of his prowess during his years at the BBC, as was his remarkable inclination for songwriting and choral composition.

Mansel joined the BBC in Cardiff in 1936 as a music assistant and deputy conductor of the newly-formed BBC Welsh Orchestra. Following war service he resumed his duties, but as Principal Conductor of the orchestra, and in 1950 was appointed Head of Music for BBC Wales.

These were formative years and broadcasts of Welsh music increased in frequency and quality under his professional scrutiny. Though he himself never ceased to find some time to compose and arrange, nevertheless the increasing scale of his BBC commitments - and the onset of television introduced yet another dimension - did not allow him the amount of time he always wanted. So, he decided to take early retirement in 1965 to devote himself to composition.

He and his wife, Megan, moved to a cottage in rural north Gwent where he produced what is probably the most important corpus of his work, especially in vocal and choral spheres, including a choral suite for the Royal Investiture of 1969.

His many accolades for services to British music include an OBE in 1970 and a Professorial Fellowship at Aberystwyth University two years later.

He suffered major illness from 1979 and wrote little else of significance thereafter. He died in January 1986, aged 76. Mansel left an enormous and invaluable legacy of compositions and almost all of those not previously published are now being brought into print by the Mansel Thomas Trust, which was established by his widow Megan in 1987, with its main aim being to collate and collect his manuscripts and publish as many as possible.

The Trust - which is now run by my wife Grace, Mansel's daughter, and I - was granted charitable status the following year.

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Mansel's Music Lives on; Manuscripts by the Late Welsh Composer Mansel Thomas Are Being Collected and Published by His Family. Here His Son-in-Law, Terence Gilmore-James, Talks about the Legacy of the Former Head of Music for BBC Wales
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