Academic journal article Journal of Singing

The Welsh Language and Vocal Music

Academic journal article Journal of Singing

The Welsh Language and Vocal Music

Article excerpt

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BEING A COMPOSER OF WELSH HERITAGE does not imply compositional activity in the Welsh language. Although many songs and song cycles have been written by Welsh composers, there are remarkably few in the Welsh language. Some of Wales' most prominent composers have simply ignored the region's linguistic traditions entirely. The many choral works of William Mathias, for instance, are in English and Latin only, and he had little interest in art song. Because of the great choral tradition in Wales, choral works are more likely to be written in Welsh than are solo song or opera.

Table 1 is selective, as are the associated works with Welsh text. Those in brackets are well known Welsh composers who have not contributed significantly or at all to Welsh-texted repertory.

Among the non-Welsh composers who have set Welsh lyrics, Britten's folk song arrangements are perhaps the most famous ("Bugeilio'r Gwenith Gwyn" [I was Lonely and Forlorn], and "Dafydd y Garreg Wen" [David of the White Rock], in 8 Folk Song Arrangements [1976] for high voice and harp). The latter was also arranged by Grainger for voice and piano. Holst arranged Twelve Welsh Folk Songs for mixed chorus in 1931, which were published with Welsh and English words. More recently, British composer Patrick Hawes has written a soprano song cycle in Welsh, Morfydd (2012). Anthologies of Welsh folk songs have been popular since the 19th century, the early ones published by Boosey and Paxton, and edited/arranged by Granville Bantock, Brinley Richards, and Arthur Somervell. Containing performing translations in English as well as the original Welsh, these anthologies provide not only a window into Welsh folklore, but also repertory for singers with still developing technique, who are textually adventurous or of Welsh extraction. A list of anthologies, including several in print modern ones, is appended to this article.

The love of singing among the Welsh people, and its prominent place in Welsh culture is familiar to all, and has deep roots in the folklore. Wales has a strong bardic tradition reaching back many centuries, and the national Eisteddfod **** festivals of story telling, music, and performance can be traced back to at least 1176. The Llangollen International Musical Eisteddfod is only the most renowned of several such festivals that occur in Wales each year. The region has produced an enviable number of internationally renowned professional singers as well, in both popular and art genres. The reader could well be able to contribute more to the following list of prominent names.

Miriam Bowen

Delme Bryn-Jones

Stuart Burrows

Charlotte Church

Ryland Davies

[Sir] Geraint Evans

Gwynne Howell

Anne Howells

Aled Jones

Gwyneth Jones

Rhys Meirion

Clara Novello Davies

Adelina Patti

Margaret Price

Harry Secombe

Bryn Terfel

Elizabeth Vaughan

In the present day, Welsh is spoken by about 20% of the population in Wales. For many of those it is a first language, especially in more rural areas. The relative paucity of native language art music by Welsh composers may be attributable to ambition as well as philosophy and personal predilection. Until a composer is well established in Britain and beyond, a focus on culturally specific musical creation may be perceived by some as a parochial gesture that may serve to erode one's image as belonging to the "mainstream." And, as in other regionally specific geographic areas, the Welsh have a wide spectrum of interest in, and passion about, the preservation of their cultural and linguistic traditions. The present author ventures the thought that commitment to the preservation of all things Welsh on the one hand, and being full participants in the "world stage" on the other, will not be viewed as a trade-off, but as a compatible, symbiotic enhancement of culture, both within and outside of Wales. …

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