It may seem surprising, but NO Welsh music appears to have been published until the early eighteenth century when Aria di camera was published. Over the next few years a number of volumes of Welsh music similar to Aria were published usually containing a selection of Welsh folk tunes interspersed with folk tunes from elsewhere and music by popular composers of the day. The earliest publication we’ve got at the UL which includes Welsh music is A collection of Welsh, English & Scotch Airs with new variations ; also Four new lessons for the harp or harpsichord / composed by John Parry. To which are added Twelve airs for the guitar.
John Parry (also known as Parry Ddall, or Blind Parry) was born on the Llyn Peninsula. Blind from an early age, he became an accomplished harpist, performing across the UK, including giving concerts in London and Cambridge. He became a member of the smart set, numbering Sir Joshua Reynolds and David Garrick among his acquaintances. The Cambridge concert inspired Thomas Gray to write The Bard. The harp music in Parry’s Collection is still part of the harp repertoire today, and two of the songs The marsh of Rhuddlan and Of a noble race was Shenkin have stayed in the Welsh folk song repertoire – I certainly learned them as a child growing up in the valleys of South Wales.
Following the success of the Parry Collection, other anthologies followed. One of my favourites is Edward Jones‘ Musical and poetical relicks of the Welsh Bards. Virtually every Welsh folk song you love is included in this collection including Ar hyd a nos (All through the night), Men of Harlech, and Daffydd y Garreg Wen (David of the White Rock) – all printed for the first time. There’s also an early printing of Parry Ddall’s Nos Galan (Deck the hall with boughs of holly). Along with all your favourite tunes is an extensive history of Welsh music and Druidic practice, some of which owes more to the imagination than to scholarly research.
In 1837, Jane Williams was awarded a prize at the National Eisteddfod in Abergavenny for her collection of Welsh folksong Ancient National Airs of Gwent and Morganwg. This was the first comprehensive collection of Welsh music featuring both tunes and words. Williams was part of Lady Llanover’s social circle, a vitally important name in the revival of interest in Welsh folk music; and a name very familiar to me as Llanover, her home, is very near my home town. I was thrilled to discover that the UL’s copy of Ancient National Airs is signed by Lady Llanover. We also have a borrowable copy at M291.b.95.5.
Jane Williams was instrumental in encouraging and working with John Parry, usually better known as Bardd Alaw, to complete his collection The Welsh Harper. The Welsh Harper continued the work of Edward Jones. Volume 1 being a reprint of Jones’ Musical and poetical relicks, while volume 2 included some previously unpublished music, some of which was inspired by Jane Williams’ Ancient National Airs; as well as arrangements by John Parry of previously published folk songs. John Parry will be of some interest to MusiCB3 readers – you may recall his son, John Orlando Parry, being mentioned elsewhere. John Orlando, like his father, was a skilled harpist.
Since these early publications Welsh music has been published extensively, and frequently arranged. One of my very favourite arrangements is Grace Williams’ lovely settings of Welsh nursery songs Fantasia on Welsh nursery tunes.
A very Happy St. David’s Day to you all. Dydd Gwyl Dewi Sant hapus.