CHILDREN'S SONGS Voice
Among our folk songs there are many nursery and play-songs for
children, invariably nonsensical and fantastical.
Song of the Bittern
The bittern is a marsh bird which has been extinct in Wales for
over a hundred years. It emits a booming sound - which is heard
in the song, from its long neck. The bird wanders over the hills,
falls into a basket of apples, sells them in the market with
the children shouting all around him, and returns back home telling
his mistress: "Look at all the money I've had for selling
Gee up, little horse
Carrying us both over the
hIlls and down through the dales; the river is deep - we'll slip
on the stones here we go down - now that's a fine trick! And
at this moment the father (usually) throws the child up in the
air and catches him - a mother might be more cautious!
Dacw Mam yn dwad
There comes my mother, over
the white stile; something in her apron, and a pitcher on her
head. The cow in the farmyard mooing for her calf, and the calf
over yonder playing "Jim Crow". Jim Crow "crystyn," one,
two, four, and the silly little pig sits sweetly on the stool!
The singer imagines he is
a blacksmith shoeing horses in the smithy. The sound of the anvil
is imitated in "bidinc, bidinc," and the trotting
pony is heard in "bi-drot, bi-drot".
Gwenni went to Pwllheli Market
to buy a clay bowl; she paid six shillings for it - at home it
would have cost her just sixpence-ha'penny; simple-sample, ffinister-ffanister always
this fuss with silly old Gwen! Gwenni went milking with her clay
bowl; the cow gave just one slap with her tail and the six shillingsworth
was shattered - simple - sample, etc. Gwenni went early to wash
her clothes in the river; while she fetched her soap her clothes
floated away with the stream - simple-sample, etc.
IMPROVISATIONS OP. 10 Solo
harp William Mathias 1934-1992
William Mathias has used the harp extensively
as a solo instrument, in chamber music, and in his colourful orchestrations.
At the invitation of the Llandaf Festival he wrote for me the Harp
Concerto in 1970. These earlier pieces were written while he was
still a student at the Royal Academy of Music in London after completing
his studies at the University of Wales at Aberystwyth.
DIVERSIONS, FOR TWO HARPS Osian
The first movement, has a "happy-go-lucky" atmosphere
with the two harps in quite distant keys (G and C flat) pursuing
each other as if they were 'playing tag'. They eventually collide
into each other on the last note.
Descanting is based on the traditional style of "Penillion
Singing", peculiar to Wales, where the harp plays a harmonized
melody and the singer sets verses in counterpoint - or descant.
The work was commissioned by Cymdeithas Cerdd Dant Cymru (the Welsh
Penillion Singing Society) as a test piece for its Festival in
1990. Here the second harp plays the air and the first harp plays
the descant - a "Song without Words".
Gossiping is dedicated, with affection, to all my colleagues, young
and old. It chatters and prattles, tut-tuts and yes-yesses; it
is loquacious but, I hope, not long-winded. The Welsh title of
the work is Clymau Cytgerdd.
HARP CONCERTO IN B FLAT OPUS
4 NO. 6 Solo harp G.F.Handel
This was first performed by the Welsh harpist. William Powell in
1736 as an interlude during Alexander's Feast. Handel
had already used the harp as an obbligato instrument in Julius
Caesar, Esther, Saul and Alexander Balus. When he
scored the work with strings and recorders, Handel instructed the
lower strings to play pizzicato during the first and last
movements - in imitation of the plucked harp, and he instructed
the violins to play throughout with mutes. However it is probable
that Powell would have played the work for solo harp also - as
we know Blind John Parry did. The Flute Sonata in F major became
the Organ Concerto in F major Opus 4 No. 5. No doubt, more copies
could be sold by Handel's publisher in this manner. The second
movement is a Sarabande, a slow dance with a strong second
beat, and the last movement is a Minuet.
i Andante allegro
SONGS IN PENILLION STYLE voice
and harp Osian Ellis
This is the traditional way of setting Welsh poerry to music -
the folk-songs were invariably unaccompanied. The singer and harpist
decide on a harp-tune, to which the singer must set his words,
observing many rules: the harp must begin alone, and he then improvises
his own counter-melody; finally, he must end with the melody that
is played on the harp.
Greddf gwr - Aneirin
A fragment from Britain's oldest heroic poem, the Gododdin, by
the Welsh poet Aneirin, and composed around 600 A.D. for the chieftain,
Mynyddog Mwynfawr, and his ancient British court at Dineidyn, now
Edinburgh. The complete work (over 1200 lines) is a series of elegies
for the Brittonic warriors who fought and died at the hands of
the Angles at the battle of Catraeth (modern Catterick). "A
man in might, yet, in years, a youth - courageous in battle; a
fine handsome knight astride a nimble, long-maned steed; a light,
wide shield on a slender horse; glinting blue swords, fringed with
gold - hatred shall never come between us! Far better - I shall
praise you in song: sooner to a bloody field than to a wedding
feast! Sooner to be ravens' feed than to a funeral! Owen, my beloved
friend, I grieve that you lie beneath a cairn. Woe that in this
land was slain the only son of Marro".
Cywydd Tomos Prys - Tomos
Prys c. 1564-1634
A setting of a poem (a 'cywydd') by the Elizabethan poet and
adventurer, Thomas Prys. He fought as a soldier in Flanders,
Holland, France, Spain, Scotland and Ireland. He later became
a buccaneer hunting booty from Spanish ships, and in this poem,
interspersed with English commands, he amusingly recalls some
of his exploits at sea. The Welsh poetic custotn of cynghanedd,
an organised system of assonance and alliteration, spills over
into his English lines: "Bring here the timber tomboy
/ What's here, a can of beer, boy? / Munson, hoist up the mainsail
/By Marie. I see a sail' '' Apparently, his exploits were not
profitable, and in the final couplet he vows: "Before
I will, pill or part / Buy a ship - I'll be a shephart!"
Patagonia - R. Bryn
Desterrado: a poem, in Welsh and Spanish (South American). written
fpr me to sing on a visit in 1965 to Patagonia in the south of
Argentina to celebrate the landing in 1865 of a shipload of Welsh
emigrants who, after many ordeals, have survived in this distant
land. The poet was Bryn Williams (1902-81) who was brought up in
Patagonia, returned to Wales as student, entered the Presbyterian
ministry, and, as a poet, he was honoured with his appointment
as Archdruid from 1973-76. The poem is a cry of longing for the
Andes, it begins in traditional Welsh fashion, but as soon as the
Spanish is heard, the harp sails off into a most un-Welsh idiom.
GAVOTTE EN RONDEAU Solo
This is a movement from the Partita in E major for Solo Violin.
ST ASAPH CANTICLES -
1988 Voice and harp Osian Ellis
Written for the North Wales
Music Festival held at St Asaph Cathedral. The main thrust of
Welsh verse from the sixth to the sixteenth centuries was the
celebration of the leaders of the community - in early times,
kings, princes and warriors, and after their demise, noblemen
and church dignitaries.
A setting of an ode (a cywydd) in praise of Bishop John Trevor
and his court around 1397 by one of the most distinguished
poets of the 14th Centuty, Iolo Goch (c. 132098); he wrote
for patrons all over Wales, and in poems to King Edward III
and to Sir Roger Mortimer he displays detailed knowledge of
the wars of the period, and of people and places in Ireland,
England and France. Three of his poems to Owain Glyndwr are
extant, and one of them celebrates the luxury of the court
of Sycharth. He wrote in praise of at least two bishops and
a dean of St Asaph, for he was welcome to stay with them. These
patrons displayed an enthusiasm for Welsh verse, and the poet
was held in great esteem. In this Eulogy he reveals the measure
of the patronage bestowed upon him, and he looks forward to
the hospitality offered for yet another winter by Bishop Trevor
- Iolo may have died not long after. Despite his age, he gives
a virtuoso display as he declaims to the music of the harp
(the poetry was always intended to be spoken or sung - not
read on a page), and he amusingly observes upon the functions
of the officers of the court. They, of course, would be his
audience. He describes the impressive Mass sung in the Cathedral
with the voices of the bourdon, mean, treble, and a novelty,
surely, at this time, the higher- sounding quatrible. He has
a familiar and friendly relationship with the Bishop, so close,
indeed, that he can tease him when he declaims:
"Hardly a day passes - he is generous in every way - that
he does not bless me - how considerate
he is - often twice, by Mary, or thrice in a day!" (These
interruptive phrases, called
sangiadau, were a decorative feature of the cywydd. They can be
awkward to read and understand, yet, surprisingly, the music accommodates
them without difficulty). And then the impish, sly suggestion in
the final couplet: "Often he favours me with gold; may he
enjoy God's gift of bliss."
Threnody for harp solo, when the harpist articulates his own deep
anguish and bitterness at the loss of his beloved patron before
accompanying the bard in his Elegy.
A setting of an elegy to Bishop William Morgan, the translator
of the Bible into Welsh, written by Huw Machno (c. 1560-1637).
The poet, like Bishop Morgan, was a son of Penmachno; he had already
written several eulogies for him, but, finally, in 1604, came this
intensely felt elegy of 130 lines. I have chosen to set just 38
of these. I attempt to convey the grief of the poet in his lament
for the loss of a valued friend, a noble and generous patron, a
great scholar, and a most highly-respected personage.
SONATA IN G MINOR OPUS 1 NO. 10 Solo
harp G.F. Handel
Originally written for violin and continuo. It was Handel's custom
to note only the skeleton of the music, - the treble with figured
bass; and he expected the players to improvise imaginatively, to
extend the harmonies, and to add variations, especially during
any "'peated section. I trust that I have adhered to Handel's
intention and style.
SONGS OF LONGING voice
Another version of Lisa Lân
which was sung to me in 1970 by a blacksmith, William Jones,
at Aberdaron, on the Llyn Peninsula. He recalled his grandfather
singing the song, which is in the Dorian Mode, but with occasional
quarter-tones as well. The folk-songs were often transmitted
by seamen as they sailed, over a hundred years ago, to and from
the many Welsh ports and landing places which have long-since
disappeared with the demise of the sailing ships. The song is
a tragic expression of unrequited love: "Oh, Lisa, bear
me to my grave."
The Old Man's Ballad
He recalls his joyous, frivolous
youth, and then his marriage to the finest girl he ever saw;
the union turns sour, but, eventually, she dies, and the old
man seems joyous once more!
Where is my love?
The singer has made a tryst with his girl friend; she does not
appear; he goes to her house to seek her, and finds her family
weeping above her dead body. This is his lament.
Tell not a soul
"If thy heart is near to breaking - tell not a soul, because
thy love is now forsaking - tell not a soul. And if all hopes do
perish - tell not a soul, there is none who will thee cherish -
tell not a soul".
Notes by Osian