Blog - music

Posted - 10-09-2018

Collections / Exhibitions / music

Morfydd Owen – a remarkable talent

A refined and beautiful talent: thoughts on the centenary of the death of Morfydd Owen (1891-1918) is the title of Dr Rhian Davies’s presentation at the Drwm on 11 September.  This is a significant date as it marks a hundred years since her burial at Oystermouth cemetery.  Morfydd Owen  composer, singer and pianist, died tragically young on 7 September 1918 aged twenty six. The presentation is one of many centenary events organised by Gŵyl Gregynog Festival to celebrate her life.  Dr Rhian Davies is the Festival’s Artistic Director and the chief authority on the composer who was also the subject of her thesis for her doctorate degree at Bangor University in 1999.

Morfydd Owen was born on 1 October 1891 in Treforest in a musical household.  She won a scholarship to study music at Cardiff University with Professor David Evans in 1909 and was awarded a Mus. Bac. degree in 1912.  Afterwards she studied composition at The Royal Academy of Music, London, 1912-1917, and won numerous awards, including the Charles Lucas Silver Medal for composing ‘Nocturne’, an orchestral work.  In 1918 she was elected an Associate of the Academy.

She was inducted into the Gorsedd at the National Eisteddfod at Wrexham in 1912 under her bardic name ‘Morfydd Llwyn-Owen’, an amalgamation of her name and her father’s home Plas Llwyn Owen, Bontdolgadfan, near Llanbrynmair.  A sensitive performance of her song ‘The lamb’ was given in the Blue Riband competition at the recent National Eisteddfod.

Morfydd Owen was very talented as she had a rich mezzo-soprano singing voice, was an accomplished pianist and could compose in a variety of styles ranging from hymn-tunes to orchestral pieces.  A scholarship was set up in her name at Cardiff University after her death and Grace Williams was the first to be awarded in 1923.  The manuscript scores and personal memorabilia of Morfydd Owen are housed at the Special Collections and Archives, Cardiff University.

A drama-documentary was shown in 1991 by S4C on the centenary of her birth and a film Morfydd will be premiered this Autumn on the channel.  It focuses on the relationship between Morfydd Owen and Dr Ernest Jones who she married in a Registry Office in London after a brief courtship.  The script is by Siwan Jones.  Rhian Blythe who plays ‘Morfydd’ spent some time at the Library researching for her role.

A small exhibition of items from the Library’s collections will be on display in the Summers Room on 11 September to complement the talk on Morfydd Owen.  Included are music manuscripts, letters in her hand, photographs, concert programmes and the two memorial editions of Morfydd Owen’s posthumously published works inscribed by Dr Ernest Jones to his father-in-law William Owen.

Ann Francis Evans


Posted - 06-03-2018

Collections / music

Welsh Women Musicians

Women’s History Month in March and International Women’s Day on Thursday 8th March are opportunities to highlight some of the archives of the women in Wales who have excelled as composers, musicians and performers.

This year we will be celebrating the centenary of the birth of the composer, Dilys Elwyn Edwards (1918 – 2012) at the National Library with a lecture by Geraint Lewis on “Celebrating Dilys: The Queen of Our Song” on 11 July. Dilys’s archive is at the Library and we have digitised and published some of her most famous compositions on the Tŷ Cerdd website ‘Discover Welsh Music’. Also on the website are works by Morfydd Owen (1891-1918) and we will mark the anniversary of the untimely death of Morfydd Llwyn Owen later this year in collaboration with the Gregynog Music Festival.

The National Library of Wales also holds the archive of Grace Williams (1906-77) one of the first Welsh professional composers in the twentieth century to win significant national prestige. She was a pupil of Vaughan Williams and a friend of Benjamin Britten, and her archive includes a large collection of compositions. Among the comtemporary classical composers we collect is Hilary Tann who is from Wales but now lives in America.

Within the folk music scene, many women have made their mark, including Phyllis Kinney who is one of the leading authorities on our folk music. One early reference is by Walter Davies to tunes known to Gwen verch Wiliam, a singer from Drev Rhiwaedog, circa 1550. Maria Jane Williams (c.1795 – 1873) published ‘The Ancient National Airs of Gwent and Glamorgan’ in 1844. The mezzo-soprano Mary Davies (1855-1930) was co-founder of the Welsh Folk-Song Society and the first President of the society. Women were very active in the Welsh Folk-Song Society and the archive of J Lloyd Williams includes manuscripts collected by Mary Richards Darowen, Jane Catherine Lloyd, Ruth Lewis and Jennie Williams. Ruth Herbert Lewis was a pioneer – the first person to collect the songs with Edison’s phonograph in Wales, and Dora Herbert Jones and Grace Gwyneddon Davies were also active within the Society. Later on Eunice Bryn Williams (d. 1991) was associated with the work of the Welsh Song Society, Cymdeithas Cerdd Dant Cymru, and local and national eisteddfodau; and many melodies were arranged and published by E. Olwen Jones.

As well as composers we also collect the archives of performers, and hold the archives of the opera singer Leila Meganne, letters from Adelina Patti, scrapbooks of the singer Clara Novello Davies, the papers of the singer Ceinwen Rowlands and most recently the first tranche of the archive of celebrated harpists Llio Rhydderch.

Here’s a taster of the archives at the Library. We continue to collect so please contact us if you know of archives of any other Welsh women musician.



Nia Mai Daniel

Rheolwr Rhaglen			Programme Manager 
Yr Archif Gerddorol Gymreig	The Welsh Music Archive
@CerddLLGC			@MusicNLW

Posted - 06-02-2018

Collections / music

Searching for Welsh folk Songs

How would you find a Welsh folk song? Many have been published but there are many more which are less well known. Meredydd Evans and Phyllis Kinney have made detailed studies of Welsh folk songs and tunes and their archive is now available at the National Library. The archive is being catalogued as part of the Welsh Musical Archive Programme. If you would like to come to the Library to see the archive, please contact Nia Mai Daniel on to book an introductory session or contact us on Twitter @musicNLW.

The archive of Merêd (Meredydd Evans 1919-2015) and his wife, the scholar and musician Phyllis Kinney contains over 150 boxes that can be grouped as :

  • Musical papers of Phyllis Kinney
  • Musical papers of Merêd
  • Merêd and Phyllis’s index cards on Welsh traditional music
  • Correspondence of Merêd
  • Merêd’s files on philosophy, literature, campaigns for the Welsh language and more.

We hope to develop a Welsh folk music database based on the Merêd and Phyllis index cards. To achieve this, the cards will be digitized and we will develop a way of making the information easily available online for performers and those who want to explore Welsh folk tunes and songs.

There are index cards for the different categories below

  • Folk songs : Over 1,000 index cards arranged by title A-Z
  • Tunes for ‘Carols’: Notes by Phyllis Kinney on the melody, the manuscript or source of the tune, and the music notation.
  • Words for ‘Carols’ : Notes by Merêd, mostly on the sources of Christmas carols.
  • Nursery rhymes : From the printed collections of O. M Edwards, Ceiriog and Eluned Bebb.
  • ‘Alawon fy Ngwlad’ The lays of my land (1896) : A book of over 500 tunes collected by Nicholas Bennett which is now available online at the Library’s website
  • Mari lwyd: Notes on the traditions of wassailing and seasonal festivities for Phyllis Kinney’s book ‘Welsh Traditional Music’ (2011)
  • J Lloyd Williams : Songs and Tunes from the archive of J Lloyd Williams at NLW who was a folk music collector.
  • Welsh Folk Song Society magazine : Statistics on song sources and tunes in the Magazine during the editorship of J Lloyd Williams.

The cards indicate the tune and words, differing versions, name of places associated with the tunes, and indicate the book or manuscript where they has been found. Many of these sources have been digitized by the Library including important manuscripts by John Jenkins (1770-1829): Melus-seiniau CymruPer Seiniau Cymru and Melus geingciau Deheubarth Cymru and a full list can be found on our page on ‘Welsh Traditional Music‘.

Nia Mai Daniel

Programme Manager, The Welsh Music Archive



See also previous blog on 25-09-2017 ‘Launching the Welsh Music Archive’

Launching the Welsh Music Archive




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A blog about the work and collections of the National Library of Wales.

Due to the more personal nature of blogs it is the Library's policy to publish postings in the original language only. An equal number of blog posts are published in both Welsh and English, but they are not the same postings. For a translation of the blog readers may wish to try facilities such as Google Translate.

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