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
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