Welsh Women Musicians

Collections / music - Posted 06-03-2018

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 T? 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

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