The British Isles: A Musical Tour – Wales

Wales, famously the land of song, has produced many world-class opera singers and male-voice choirs. But it is also the home to leading twentieth-century composers and even Haydn and Beethoven wrote arrangements of Welsh folk songs.

Cardiff
Novello – Stage works
Wales’s capital city boasts St David’s Hall, one of the best concert halls in Britain which plays host to the Cardiff Singer of the Year competition and is home to the BBC National Orchestra of Wales. The internationally acclaimed Welsh National Opera performs at the New Theatre but a new opera house is being built for them at Cardiff Bay. Cardiff’s most popular musical resident – with the possible exception of Shirley Bassey – is Ivor Novello (1893-1951). Born David Ivor Davies, Novello composed popular songs such as ‘Keep the Home Fires Burning’ and his musicals include Perchance to Dream, The Dancing Years and King’s Rhapsody.

Barry
Grace Williams – Sea Sketches
Most famous for its pleasure beach and for being the site of one of the first Butlins holiday camps, Barry was home to one of Wales’s most underrated composers. Grace Williams (1906-77) was born and died here. A pupil of Vaughan Williams and Jacob, Williams wrote mostly orchestral and choral music. Influenced by Vaughan Williams and Elgar, she is best known for her orchestral Fantasy on Welsh Nursery Tunes (1940) and the haunting Sea Sketches (1944).

Bargoed
Alun Hoddinott – Symphony No. 6
Arguably Wales’s greatest living composer, Alun Hoddinott was born in this small valleys town in 1929. He studied at University College, Cardiff returning there as lecturer in 1959. In 1967 he became its professor and founded the Cardiff Festival of 20th Century Music. His music has a vigorous style that has roots in Bartók, Rawsthorne and Hindemith. His large output consists of orchestral, chamber music, operas and choral music.

Whitland
Mathias – Choral music
The internationally renowned composer William Mathias (1934-92) was born in this small Pembrokeshire town. He studied with Lennox Berkeley at the Royal Academy of Music and from 1959 taught at University College, Bangor. His music draws on Bartók, Hindemith, Stravinsky and Tippett, but his love of multi-movement forms allowed for very individual lyrical and dynamic expression. He wrote much choral and organ music, besides concertos, chamber music and the opera The Servants (1980).

Aberystwyth
J Parry – ‘Aberystwyth’
This West Wales coastal resort is the proud home to the National Library of Wales’s collection of priceless illuminated manuscripts. There is an illustrious music department at the University – Bartók performed here when he visited the town. The composer Joseph Parry (1841-1903), writer of the first Welsh opera Blodwen and the hymn tune ‘Aberystwyth’, taught here.

Swansea
Stravinsky – In memoriam Dylan Thomas
Wales’s second city is perhaps most revered as the birthplace of the lyrical poet Dylan Thomas. While touring the United States, Thomas met Stravinsky and the two were to collaborate on an opera had Thomas not died of alcohol abuse in 1953. Stravinsky’s In memoriam Dylan Thomas is a moving testimony of their friendship. High up in the Swansea Valley is Craig-y-Nos Castle, a Victorian pile built for the legendary diva Adelina Patti. Occasional performances are still given in Madame Patti’s private opera house.

Musical valleys
Male voice choirs
Wales is world famous for its male voice choirs and it is difficult to choose between them. The choirs of the South Wales coal belt are magnificent, however.

Classic CD magazine, 1998

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