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Music of the Welsh Church

Welsh Sources of Plainchant and Liturgy

Image of PenbontStudy of music associated with the Welsh church is a focal point of the Centre’s work. The unique early fourteenth-century illuminated Bangor Pontifical made for Anian II (bishop of Bangor, 1309–28) is owned by Bangor cathedral and held in the university archive. Its musical and liturgical content are both highly significant – it is the only near-complete pontifical to survive that concords with the medieval Use of Sarum. (For a full study, see Sally Harper, ‘The Bangor Pontifical: A Pontifical of the Use of Salisbury’, Welsh Music History, 2 (1997), 65–99.)

Following acquisition of funding from various sources such as the Marc Fitch Fund, CAWMS is now playing a lead role in a longstanding project to conserve and digitize the Pontifical, where high resolution images of the entire manuscript will soon be made available via a new public-access website, together with parallel transcriptions of text and music, translations, commentaries, and sound files of some of the plainchant melodies.

CAWMS has also undertaken to release a complementary commercial CD recording of plainchant from the Pontifical, together with items from the unique rhymed Office of St David found in the near-contemporary Penpont Antiphonal, and from the organ mass of the London Welsh composer Philip ap Rhys (d.1566).

Image odf St DavidsMusic at Medieval St Davids

The Centre has also published work on sources associated with St David’s cathedral (including the Menevia Sacra of Henry Thomas Payne (1759–1832)). In March 2007 Sally Harper (with assistance from Stephen Rees and the Bangor singer-harpist Gwenan Gibbard) presented a Welsh television documentary on medieval devotion to St David, made for S4C by Green Bay Productions, including sections of the Office of St David sung by the Alamire Consort under the direction of Dr David Skinner.

The Welsh Metrical Psalter of Edmwnd Prys (1621)

Image of the Llyfr y SalmauThe Bangor University Archive also holds copies of the earliest printed Welsh metrical psalter, the Llyfr y Salmau of Edmwnd Prys (1621), not only the first metrical psalter to be published in Welsh, but also the earliest book in the Welsh language printed with music. Two of the twelve monophonic psalm-tunes it contains are unique to this publication, and two further tunes were printed for the very first time here. (For full exploration and transcription of the tunes, see Sally Harper, ‘Tunes for a Welsh Psalter: Edmwnd Prys’s Llyfr y Psalmau’, Studia Celtica, 37 (2003), 221–67.)

Welsh Non-Conformist Hymnody

Several fascinating studies of text and music associated with the Non-Conformist tradition in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries have appeared in CAWMS publications, and this is an area of research that the Centre particularly wishes to encourage.

David Gosden’s study of the origin and survival of some of the tunes written for the hymns of William Williams, ‘Pantycelyn’ (1717–91) appears in Welsh Music History, 5 (2002), while two further contributions may be found in the special volume presented to Meredydd Evans and Phyllis Kinney, Studies in Welsh Music – Bearers of Song (2007). Here Rhidian Griffiths explores the congregational hymnody of Llyfr Tonau Cynulleidfaol (1859) edited by Ieuan Gwyllt, the harmonizer, arranger and composer of many Welsh hymn tunes and psalms (see ‘“Y Cyfansoddwr Gorau”: Ieuan Gwyllt a’r Alaw Gymreig’ / ‘“The Best Composer”: Ieuan Gwyllt and the Welsh Melody’), while Rhiannon Ifans looks at a literary milestone associated with one Jane Ellis or Edward, entitled Casgliad o Hymnau, Carolau a Mawrnadau (1840). This comprises a collection of hymns, carols and elegies written specifically for existing plygain tunes. (See ‘Ar Drywydd y Gyfrol Brintiedig Gyntaf o Waith Llenyddol yn y Gymraeg gan Ferch’ / ‘On the Trail of the First Literary Volume Published in Welsh by a Woman’.)

Music for a Bilingual Church Image of Agnus Dei (John Harper, Cymun y Cymry)

The Centre’s  2007 conference included a session held jointly with Bangor’s International Centre for Sacred Music Studies, directed by Professor John Harper. This focused on music for a bilingual church, and explored the process of preparing a fully  bilingual musical setting of the Ordinary texts of the Church in Wales Eucharist 2004, ‘Cymun y Cymry’, intended to allow congregations to share music in common. The same session also included a workshop on setting the Ordinary texts to well known Welsh folk tunes.

Click here for the full text of John Harper's paper on composing for a bilingual church.