Session 98: Ystafell 2
Folk music: the Welsh harp, and J. Glyn Davies

Chair: Rhiannon Marks

The influence of the modern pedal harp on the Welsh triple harp in the nineteenth century

Kathryn Hockenbury
Prifysgol Bangor

Instruments are made to fit the needs of musicians. As the musicians’ needs change, the instrument making changes. In the seventeenth century, the triple harp was invented in Italy to cater to the need for musicians to adapt to increasing chromatism (the ability to play in different keys). In the eighteenth century, Welsh harpists required lightweight instruments to accommodate their constant travelling. By the nineteenth century, the triple harp was changed to compete with the rising competition: the pedal harp. While others widely argued for the greater chromatic possibilities of the pedal harp, Wales persisted, solidifying the triple harp as an instrumental part of Welsh culture.

This paper will examine the influence of the invention and popularisation of pedal harps on the Bassett Jones’ 1842 Prince of Wales harp and 1851 Great Exhibition harp. I will compare these two iconic Welsh triple harps with equivalent triple harps from the eighteenth century, as well as compare these harps to equivalent nineteenth century pedal harps. By exploring the iconography, weight, measurements, and overall appearance, it can be determined how the Welsh triple harp adapted to meet the needs of musicians in the nineteenth century. While these are outliers, these changes can still be noted in other triple harps of the time.

‘Welsh Songcraft’: the songs of J. Glyn Davies (1870–1953) and the Welsh folk tradition

Stephen Rees
Prifysgol Bangor

How does a composed song become ‘traditional’? The Welsh-language songs published by J. Glyn Davies during the 1920s and 1930s offer a fascinating perspective on this question. Davies was born in Liverpool in 1870 to a Welsh-speaking family. Although he was highly regarded as a Celtic scholar at the University of Liverpool, it is for his songs – in particular sea-songs and shanties – that Davies is best known today. He produced three collections between 1923 and 1936, for which he wrote the words and provided the music. The melodies were drawn mainly from Wales, England and Scandinavia, both from oral tradition and published volumes; most were adapted in some way, and a few were composed. An introductory section to his first publication, Cerddi Huw Puw (1923) [Poems of Huw Puw] – entitled ‘Notes on Welsh Songcraft’ – provides perceptive (and sometimes acerbic) commentary on musical and literary scholarship. His songs soon entered oral tradition, and are still widely known and sung in Wales. This paper examines the development of J. Glyn Davies’s musical and literary aesthetics; explains how his views were shaped by antipathy to the folk-song movement and to academic scholarship within Wales; and traces some of the ways in which his songs became rapidly institutionalised and absorbed into the Welsh folk tradition.