He was a Welsh harpist and composer born in Bridgend,
Glamorgan, Wales, to a family where his father was a well respected tailor
a local amateur clarinettist. He
began his studies in music by learning the piccolo when he was four, which
led to him playing in a local brass band by the time he was just six.
Soon he began to take lessons in the violin but he
soon gravitated towards the harp when he had been acquainted with the
triple harp aka the Welsh harp when he heard someone playing it when they
visited his home. His father bought him a triple harp, which he was taught
how to play and several years later in 1838 he won the silver triple harp
at the eisteddfod in Abergavenny when he was twelve years old. After being sponsored by Lord
Byron’s daughter, Lady August da Lovelace, he studied at the Royal
Academy of Music in London from 1840.
He would leave there in 1846 having been made a Fellow and from 1871
he held a teaching position there.
From the time he was fourteen he played a concert harp
and from 1851 he performed nationally and internationally to bring Welsh
music to a European audience at venues in Austria, Germany, Italy and
Russia. During a time he was
playing in France he received warm praise from the composer Hector
Berlioz. He held the position
of harpist with the Royal Italian Opera who were based at London’s
Her Royal Majesty’s Theatre and in 1861 he was honoured with the
bardic title of Pencerdd Gwalia, meaning Chief Musician of Wales, at the
eisteddfod in Aberdare. Five
years later at the National Eisteddfod in 1866 he was presented with 500
guineas for his services to Welsh music.
In 1871 he took up his teaching post at the Royal
Academy of Music, and sometime in the next year or so established the
London Welsh Choral Union. In
1872 he was called upon to join the royal court and became Queen
Victoria’s official harpist, visiting the United States in 1893 as an
adjudicator at the Chicago Festival’s eisteddfod. From 1881 he also taught at the
Guildhall School of Music and the Royal College of Music and was an
examiner for the Royal Academy.
Following Queen Victoria’s death he remained in his royal
harpist position serving King Edward VII.
A prolific composer for much of his life he took much
of his musical influence from his national folk music and his works include
symphonies, operas, harp concertos, cantatas and songs that include
“The March of the Men of Harlech”, “David of the White
Rock” “The Minstrel’s Adieu To His Native Land” and
“The Rising of the Sun” as well as an arrangement of the
popular “All Through the Night” and “The Ash
Grove”. He died in 1913
at the age of 87 in London.