Founded by John Edwards in 1955, the Welsh Music Guild (formerly the Guild for the Promotion of Welsh Music) ultimately grew out of the Welsh Recorded Music Society which was founded by him in 1948. In 1890, the National Musical Association of Wales (with Joseph Parry as one of its sponsors) – an organisation with aims and objectives similar to the work of the Guild – had been formed. This was followed in the 1920s by the University Council of Music, started by Walford Davies and then by the Welsh Recorded Music Society in 1948 and its successor, The Welsh Orchestral Development Guild (the precursor of the Welsh Music Guild) in 1954.
One of the first acts of the Welsh Recorded Music Society was, in 1949, to pay for the recording of nine records of works by Welsh composers. These recordings included the first recording of Grace Williams’ Fantasia on Welsh Nursery Tunes by the London Symphony Orchestra and Arwel Hughes’ Gweddi by the BBC Chorus and the Boyd Neel Orchestra. These recordings were later incorporated into the general Decca catalogue and gave a much needed boost to the cause of Welsh music. The Welsh Recorded Music Society existed to promote the recording of works, both instrumental and vocal, by Welsh composers which John Edwards later released on his own label, Qualiton Records.
John Edwards stated:
“We have WELSH composers. All my life I have wanted to put the Welsh composer on the map and I was determined to do something about it.”
In the 1950s there was no systematic promotion of the music of Wales, or, indeed, of British composers generally, and the Guild had to struggle in order to achieve any progress. In 1954, John Edwards produced a pamphlet which proclaimed that “…the music which in our time is produced by Welsh composers must be brought to life by actual performances in London and other great musical centres as well as within Wales. The commissioning of works will earn for Wales much needed recognition and a deserved place for her composers in the world of music.”
1950s – 1970s
The Guild’s first commission was to Alun Hoddinott to compose his First Symphony which was premiered at the 1955 National Eisteddfod at Pwllheli. This was followed, in 1956, by David Wynne’s Symphony No. 2, which was performed by the LSO at the Aberdare National Eisteddfod.
As Secretary, John Edwards and, from 1960, Roger Jones, were responsible for exerting a strong influence on the BBC to include the music of Welsh composers in their programmes. Through their efforts many Welsh composers not only received the first professional performances of their works but also priceless broadcasts.
Roger Jonse, born in Treharris in 1898, worked from an early age at the Ocean Colliery (owned by the Davies family of Gregynog) but on the advice of Sir Walford Davies took up music in 1937. He was in at the beginning of a new interest in instrumental music in the schools of Wales and became Tutor in Charge of the East Glamorgan Orchestra as well as forming his own string orchestra. He was an extremely hard-working and inspirational Secretary of the Guild until his death on 10th May 1965.
Between 1955 and 1974 the Welsh Music Guild held annual congresses which consisted of concerts, talks and seminars. These Congresses were tremendously successful and provided a platform for much new music by Welsh composers as well as introducing music from overseas to Wales. At the First Congress, held at Gregynog in 1955, Kenneth Bowen sang in Stravinsky’s In Memoriam Dylan Thomas – it was only the second performance in Britain. In 1964, at Aberystwyth, Sir Michael Tippett conducted the first performance of David Wynne’s Symphony No. 3. He also led the first of many successful “Composers Workshops” and was elected President of the Guild.
John Edwards died in May 1966 just as the Guild was at last seeing the fruits of his vision. This year also saw the Guild Competition for Violinists with Yehudi Menuhin as chief adjudicator. In subsequent years, this was followed by a competition for pianists and later for young violinists and cellists. In 1970, Sir Geraint Evans took over as President and his ardent support maintained the momentum built up under John Edwards’s stewardship.
Publications and Awards
Since 1960, the Guild has produced the bilingual magazine Welsh Music/Cerddoriaeth Cymru, the only independent publication devoted to the full spectrum of music in Wales, both past and present. Welsh Music’s stimulating mix of articles, profiles, features and reviews makes for essential reading, while its back issues are building into an indispensable research resource for the historian.
The Guild now offers ten major annual awards: Tlws y Cerddor; the John Edwards Memorial Award, the Sir Geraint Evans Award, the Glanville Jones Award, the Joseph Parry Award, the J. Mervyn Williams Award, the Geraint Stanley Jones Award, the Paul Mealor Award for Young Composers, the Paul Mealor Bursary for Student Composers and the Acapela Award for Composers.
Tlws y Cerddor is the principal prize for composition at the National Eisteddfod whose previous winners have included Pwyll ap Siôn, Guto Puw, Ceiri Torjussen, Owain Llwyd, Christopher Painter, Eilir Owen-Griffiths, Meirion Wynn Jones and Gareth Olubunmi Hughes.
The John Edwards Memorial Award, named for the Guild’s founder, is the most prestigious non-competitive award given in Wales for services to the nation’s music. Composers, including Alun Hoddinott, John Metcalf and Grace Williams, performers from Osian Ellis to Bryn Terfel and institutions including the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama, the Vale of Glamorgan Festival and the Lower Machen Festival are among its distinguished recipients.
The Joseph Parry Award was inaugurated in 2003, the centenary of the composer’s death, to honour outstanding contributions made within the field of music education within Wales. The first four recipients of this award were Clifford Bunford, Richard Williams, John Hugh Thomas and Islwyn Evans, all of whom have given exceptional service to music education in Wales.
The Sir Geraint Evans Award, sponsored by Robertons Solicitors, is awarded annually for a significant contribution to Welsh music in any one year or recent years. The first three awards were made to Jeremy Huw Williams, Iwan Llewellyn Jones and Gail Pearson, all consistent champions of the work of Welsh composers
The Welsh Music Guild now maintains a comprehensive database of contemporary Welsh music and has published works by Welsh composers for voice, flute, violin and ‘cello. The Guild has recently formed a partnership with Oriana Publications as a result of which have jointly launched the Welsh Music Guild Anthology of Welsh Music.
The Guild has also commissioned major scores for first performance at the North Wales, Swansea and Fishguard Festivals. In 2003, the Guild set up a network of WMG Ambassadors to represent the work of the Guild overseas and to act as a point of contact for overseas members and for visiting Welsh musicians. As a result the Guild now has representation in Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Scotland, Switzerland, the USA and even the Vatican City where its ambassador, Anna Risi, mounted a performance of Grace Williams’ “The Dancers” in the Musician’s Church.
In 2005/6, for its Golden Jubilee, the Guild promoted events at Cardiff University and at the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama, as well as supporting concerts and events by the Welsh Chamber Orchestra, the Kenneth Loveland Trust, and Ensemble Cymru. In addition, the Guild hosted a concert, at the Lower Machen Festival, to celebrate the seventieth birthday of Enid Luff. To mark the Guild’s Golden Jubilee, five Jubilee Awards were made to acknowledge significant contribution to music on Wales. These awards were made to Elinor Bennett OBE, Dame Anne Evans, Owain Arwel Hughes CBE, Sir Karl Jenkins and Dennis O’Neill CBE.
The Welsh Music Guild’s ongoing commitment to Welsh music is evidenced by several new initiatives that have been introduced in recent years. The Guild has established partnerships with the School of Music at Cardiff University and with the Royal Welsh College of Music & Drama and has developed a close working relationship with both Composers of Wales and Tŷ Cerdd. The Guild is currently expanding its work by engaging in projects with both the BBC National Orchestra and Chorus of Wales and the National Youth Orchestra of Wales.
In 1980 Sir Michael Tippett wrote:
“Congratulations to the Guild for Promotion of Welsh Music [The Welsh Music Guild] on its 25th Anniversary. May the Guild continue to encourage Welsh music with equal success during the next quarter century.”