Wales’s finest composers

30 March 2021

Welsh singers have been hitting the high notes for years. From Sir Bryn Terfel, Dame Shirley Bassey to Rebecca Evans, Only Men Aloud, Eden and Stereophonics, we are not afraid to use our voices but who are the people behind the songs we sing and the music we perform? We explore some of Wales’s finest composers.  

At the time of her death, Dilys Elwyn-Edwards (1918-2012) had become one of the best-known and most highly regarded of all living Welsh song composers. Born in Dolgellau she was known for her soft, melodic art songs. Her Caneuon y Tri Aderyn (Three Welsh Bird Songs) and Mae Hiraeth yn y Môr (There is longing in the sea) have become classics of the Welsh song repertoire.

Morfydd Llwyn Owen (1891-1918) was a prolific composer who died shortly before her 27th birthday. Though Owen only composed seriously for a little over 10 years, she left a legacy of around 250 scores. Despite composing for chamber ensemble, piano, mixed choir and orchestra, it is her compositions for voice and piano that are regarded as her most important contributions - Slumber Song of the MadonnaTo our Lady of SorrowsSuo Gân, and her masterpiece, Gweddi y Pechadur

Joseph Parry (1841-1903), whose opera Blodwen was the first opera written in the Welsh language, was born in Merthyr Tydfil. With 10 operas, three oratorios, five cantatas and numerous anthems, songs and orchestral works he also edited and harmonised six volumes of Welsh songs and wrote what was probably the first original composition for brass band.

Cardiff born Julian Philips (1969- ) took up the position of Head of Composition at the Guildhall School of Music and Drama in 2004 and was the first to be appointed to the post of Composer in Residence with Glyndebourne. For Welsh National Opera he has composed two children’s operas – Wild Cat in 2006 and Dolffin in 2005.

A child prodigy who produced his first composition aged five, William Mathias (1934-1992), who hailed from Carmarthenshire, came to international attention in 1981 when he was commissioned to write an anthem for the wedding of Prince Charles and Lady Diana Spencer.

Just like his teacher, Paul Mealor (1975- ) catapulted to international attention when his motet, Ubi caritas, was performed at the Royal Wedding Ceremony of His Royal Highness Prince William and Catherine Middleton at Westminster Abbey. He also became the first classical composer to hold both the classical and pop chart No 1’s at the same time in December 2011 with Wherever You Are, his piece for The Military Wives Choir and Gareth Malone.