Dictionary of Welsh Biography


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ROBERTS , JOHN HENRY ( Pencerdd Gwynedd ; 1848 - 1924 ), musician ;

b. 31 March 1848 at Pen-rallt , Y Gefnan , Mynydd Llandygài, Caerns. , the son of Harri and Elizabeth Roberts . When quite young he went to work in a quarry , but soon showed a disinclination for work of that kind. At 14 he became organist at Seilo ( Tre-garth ) Wesleyan Methodist chapel . He started to compose hymn-tunes and anthems , and when he was 19 he took the prize for a cantata (‘ Y Mab Afradlon ’) in an eisteddfod held at Chester . When he was 20 he became a clerk at Bryneglwys quarry , Abergynolwyn, Mer. ; here he formed a choir to take part in the Harlech musical festival of 1868 . As he was now coming into prominence as an accompanist , a group of Abergynolwyn people and the Harlech festival committee arranged for him to get tuition in music. He went to Gloucester where he was taught by Dr. S. S. Wesley , the cathedral organist , and, in 1870 , to the Royal Academy of Music , London , where he stayed four years, during which time he composed a symphony, two overtures, a string quartette, sonatas, etc. To this period belongs, also, one of his best part-songs — ‘ Cwsg, Filwr, Cwsg ’ — which was sung with marvellous effect by the choir at the Rhyl national eisteddfod , 1892 . After becoming F.R.A.M. he was appointed organist of the Congregational church at Bethesda, Caerns. , and, afterwards, at the Castle Square English Presbyterian church , Caernarvon . He took the degree of Mus.Bac. (Cantab.) in 1882 ; he also became F.T.S.C. In 1898 he became organist of Chatham Street Welsh Calvinistic Methodist chapel , Liverpool , in which city he started the ‘ Cambrian School of Music .’ In the meantime he was busy composing — cantatas, anthems, hymn-tunes, part-songs, solos, piano and orchestra pieces, etc. In 1890 he published Llawlyfr Elfennau Cerddoriaeth , in 1896 he edited Llyfr Anthemau ( Novello ); he had previously ( 1880 ) edited Llawlyfr Moliant for Caernarvonshire Baptists (new ed. in 1890 ); and in 1893 he selected and edited tunes for Hymnau yr Eglwys (ed. Elis Wyn o Wyrfai ). Other hymnals with which he was connected were Llyfr Hymnau a Thonau y Methodistiaid Calfinaidd , 1897 , Llawlyfr Moliant yr Ysgol Sul , 1897 (with W. T. Samuel ), Llyfr Tonau y Methodistiaid Wesleyaidd , 1904 (with D. Emlyn Evans and Wilfred Jones ). He was a contributor to Y Cerddor . He d. 6 Aug. 1924 and was buried in Smithdown Road cemetery , Liverpool .

Sources:

  • The Musical Herald; a Journal of Music and Musical Literature , 1894 ;
  • Y Brython , 7 Aug. 1924 ;
  • Y Cerddor Cymreig , 1861-1873 , 1869 and 1871 ;
  • Y Cerddor , April 1900 and Nov. 1921.

Author:

Robert David Griffith, M.A., (1877-1958), Old Colwyn

Corrections and additions:

ROBERTS, JOHN HENRY (‘Pencerdd Gwynedd ’) (1848-1924), composer and musician .

Born 31 March 1848 at Pen-rallt, Y Gefnan , Mynydd Llandygái , Caerns, one of eight children, and the second son, of Harri and Elizabeth Roberts . At 10 he went to work in the Penrhyn Quarry, but soon showed a disinclination for work of that kind. His father was interested in music and the son's talent developed rapidly. Already showing a keen interest in music, he became a pupil of organ master Evan Thomas at St Ann's Church (now buried beneath the quarry waste tips) and later, through the good offices of his brother-in-law William Pritchard , precentor of Seilo (Tre-garth) Wesleyan Methodist Chapel, organist at the chapel. He had already started to compose hymn tunes and anthems, and when he was 19 took the prize for a cantata, ‘Y Mab Afradlon’, at an eisteddfod held in Chester. Shortly afterwards he became a clerk at Bryneglwys quarry, Abergynolwyn, Mer.; and here formed a choir to take part in the Harlech Music Festival, which won a first prize at the 1869 festival. By now an accomplished accompanist as well as a conductor and composer, he had decided to study under Dr S. S. Wesley at Gloucester cathedral, but was persuaded by a group of Abergynolwyn people and the Harlech Festival committee to consider the Royal Academy of Music in London . He was further persuaded by the composer and pianist Henry Brinley Richards , to whom he had been introduced at the Harlech festival. Although he spent a week with Dr Wesley at Gloucester, and was offered a post at a Gloucester church, he decided to go to the Royal Academy, and a fund was set up at the instigation of Dr Wesley to pay his fees. He entered at Royal Academy for the Easter term in 1870, and graduated with a first class certificate in January 1874, subsequently becoming an Associate of the RA. During his time at the Royal Academy he composed a symphony, two overtures, a string quartette, sonatas, etc. Acknowledged by musician and critic David Emlyn Evans as ‘the finest part-song writer the Welsh race has ever produced’, these included ‘Cwsg, Filwr, Cwsg’, sung with marvellous effect at the 1892 national eisteddfod at Rhyl by the Birkenhead choir. He returned to Caernarfonshire in early 1874, the same year in which his cantata ‘Awdl yr orsedd’ took first prize at the national eisteddfod at Bangor, and took lodgings in Bethesda, where he set up the North Wales Musical Training College. Later that year, at the invitation of quarrymen's champion William Parry , he became organist at the Independent chapel in Bethesda. Later that year he moved to Caernarfon, and took lodgings in Uxbridge Square, the home of widowed Annie Hughes , and her daughters Annie and Frances Williams from a previous marriage. In 1877, the same year he was admitted to the gorsedd of bards, he composed ‘Y mae gorffwysfa eto'n ôl’, a memorial anthem to John Roberts (Ieuan Gwyllt) which sold more than 90,000 copies, and a year later he became organist at Turf Square English Presbyterian Church, Caernarfon. In 1882 he took his Mus.Bac. degree from Cambridge University , the same year in which he became a Fellow of the Tonic Sol-fa College, and in 1883 he moved as organist to the new English Presbyterian Church in Castle Square, Caernarfon, where he stayed until 1897 when he was appointed organist at Chatham Street Welsh Calvinistic Methodist chapel in Liverpool, where he set up the Cambrian School of Music and also the J. H. Roberts Music Publishing Co. His life was spent not only composing, but adjudicating and accompanying at eisteddfodau throughout Wales. He had a prodigious output - more than 400 cantatas, anthems, hymn tunes, part-songs, solos, piano and orchestral pieces - as well as hymnals and musical textbooks. In 1870 he published Cydganau y plant, for use in Sunday schools. He was the editor (with W. T. Samuel ) of the music for Llawlyfr Moliant for the Arfon Baptist association and of the new edition in 1890. He was also the music editor (with W. T. Samuel ) of Llawlyfr Moliant yr Ysgol Sabbothol, 1897. In 1890 he published Llawlyfr Elfennau Cerdoriaeth, in 1893 he selected and edited tunes for Hymnau yr Eglwys (ed. Elis Wyn o Wyrfai ) and in 1896 edited Llyfr Anthemau (Novello, containing 50 anthems). Other hymnals with which he was connected were Llyfr Hymnau a Thonau y Methodistiaid, 1897; Llyfr Emynau a Thonau y Methodistiaid Wesleyaidd (with D. Emlyn Evans and Wilfred Jones ) 1904. At the time of his death he was researching and editing old tunes and airs for his ‘History of Old Tunes’. He was a regular attender at eisteddfodau (including the 1917 Black Chair Eisteddfod at Birkenhead) where many of his compositions won prizes or were performed, as an accompanist and adjudicator. He was also a regular contributor to the periodical, Y Cerddor. He married Annie Williams in 1878, and they had seven children — John Henry, Adelaide , Griffith Meyrick , Robert Arthur Tudur , Evelyn , George Frederick and William Sterndale Bennett , named after his Royal Academy principal and his piano and composition professor. He received a testimonial for his services to music in 1922. He died on August 6, 1924 and was buried in Smithdown Road cemetery , Liverpool .

Sources:

  • The Musical Herald; a Journal of Music and Musical Literature , 1894;
  • Y Brython , 7 Aug., 1924;
  • Y Cerddor Cymreig , 1861-1873, 1869 and 1871;
  • Y Cerddor , April,1900, and Nov. 1921;
  • personal research.

Authors:

Robert David Griffith, M.A., (1877-1958), Old Colwyn

Bradley Roberts

Published date: 1959