Dictionary of Welsh Biography

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THOMAS , JOHN ( Pencerdd Gwalia ; 1826 - 1913 ), musician ;

b. 1 March 1826 at Bridgend, Glam. , the son of John and Catherine Thomas . The father, who had musical interests, taught his son to play the piccolo and the harp , and the pupil became very proficient as a harpist . In 1838 , when only twelve, he won the triple harp offered at the Abergavenny eisteddfod . In 1840 , by the kindness of countess Lovelace , daughter of lord Byron , he was sent to the Royal Academy of Music , where he was taught by J. B. Chatterton and Cipriani Potter . He stayed at the academy for six years, being made a Fellow when he left; later he was made an honorary member . In 1851 he began a tour in Europe , holding concerts in France , Germany , Russia , Austria , and Italy . He was designated as Pencerdd Gwalia at the Aberdare eisteddfod of 1861 .

In 1862 John Thomas gave his first London concert of Welsh music. In 1871 he was appointed harpist to queen Victoria and teacher of the harp at the Royal Academy ; he also formed, in that same year, the London Welsh Choral Union — the choir also instituting the John Thomas scholarship at the Royal Academy . He became, in 1882 , a Royal Academy examiner and teacher of the harp in the Royal College of Music and the Guildhall School of Music . He was honorary member of the Societa di Santa Cecilia ( Rome ), Societa Filharmonica ( Florence ) the Philharmonic Society ( London ), and the Royal Society of Musicians ( London ). He composed a harp concerto, symphonies, overtures, quartettes, operas, and songs, besides variations on Welsh airs for the harp. The cantata, ‘ Llewelyn ,’ was written for the Aberdare eisteddfod of 1863 , and the cantata ‘ The Bride of Neath Valley ,’ for the Chester eisteddfod of 1866 . He used to deliver a public lecture on Welsh music . For his presentation of the early (and difficult) Welsh music see Myvyrian Archaiology , 2nd ed. He published four volumes of Welsh airs and was the editor of Songs of Wales ( J. B. Cramer ), 1874 . He d. 19 March 1913 and was buried in the West Hampstead cemetery, London . The N.L.W. possesses a large collection of his papers.


  • M. O. Jones , Bywgraffiaeth Cerddorion Cymreig (1890) ;
  • F. Griffith , Notable Welsh Musicians (1896) ;
  • Y Geninen , xxxiii, 30;
  • Y Cerddor , July 1904, and May 1913, Oct. and Dec. 1916, Jan. and Feb. 1917;
  • Enwogion Cymru. A Biographical Dictionary of Eminent Welshmen (1852) ;
  • Groves , Groves' Dictionary of Music and Musicians (1940) ;
  • The Oxford Companion to Music (1950) .


His brother THOMAS AP ( 1829 - 1913 ), musician , learned to play the harp when he was quite young and, like his brother, became well known as a harpist in various parts of the world. He visited several European towns and, in 1872 , took part in one of the concerts held at the Gewandhaus , Leipzig . He composed a cantata , ‘ The Pilgrim's Progress ,’ together with a large number of pieces for the harp. In 1859 he published The History of the Harp . When he was 70 years of age he emigrated to the U.S.A. , going afterwards to Ottawa , Canada , where he d. in 1913 .


  • Brown and Stratton , British Musical Biography: a dictionary of musical artists, authors and composers, born in Britain and its colonies (Birmingham, 1897) ;
  • The Oxford Companion to Music (1950) .


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

Published date: 1959