Dictionary of Welsh Biography


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ROBERTS , DAVID (‘ Telynor Mawddwy ’; 1875 - 1956 ), harpist, singer and author of handbooks on penillion singing ;

b. 1 Aug. 1875 at Llannerch , Llanymawddwy, Mer. , the eldest of the seven children of Robert Roberts and Catrin (née Pughe ) . He was descended from highly cultured and musical families on both sides — his father descended from the versatile family of Bwlch Coediog , Mallwyd . When he was six years old he contracted measles , and became blind for the rest of his life.

His musical talent was nurtured at home and in the chapel, and his interest in poetry was roused at a very early age. He began to sing in public as a member of the Bwlch Coediog plygain party . It was from his two uncles, ‘ Eos Mawddwy ’ and ‘ Ioan Mawddwy ’, that he learnt how to set a stanza to an air , and he was steeped in the old oral settings which were sung in the homes of the Mawddwy district and which were part of the traditional penillion singing of the neighbourhood. He learnt the art of singing a round of penillion , and won prizes at the national eisteddfod at Blaenau Ffestiniog , 1898 ; Liverpool , 1900 ; and Llanelli , 1903 . By that time he had learnt to play the harp as well as the fiddle , and he was invited to spend some time ‘at Llanover under the tuition of ‘ Pencerddes y De ’ ( Mrs. S. B. Griffith ). He had a number of further successes at eisteddfodau as a harpist . After leaving Llanofer and marrying in 1909 , he moved to Barmouth , and spent the rest of his life there entertaining visitors with his harp ; and he served the district as a lay preacher . He tutored countless singers in Merioneth . He published Y Tant Aur ( 1911 ), a booklet of 49 local oral pieces set to sol-fa. He realised that many of the settings were crude and lacking in imagination, and with the assistance of the Rev. P.H. Lewis , he revised them for the second edition ( 1915 ). These are far more accurate and musically imaginative. Again with P.H. Lewis , he published another important aid for harpists and singers, namely Cainc y delyn ( 1916 ), a handbook of airs presented in old notation for the harp, with words set to them. ‘ Telynor Mawddwy ’ was one of the key pioneers responsible for the revival of the old craft of singing to the harp in the early years of the 20 c., transforming the art from its old traditional oral form to the more consciously composed and written form of our time. Without Y Tant Aur perhaps the revival of the last fifty years would not have happened.

He and his wife Jennie had two sons and a daughter. He d. 21 Mar. 1956 at his home, Llys y Delyn , and he was buried in Llanaber church. A memorial bench was placed on the promenade in Barmouth by the Cerdd Dant Society to commemorate his unique contribution, and on it a couplet by W.D. Williams :

Mainc adgof mwynhau cydgan
Tonnau môr a'r tannau man.

(‘A bench to recollect enjoying
The song of the waves and the strings’).

Sources:

  • Personal knowledge and research.

Author:

Dr Aled Lloyd Davies, Mold

Published date: 2001