Music in Welsh history

Herbert, T. (2022) Music in Welsh history. In: A History of Welsh Music. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 1-24. ISBN 9781316511060 (hardback) 9781009036511 (e-book)


This is an overview chapter covering the entire chronology of the book and touching on the topics to which each individual chapter is devoted. It is important in that it outlines the main stages through which Welsh music passed and emphasises the causal relationship between the social, cultural and political history of Wales and its music, a recurrent theme in the book. It also explains the distinctiveness of Welsh music history and the structures and agencies that have made it so. While Welsh music before the nineteenth century had loose connections with the repertoires and style periods of other European cultures, Wales was devoid of major centres of cultural production of the type that enabled the music industry to thrive elsewhere. There was neither a metropolitan centre nor national institutions or agencies to give succour to a music culture similar to those of England, Scotland and Ireland. Two agencies filled this void from the later eighteenth century: a reconstituted version of the medieval eisteddfod, which changed its emphasis from being an essentially poetic to a primarily musical event, and the rise of religious nonconformity. Nonconformity was important for a number of reasons: it was a nationwide phenomenon but its emphasis was on the local, and it promoted engagement with congregational singing to such an extent that it fostered a remarkable level of democratic musical engagement more generally. These developments occurred simultaneously with a renewed interest in Welsh musical traditions. The twentieth century saw a new phase: the development of professionalism leading to distinctive voices in art and popular music. Amidst this entire story was the status and influence of the Welsh language, a topic that also receives close attention in the chapter.

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