Instrumental traditions after 1650

Griffiths, R. and Herbert, T. and Rees, S. P. (2022) Instrumental traditions after 1650. In: A History of Welsh Music. Cambridge University Press, Cambridge, pp. 144-170. ISBN 9781316511060 (hardback) 9781009036511 (e-book)


This chapter challenges the idea that the nineteenth-century association of Wales with ‘song’ is an entirely true representation of Welsh music in that period. While the continuous role of instrumental music dating back to the Middle Ages has a less conspicuous presence in narratives about Welsh music, this should not dilute its importance. While the harp - especially the triple harp - was prominent in popular traditions from the eighteenth century, other instruments were in use in both urban and rural contexts. In concert music, Welsh-born performer-composers such as Brinley Richards (piano) and John Thomas (harp) maintained careers in England while developing international reputations: Richards studied in Paris and published many compositions in Germany, while Thomas toured widely in Europe and Russia. The early years of the twentieth century saw Welsh instrumentalists studying and performing in Hungary and Germany; this was before the professionalisation of Welsh music in the twentieth century and the establishment of the world’s first national youth orchestra in 1945. The chapter is restricted to instruments (along with their repertoires and practices) that had a distinctively Welsh dimension. After its general introduction it comprises three sections: the harp and other string instruments; wind instruments; and twentieth-century manifestations of a distinctive type of instrumental revival. From the 1970s, the revival of folk music in Wales featured an increasing emphasis on instrumental performance, taking inspiration from the revivals in other Celtic countries. Jazz has also made an important - albeit less widely acknowledged - contribution to the range of instrumental music in Wales.

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