Davies was born in Marylebone, London, in early December, 1804,
the son of another Oliver Davies, a professor of music, and his
wife, Mary Hoare. Originally from the Welshpool area, the elder
Oliver Davies kept in touch with his Montgomery roots, as well
as maintaining contact with other Welsh musicians living in the
English capital, and so it was not surprising that his first-born
should take up the harp then as now, considered the national instrument
of his homeland.
However, it was not the typically
Welsh triple harp which Oliver Davies took up, but the fashionable
pedal harp, as developed by Sébastien Erard, the French harpmaker established in Great
Marlborough Street, London, since 1794. Another Frenchman, the
charismatic Robert Nicolas Charles Bochsa* had arrived in London
in 1817, and although he had arrived as a fugitive from French
justice, in no time at all, he was the most popular teacher in
all London, numbering the teenaged Oliver Davies among his many
pupils. Bochsa became the first secretary of the Royal Academy
of Music, and Oliver Davies's name appears on the list of applicants
for entry to the new institution in 1822, along with that of his
near-contemporary, Elias Parish Alvars. Neither was accepted for
entry, Oliver Davies, who was almost 17, most probably being 'declined'
on account of his age. Both he and Parish Alvars then appear to
have worked for the harpmaker Frédéric Grosjean in
Soho Square, possibly as demonstrators. Parish Alvars later dedicated
one of his compositions to Grosjean, as did Oliver Davies, several
of whose compositions were published from this address at 11 Soho
In the early part of his career, Oliver Davies is known to have
played pedal harps made and sold by Grosjean. Later, he acquired
a Erard 'Gothic' harp (no.5868). He eventually settled as a music
teacher in Camden Town, London, at 21 Healey Street, where he died,
aged 77, on 14 February 1882.
The Variants on 'Ye Banks and Braes' were written for pedal harp,
but whereas his contemporary, Parish Alvars, was experimenting
with all manner of 'new effects', Oliver Davies's compositions
are set in a more traditional, far less harmonically complicated
mould. This is also demonstrated in his arrangement of the Welsh
tune 'Good Humoured and Merry'[Adlais Catalogue no.013].Originally
in G major, 'Ye Banks and Braes' has been transposed into E flat
major and edited and re-arranged by Ann Griffiths so that it is
playable on 36-string lever harp or clarsach, thus adding a splendid
new solo to the repertoire.
This first clarsach edition of 'Ye Banks and Braes' is dedicated
to the Edinburgh Harp Festival 2008.
The author would like
to express her thanks to Oliver Davies, FRAM, FRCM, for his generous
help in establishing biographical details for his namesake.
*For further information on Bochsa, see the article included in
Adlais's edition of his Morceau d'Expression.