RAMANTUS for HORN AND HARP
It is difficult to imagine
a more delightful wedding gift than that which Grace Williams gave
to Lloyd Davies and Ann Griffiths on the occasion of their marriage
on 2 May 1959. Lloyd Davies, a medical practitioner in Abergavenny,
played the horn, whilst his wife was the harpist Ann Griffiths.
Fifty years later, in the year in which they would have celebrated
their golden wedding, Cân Ramantus is published for the first
time. The Welsh word Cân has the meaning of both Song and
Poem, and Cân Ramantus can be translated either as Love Song
or as Love Poem.
Grace Williams (1906-1977),
highly respected, but sadly underrated and under-performed, was
a composer of remarkable talent. Born in Barry, South Wales, Grace
Williams was not Welsh-speaking, but nonetheless her music is recognisably,
distinctly and uniquely Welsh in flavour. The declamatory, quasi-improvisatory
element in her music is related to the Welsh art of Penillion singing
(Cerdd Dant), and in fact in 1955 she wrote an orchestral work
entitled Penillion for the National Youth Orchestra of Wales. The
musical rhythms echo the stresses of the Welsh language, particularly
of poems in the alliterative cynghanedd (strict) metres. In the
words of her biographer, Malcolm Boyd “….the accent
on the penultimate syllable of polysyllabic words, a feature of
the language, is paralleled in the music by phrases which end with
an accented short note, followed by an unaccented long one”.
Melody in its widest sense provided
the impulse for all her compositions, and song-writing spanned
the whole of her career – indeed, the horn's soaring melody
in Cân Ramantus could be described as a song without words.
Grace Williams's favourite instruments
were the trumpet and the harp. Intensely self-critical (she would
occasionally have what she called in her diary 'A Day of Destruction'),
a proposed 'Serenade' for two harps and orchestra was destroyed,
as was Yr Helfa (La Chasse), companion piece to Hiraeth, the wonderfully
elegiac short poem of longing, written for Ann Griffiths and first
heard on French television. Her three Songs of Sleep (1959) for
soprano, alto flute and harp, were commissioned by Dr Lloyd Davies
and dedicated to Ann Griffiths. There were many songs with harp
accompaniment. Sadly, these, and far too many other works remain
unheard and unpublished.
Adlais is privileged to be able, to
some small extent, to make amends with the publication of Cân
Ramantus, with the hope that more of the legacy of this wonderful
Welsh composer will become available and lead to a wider appreciation
of her work.