2. The Characteristics of the Old Welsh Harp and Folk Music

“It would have been a loss to the music of the world if the Welsh Airs had never come into existence, and that not only on account of their excellence but because they have pe­culiarities which distinguish them from the Airs of other nations“ states Sir John Rhys. [1]

Up to the year 1742 there was no special effort made to preserve a collection of Welsh harp tunes. Nevertheless in no other country of Great Britain were the tunes and also the poetry of its people kept more alive in the memory than in Wales.
"In their oldest tunes we may have the remains of what was anciently the music of this country long before the Roman invasion under Julius Caesar.“
writes F.A. Gore Ouseley.[2]

Especially the old harp tunes and genuine folksongs reach back to tunes long past. The fact that they were not written down only goes to show that this was not necessary to keep them alive.

Edward Jones writes in1802 that the majority of the tunes he published were written down as old people sang them and as they were played by harpists in North Wales.[3]

In 1839 John F.M. Dovaston writes that Welsh harp music “has more of science than that of most other nations“. [4]  

The decline of the national minstrelsy was greatly due to the fanaticism of ill-educated preachers who wanted to turn the people away from singing, dancing and playing music. But by means of collections of music as mentioned above a lot of the music of the old bardic harpers was preserved, in spite of the English influence during the Tudor period, even in the 18th and early 19th centuries.

Since 1906 the Welsh Folk Song Society has made a great contribution to this work of preservation.


[1] cf. Sir John Rhys, as cited in Williams, W.S.G., p. 50
[2]
as cited in Williams, W.S.G., p. 51
[3]
cf. Williams, W.S.G., p. 52
[4]
as cited in Williams, W.S.G., p. 51

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