Grace Gwyneddon Davies

Born Grace Roberts in Liverpool in 1879, Grace Gwyneddon Davies was later to become a member of ‘the band of women collectors and activists’ that helped first to establish and then, perhaps more importantly, to sustain the Welsh Folk Song Society.

Having studied at the Royal Academy of Music in London, she was a well-trained, competent, and qualified pianist and art song soprano who appeared regularly in contemporary reports as an accompanist and singer, and not least for her singing at Welsh national events such as the Eisteddfod.

She was married in 1909 to the solicitor, poet, and politician, Robert Gwyneddon Davies, whom she met at the Eisteddfod in Caernarfon in 1906. After her marriage, she settled in Caernarfonshire and to a great extent ceased her former professional activities; instead, she dedicated much of her time instead to the work of the Welsh Folk Song Society, the Welsh cultural revival, and the WI. She was directly involved with the folk song society from its inception, having been engaged to attend and deliver musical illustrations at its first preliminary meeting at the same Eisteddfod of 1906 at which she met her future husband. After this early involvement, she actively supported the work and administration of the society, and contributed to its journal, events, and community until her death in 1944, sending letters on Welsh Folk Song Society business dating as late as the February of that year.

Separately, she published three collections of folk songs in arrangement for voice and piano, two of which were dedicated to songs from Anglesey; she also provided accompaniments to the last four songs in Ruth Herbert Lewis’s second collection of folk songs, following the untimely death of Morfydd Owen.

Beyond her musical and administrative contributions to the Welsh Folk-Song Society and its Journal, Grace Gwyneddon Davies published three collections of folk songs:

Relevant extracts from other sources

Other sources by Grace Gwyneddon Davies:

Arrangement of 3 Folk Songs. S.A.T.B

To write a suitable arrangement of Folk melodies is a task that presents many pitfalls & difficulties. So many of them are sung by old Folk Singers in modes that seem strange to the uninitiated; many are non harmonic in character, & it is only by the exercise of great ingenuity that an arrangement can be effected. The melodies are beautifully designed, & yet are so simple. It follows therefore that the arrangement should be marked by the same simplicity. Folk songs rarely modulate, & generally speaking never change their mode or key. The accidentals which occur in modal melodies are usually auxiliary or passing notes. The simple texture of the folk song enables it to undergo without loss a variety of treatment; It can be perfectly effective when set with simple chords, whilst it can bear a certain amount of elaboration in the accompanying parts without becoming incongruous. But it should always be the special aim of Competitors to preserve in their arrangements those qualities which are peculiarly characteristic of the folk melody itself. I am pleased that 3 out of the 8 competitors have not contented themselves with a simple 4 part harmonisation but have endeavoured to fashion arrangements in the wider sense of the word. They have made mistakes & have not evaded the pitfalls but I am confident it is a step in the right direction, & and leading to musical development on national lines.

Tudur- has harmonised three airs correctly enough, but the choice of “Yr hen Fyharen” cannot be commended. It is hardly worthy of a setting. In “Aderyn du” he has carefully harmonised each passing note with the result that this graceful melody has become clumsy & overladen. All three are somewhat commonplace.

Ioan Gwallter- Lacks variety in choice of his songs. Some of his progressions & chords are awkward & abrupt. His treatment is clean & bright but a little lacking in imagination. Of the three airs, he is most successful in his arrangement of “Ffelena.” Iolo- has shewn courage in the choice of his songs - neither ‘Gwel yr Adeilad” or “Diniweidrwydd’ are easy to arrange. In the first he has not recognised the mode or if he has done so, has neglected to keep to it. He has been most successful in No 2 which is both dignified & effective.

Oswallt- Shews considerable knowledge of harmony & musical feeling. The progression of parts is very good particularly in No 1, but the harmonies are too chromatic, & in No 2 somewhat laboured. He is not so successful in No 3 the tunes parts being heavy and uninteresting.

Dwitur- has made an excellent selection but works out his arrangements too elaborately, the highly ornate accompaniment to No 2 seems quite unsuitable to the character of the air - too much embellishment tends to become tawdry & inartistic. In his straining after effect he breaks up the outline of the melody, but the treatment though too chromatic is well & cleverly thought out, & his harmonies well chosen, & in many instances singularly effective. He has shewn greater restraint in the third & it is much the best of his settings.

Nonplus Elam- has been exceedingly careless & this is all the more regrettable as so much of his work is really effective & characteristic. His choice of airs is good & the treatment of all three simple & well contrasted, artistic & graceful. This competitor has evidently genuine aptitude for part writing - & does it with such facility that he fails to give the necessary attention to details, or to see that the parts are effectively distributed for the voices or to keep to the mode.

Merch y Rhyd- has selected 3 fine melodies. Her arrangement of “Hir oes i Fair” is simple & effective. That of “Gwel yr Adeilad” is more elaborate & ambitious, & she sometimes forgets that she is working out a Dorian melody. It is however carefully thought out & the distributing of the opening phrases to the different voices in both No 2 & 3 is effective. Gwel yr adeilad is by no means easy to arrange. She has done it on the whole with considerable feeling & skill.

Perorydd- has made a good representative selection. His harmonies are correct & simple, & though sometimes monotonous (as in 2nd part of No 1) they are always well in keeping with the air chosen & are modally correct. I think the harmonising of each semiquaver in No. 2 & 3 a mistake & it deprives the air of a little of its natural delicacy & charm but his arrangements have caught the true spirit of the folk singer, & are cast in the proper atmosphere of folk music.

The prize is awarded to Perorydd.

Grace Gwyneddon Davies.

Gwyneddon Davies, Grace, ‘Adjudication of three folk songs for choir SATB’, NLW GB0210 CYFANS 1923/12i

Letters to or from Grace Gwyneddon Davies:

Graianfryn Llanwnda

Dear Dr Lloyd Williams,

I had intended sending you a copy of the accompaniments to the Sir Fon folk songs which my sister has noted down exactly as I played them.

We were frightfully worried about the time signatures but came to the conclusion that we would write them out as in my copy & ask you for your opinion.

I note though, in the graph copy of the journal, which I received on my return last evening - that your time signature is 2/4 for Titrwm Tatrwm & that your bars have 8 quavers in Y Gelynen where mine have 4 crotchets. The value of the notes is right in mine but I suppose the time signature is quite wrong.

Would you suggest my rewriting them as you have don them for the journal?

As you know, although I can play an accompaniment of sorts to any thing - I am quite ignorant of how even my own accompaniments should be written out - & that is why I am so thoroughly upset at having to send these to press at all, & so anxious for your opinion & help. If there are any other glaring mistakes, perhaps you would be good enough to let me know.

If you will look at my copy you will see that your time in Titrwm is not quite right - the same thing applies to bar 5 of Fy meddwl a fy malais. In y Gelynen the words are Pren can molus gweddus gwiw & not gweddus yw.

Mr Parry did not always go on to the refrain in Y Gelynen without completing the proceeding bar - but he did sometimes, & when he did he sang Y ffol di rwd, lam tam - twli ri di i, which gave a most amusing effect - but I thought perhaps I’d better complete the bar for the press.

I would like to say how nice the school songs are - & what an improvement I think the new accomp to Tra bo dau is - as for Y Gog Lwydlas you have made it a perfect little gem.

With kindest remembrances in which my husband joins,
believe me
yours sincerely
G. Gwyneddon Davies

Letter from Grace Gwyneddon Davies to John Lloyd Williams, 30/12/1930, NLW GB0210 JLLW AL 1/2/2

Graianfryn
Llanwnda
Carnarvonshire

Feb 3 1924

Dear Dr Lloyd Williams,

It is only during these last weeks that I have been able to attend to my folk song arrangements - here they are for your kind perusal - & I shall greatly appreciate any criticism or suggestions that you think may tend to make them more useful & acceptable. The words of Aderyn du pigfelyn are most awkward - had I better note it down as underneath? The 3 voice setting is a first attempt done for the children of my school. I don’t know whether you think I have gone about it in the right way - I should like to know whether you have an arrangement of “Hwb i’r Galon” & “Tros y Mor” which you have, or are publishing - if not may I do so? There seems no purpose when so few are done in having more than one of the same air - with these I have sufficient material ready for a No 3 series.

I hope you & Mrs Lloyd Williams are well - please remind her that you both owe us a visit

With kindest [?]

Believe me
Yours sincerely
G. Gwyneddon Davies

I should be grateful if you would let me have the MS as soon as possible - I have no other copy.

Letter from Grace Gwyneddon Davies to John Lloyd Williams, 3/2/1924, NLW GB0210 JLLW AL 1/2/15

Graianfryn
Llanwnda

Dr Dr Lloyd Williams

Aunt Mary Davies has just sent me the graphed copy of the new W.F.S Journal. I am so pleased with it & consider it a most interesting number from a collectors point of view. I think No. [annotated 40. Ceffyl Bach] is our old friend “Pop goes the weasel.” When we were children we used to sing an abbreviated version, which perhaps you may not know, so I send it to you with a variant of [...] Tramp o Dre Magor = Mi es i’r parlwr goreu sung to me by an old lady in Dwyran Anglesey. The words of which I have already given to you. I recorded from the singing of Owen Parry, Dwyran a more graceful form of ‘I gau geu wen” but as my phonograph is hors de combat for the moment I am unable to complete the air.

Mrs Gilbert Williams sang the Hwiangerdd to me, his mother used to sing her children always to sleep with this melody. His school children were to sing it at the Dydd Gwyl Dewi Celebration, so I supplied an accompaniment.

With kindest [?]
Grace Gwyneddon Davies

Letter from Grace Gwyneddon Davies to John Lloyd Williams, undated, NLW GB0210 JLLW AL 1/2/11

St Andrew’s Club
31a Mortimer Street
London

Dear Dr Lloyd Williams

I am glad that the faults you can find are no more serious than consecutives - I was afraid I had unwittingly made a vital mistake. As you say - there is no reason why one should flaunt consecutives unnecessarily, & especially so if there is no point in it - but frankly - I am so accustomed to them nowadays - that I never gave them a thought - let alone thinking of looking out for any. I shall be glad to look at the places you mark & give them a little thinking over.

I am coming to Aberystwyth as a member of the Executive Com: not as a performer. I shall not arrive from London until 5:30 - & after the com: there will be nothing of me left but a tired out body anxiously thinking of getting back to the Hotel as soon as possible. No - I am not going to sing any of those songs - & I am in that state that I loathe the very sound of them - & never want to see or hear them again -

I hope you will arrange to have an adorable fair haired young student - whose name I do not know - but who sang “Conset Wm Owen Pengraig” - most charmingly last march, to sing this year also - I very greatly enjoyed her singing - & have never forgotten the impression she made

Perhaps you could let me have the M.S. I would like Aunt Mary Davies to see the songs before she leaves town for Bangor - I intend staying at the above address until March 3.

With kindest [ ? ] & most grateful thanks believe me
Yours sincerely
G. Gwyneddon Davies

Letter from Grace Gwyneddon Davies to John Lloyd Williams, undated, NLW GB0210 JLLW AL 1/2/6

Newspaper reports:

CARNARVON’S EX-MAYOR

FORTHCOMING MARRIAGE

A marriage has been arranged and will shortly take place between Mr R. Gwyneddon Davies, solicitor, Carnarvon, and Miss Grace Roberts, London, eldest daughter of Mr Lewis Roberts, Larkfield, Liverpool. Miss Grace Roberts is a charming singer, and many people will remember her appearance at the Carnarvon National Eisteddfod two years ago.

‘Carnarvon’s Ex-Mayor’, North Wales Observer and Express, 19.02.1909, 5, http://newspapers.library.wales/view/3572446/3572451/43/