Ieuan Gwyllt



Born: De­cem­ber 22, 1822, Tanrhiw­fel­en, Aber­ystwyth, Wales.

Died: May 6, 1877, Fron, Caer­nar­von­shire, Wales.

Buried: Caeath­ro Ce­me­te­ry, Wales.



Roberts is of­ten con­fused with an­oth­er Welsh mu­si­cian of the same name, John Ro­berts (1807–1876).

When Ro­berts was five months old, his fa­mi­ly moved from Tanrhiwfelen to a house on the way to Penll­wyn; in 1829 they moved to Pistyllgwyn, near Me­lindwr. At age 20, Ro­berts went to live in Aber­ystwyth, and in 1852 moved to Li­ve­rpool and even­tu­al­ly be­came ed­it­or of the Am­serau. In 1858 he moved to Ab­er­dare, South Wales, and be­came ed­it­or of Gwladgarwr.

While in South Wales, Ro­berts be­gan preach­ing at month­ly ser­vic­es in the dis­trict of Gla­mor­gan. In 1859 he ac­cept­ed the post of min­is­ter at the church at Panttywyll Merthyr Tydfil. In Au­gust 1861, he was or­dained in Beth­le­hem Cha­pel and served un­til called to Ca­pel Coch in Llan­ber­is. He was or­dained there Au­gust 29, 1865, and re­mained un­til re­tire­ment in 1869.

When Ro­berts left Beth­le­hem Cha­pel at Pantywyll for Ca­pel Coch, the con­gre­ga­tion want­ed to com­mem­o­rate his con­tri­bu­tion to mu­sic in the town, so a com­me­mo­ra­tive stone plaque was com­mis­sioned and placed in the cha­pel. It was tak­en from Beth­le­hem Cha­pel be­fore the Cha­pel was de­mol­ished, and trans­ferred to Soar-Ynysgau Cha­pel Merthyr.

Roberts was a teach­er, ed­it­or, min­is­ter, jour­na­list, lec­tur­er, po­et, com­pos­er and con­duc­tor, tra­vel­ing all ov­er South Wales. In 1859 he set up a cho­ral un­ion in Ab­er­dare, the cen­ter of the South Wales coal field. He was an im­ag­in­a­tive teach­er, and cre­at­ed me­thods of im­prov­ing Welsh cho­ral sing­ing. He was al­so an ac­comp­lished mu­si­cian, con­duct­ing mu­sic fes­ti­vals and serv­ing as judge at the lo­cal eis­tedd­fo­dau. Like ma­ny oth­ers, he was al­so a fer­vent Non­con­for­mist for whom sing­ing was an ex­pres­sion of a pure and god­ly way of life.

His 1859 Llyfr Tonau Cynulleidfaol dem­on­strat­ed his re­spect for clas­sic­al mu­sic­al forms. In the same year he con­duct­ed, from Llyfr To­nau, the first hymn sing­ing meet­ing that may be prop­er­ly be called a Cymanfa Ganu. Con­gre­ga­tions were en­cour­aged to learn tunes from the Llyfr Tonau for a spe­cif­ic day when sev­er­al con­gre­ga­tions from one dis­trict would meet to sing un­der a guest con­duc­tor, oft­en Ro­berts hims­elf.

Since Llyfr Tonau was a book of tunes with­out words, the em­pha­sis was main­ly on the mu­sic, the goal be­ing to raise the stand­ard of Sun­day song. It was stressed that the meet­ing was not for choirs, but for whole cong­re­ga­tions. Ro­berts’ tunes were se­vere and un­em­bel­lished, but lat­er, par­tly due to the in­flu­ence of San­key and Moody, sing­ing be­came less mu­sic­al­ly rig­or­ous and more emo­tion­al, and con­se­quent­ly more po­pu­lar.

From the 1880s, an­nu­al fes­ti­vals were es­tab­lished through­out Wales and be­yond. As time wore on, they be­came fur­ther re­moved from the needs of Sun­day wor­ship. The Cymanfa Ganu, in be­com­ing a na­tion­al in­sti­tu­tion, ceased to be the ve­hi­cle of mu­sic­al edu­ca­tion and re­form which its found­ers had en­vis­aged. How­ev­er, the sound of Welsh hymns can still in­spire ev­en to­day.

After Ro­berts’ death, a me­mo­ri­al fund was set up from pri­vate do­na­tions and col­lect­ions made at a num­ber of Cymanfaoedd Canu in North and South Wales. It was called the Ieuan Gwyllt and Tanymarian Me­mor­ial Prize:

A Prize from the in­come of the Ieuan Gwyllt and Tanymarian Memorial Prize shall be award­ed for a com­po­si­tion of cho­ral mu­sic with or with­out ac­com­pa­ni­ment sub­mit­ted in com­pe­ti­tion for the Prize by a Welsh mu­si­cian. The work must be set to Welsh words suit­a­ble for per­form­ance at re­li­gious and mu­sic­al fes­ti­vals.