Planet excerpts

Rhian Davies explores how the Gregynog Festival of classical music places Wales in a wider European tradition. In the centenary year of the Easter Rising she gives the historical narrative behind this year's Festival: the myriad connections between Wales and Ireland via ancient harp pins, Saint Melangell and the ‘University of Revolution’ at Fron-goch.

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Gregynog Festival, the oldest extant classical music festival in Wales, was founded by Gwendoline and Margaret Davies in 1933. Programming combines music-making by international artists of the highest quality with a strong sense of cynefin through annual curatorial themes drawn from the heritage of Gregynog, Mid Wales and the Marches. This year’s theme of ‘Éire’ brings some of Ireland’s leading musicians and scholars to Wales to interpret narratives that link both nations.

Although the Davies sisters have become synonymous with the patronage of art, ongoing research is revealing that they were also significant practitioners and patrons of music in Wales. Gwendoline was capable of performing César Franck’s Violin Sonata on her ‘Parke’ Stradivarius and Margaret studied the harp with Gwendolen Mason. In 1914, Gwendoline pledged £75,000 to found a short-lived Department of Instrumental Music at the University College of Wales, Aberystwyth, a generation before the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama came into being. From 1919, she also endowed two positions which the composer and organist Henry Walford Davies held simultaneously as first Gregynog Professor of Music at Aberystwyth and first Director of the National Council of Music for Wales.

When Henry Walford Davies began bringing his students to Gregynog, the sisters’ residence near Newtown in north Powys, and arranged that Council Conferences should also take place there, Gwendoline and Margaret decided to transform the Hall’s billiard room into a dedicated space for music-making. The elaborate fireplace gave way to a three-manual organ, built by the noted maker Frederick (‘Daddy’) Rothwell, and a raised platform was installed for the Gregynog Choir, an ensemble of estate workers with which both sisters sang.

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