Anthem writers’ memorial

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Anthem writers’ memorial, Parc Ynysangharad

This memorial was unveiled in July 1930. It was created by the renowned sculptor Sir William Goscombe John. It commemorates the father and son, Evan and James James, who wrote the Welsh national anthem Hen Wlad fy Nhadau. To listen to the anthem, performed by Côr Meibion Pontypridd and the Parc & Dare Band, press play: Or, download mp3 (1.65Mb)

The tune, originally called Glan Rhondda, was composed by James James who then asked his father to write some matching lyrics. Another version of the story has Evan writing the words first, James composing the music to fit. The oldest copy of the song, in James’ handwriting, is dated January 1856 and includes all three verses but only the melodic line (without harmonies).

The tune was entered in a National Eisteddfod competition in 1858 as part of a collection which shared first prize. Adjudicator John Owen (bardic name Owain Alaw = “Owain Tune”) included it in his anthology Gems of Welsh Melody in 1860, and its fame spread rapidly. He had harmonised it (for soprano, alto, tenor and bass voices) for the anthology.

Evan James (1809-1878) was a wool merchant, innkeeper and weaver in Bedwellty when his son James (1833-1902) was born, one of seven siblings. The family later moved to Pontypridd, where Evan ran a woollen factory in Mill Street and continued to write poetry in his spare time. Evan was buried at Carmel Baptist Chapel, Pontypridd.

James James kept taverns for a living. He was also a harpist. He was buried in Aberdare cemetery, his final town of residence.

Musical notes: The 1856 manuscript is different from the familiar version in several ways. It’s in F major, rather than the E-flat major familiar to us. That’s a whole tone lower, perhaps giving the song a more mellow feel.

James James wrote in an entire bar’s rest after both renditions of “Gwlad”, but both rests are now omitted. The penultimate bars of the verse and chorus contain three steady crotchets, but today we tend to syncopate (use a skipping rhythm) on the words “collasant” and “hen iaith”.

With thanks to Côr Meibion Pontypridd & the Parc & Dare Band

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Website of Côr Meibion Pontypridd

FOOTNOTES: The anthem’s words

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