Morfydd Owen


Morfydd Owen

One of the greatest musical talents yet seen in Wales, Morfydd Owen was born at Treforest in South Wales in 1891. Both her father, an accountant, and her mother were accomplished amateur musicians, and Morfydd showed great musical talent at an early age. Whilst still in her teens she performed professionally as soloist in the Grieg Piano Concerto. She studied composition privately with Dr David Evans for two years before winning a scholarship to Cardiff University and being admitted formally to his composition class. Her first published work appeared in 1909. Altogether, twenty of Morfydd's compositions were premièred at student recitals in Cardiff. Upon graduation, she proceeded to the Royal Academy in London where her impact was swift and impressive. Under the guidance of her professor, Frederick Corder, Morfydd generated a stream of new music which dominated showcase programmes for young composers and elicited unanimous praise from the review columns of London newspapers. Morfydd also accumulated a steady stream of scholarships and awards, including the blue-riband award - the Charles Lucas Silver Medal for composition, for her Nocturne in D flat for large orchestra, described at the time as the most original student work ever heard at that Institution. Her record of distinction at the Academy is as yet unequalled.

On 18th September, 1917, a song, ‘For Jeannie’s Sake’ (the lyrics by Ethel Newman), was performed at a London Promenade Concert by Robert Radford (bass) and Frederick Kiddle (piano).

Morfydd was appointed to the teaching staff at the Academy, and began what promised to be a brilliant career as both singer and composer. Tragically, this promise was to be cut short by her death from appendicitis a month short of her 27th birthday in 1918. The previous year, she had married the famous psycho-analyst Dr Ernest Jones. In just over 10 years, she produced some 180 compositions, instrumental, choral, and orchestral; and at the heart of her work, some one hundred songs.  Surprisingly for a Welsh composer of that time, sacred music formed only a small part of her output - 22 hymn tunes and a few anthems. However, she remains best known in Wales for her stunning setting of the Welsh hymn 'Gweddi y Pechadur' (The Sinner's Prayer).  Morfydd Owen was a beautiful and romantic young woman, and her emotions are expressed freely in her music. Many of her works are advanced and innovative, and often astonishingly beautiful. As a singer herself, she composed with an especial understanding of the mezzo-soprano voice.

Program Note (1998)

'Prelude in F' was composed in 1913 during Morfydd's first term at the RAM, when her work seems to become increasingly autobiographical. It was written first for piano; later she began an orchestration, left incomplete as she moved on to other things. Morfydd was on a journey vividly portrayed in 'Nocturne', and she was travelling fast. The disturbing harmonic progressions of 'Suo Gân' and 'Foredoomed' suggest that she might already have had some misgivings about her ultimate destination, even if the stunning 'Gweddi y Pechadur' was to offer hope of redemption. Prelude in F is a transitional work, with a hint of some influences from Delius, and for the moment, we are in a safe haven.

There is an image of Morfydd at this time in a drama-documentary produced by the BBC in Wales in her Centenary year - we see her sitting by the window of her dingy lodging in London, writing a letter in which she complains of being ill with the 'flu and feeling very homesick. She gazes out of the window into the far distance, and it is in a scene such as this that the music of Prelude in F seems to me to find its truest resonance.

In this orchestration, I have simply made a transcription for small orchestra of Morfydd's piano piece, incorporating those ideas with which she had intended to flesh out the work for large orchestra. It is not authentic Morfydd, of course, but I feel that her spirit is in it. I have added nothing except orchestral colour. Like 'Nocturne', it begins with a sensuous solo for clarinet.....

Program Note (2005)

‘Gweddi y Pechadur’, written in June 1913, during her first year at the Academy, remains her best-known piece.  It is a setting of a hymn by  Thomas William (1761-1844) which is said to have been a favourite of David Lloyd-George. The penitent and guilt-laden sinner approaches God, standing far off and pleading for forgiveness.  The proper title is ‘Gweddi Pechadur’,  Morfydd’s insertion of the grammatically incorrect article implies a highly personal  statement.  Certainly, this song contains some of her most powerful music.

Keith Davies Jones

Slumber Song of the Madonna

In this lovely song, which Morfydd wrote in 1913, the influence of her ‘Russian period’ is clearly seen in the piano part, which bears a close resemblance to Rachmaninov’s song ‘Yesterday we met’, Op26 #13  (1906). The last line of the text by Yakov Petrovich Polonsky could be an epitaph for Morfydd herself -

‘Farewell, lost but dear soul’.

* * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * * *

Compositions by Morfydd Owen that have been performed in Winnipeg :

Songs :

A Mother's Lullaby

A Song of Sorrow

God Made a Lovely Garden

Gweddi y Pechadur

La Tristesse

Slumber Song of the Madonna



The Lamb

To Our Lady of Sorrows

To Violets

    Heulwen Jones

    Rachael Harwood-Jones

    Jessica Havey

    Mari Morgan

Piano :

Prelude in E minor  (Beti Bwt)

Prelude in F sharp minor (Waiting for Eirlys)

    Stewart Thomson

Hymn tunes :


‘Yr Arglwydd ar fy Nhaith’

    (‘World Premiere’)

Orchestra :

Prelude in F  (orchestration by Keith Davies Jones)

    Winnipeg Chamber Ensemble

    Blakeman Welch

Threnody for double string orchestra

      Shenandoah Conservatory Orchestra, Winchester, Virginia

      conducted by Larry Strachan,  March, 2001

Discography :

Gweddi y Pechadur

John Lovering, baritone

Edison Bell Winner 4907 78rpm  (1929)


God Made a Lovely Garden

Ceinwen Rowlands, soprano

Meirion Williams, piano

Decca K2440 78rpm  (1951)  nla

        Recorded under the auspices of

        The Welsh Music Society.

Gweddi y Pechadur

Helen Watts, contralto

London Symphony Orchestra

    conducted by Mansel Thomas

Orchestration by Arwel Hughes

   (arrangement in dminor)

‘Famous Welsh Songs’

Qualiton QMP 2003 : 10-inch LP  (1956)

Gweddi y Pechadur

Megan Thomas, soprano

Geoffrey Howard, piano

‘A Late Lark Singing’

Cabaletta HRM 2001  (1968)

Recorded at age 75

Two Madonna Songs

Janet Price & Anthony Saunders

Composers of Wales

Argo ZRG 789  (LP)  (1974)

    Re-issue Curiad 002 (CD)  - Cerddoriaeth Cymru (1996)

Gweddi y Pechadur

Mary Lloyd Davies

Cymanfa Corau Môn (1977)

SAIN (cassette re-issue) C701  (nla)

Gweddi y Pechadur

Stuart Burrows & John Constable

‘Yr Hen Ffefrynnau’

Enigma Records K53558 (LP)  (1978)

    Re-issue ASV (LP) ACM 2007 (1981)

SAIN SCD255620  (2010 re-issue)

Gweddi y Pechadur

Doreen O’Neill

‘Y Teulu O’Neill’  (SAIN LP, 1980; cassette C785)

    Re-issue : Darlun fy Mam

    SAIN SCDC 2109  (1995)

Gweddi y Pechadur

Leah-Marian Jones, mezzo

Ingrid Surgenor,  piano


SAIN SCD2204  (1998)

To Our Lady of Sorrows


The Lamb

Hwiangerdd Mam

La Tristesse

Slumber Song of the Madonna

Gweddi y Pechadur

Helen Field & Ingrid Surgenor

SAIN SCD 2196  (1999)

Slumber Song of the Madonna

To Our Lady of Sorrows

God Made a Lovely Garden

Mari Morgan & Richard Lind

Un Llais, Dwy Law

Westmark WCD 30087  (2000)

Gweddi y Pechadur

     arr. Eric Rees

London Welsh Chorale

Kenneth Bowen conductor

Carys Hughes organ

Cennin Aur

A Century of Welsh Music

SCD2433 (2005)

Slumber Song of the Madonna

To Our Lady of Sorrows

Corâl Cymry Llundain

London Welsh Chorale

Gareth Hancock conductor

Seren Bethlehem

SAIN SCD 2555 (2010)

Gweddi y Pechadur

Gwyn Hughes Jones

& Annette Bryn Parri

Canu’r Cymry

SAIN SCD 2549  (2011)

Gweddi y Pechadur

Elin Manahan Thomas

& Christopher Glyn piano

Soprano World - Byd y Soprano

SAIN SCD 2651  (2011)

6 Pieces for Piano :

Beti Bwt,  Glantâf,

Prelude in Eminor,

Nant - y - Ffrith,  Little Eric,

Prelude in F#minor  (‘Waiting for Eirlys’)

Brian Ellsbury - Piano

Works for Solo Piano, Vol. 1  (EP)

iTunes  (2014)

Threnody for Strings

Cardiff University Orchestra

Mark Eager, conductor

ASC Records  (2015 ?)  (download)


Mother’s Lullaby

The Lamb

Rhapsody in C sharp minor+


Maida Vale+

Tal y Llyn+

Little Eric


To our Lady of Sorrows

Prelude in E minor

Four Flower Songs


   Daisy’s Song+

   To Violets+

   God Made a Lovely Garden

Gweddi y Pechadur


Sonata for Piano in E minor+


   Allegro Vivace

   Minuet and Trio

Chorale (from Piano Quintet)+

The Land of Hush-a-bye+

Elin Manahan Thomas soprano

Brian Ellsbury piano

Morfydd Owen ‘Portrait of a Lost Icon’

Tŷ Cerdd Records  (2016)

    +World premiere recordings

Rhian Davies -  Yr Eneth Ddisglair Annwyl - Never so Pure a Sight

Morfydd Owen – Ei bywyd mewn Lluniau

A Life in Pictures

Gwasg Gomer, 1994

Anne K Gray -

The World of Women in Classical Music

WordWorld, La Jolla, California, 2007

Brenda Maddox - Freud’s Wizard

Ernest Jones and the Transformation of Psychoanalysis

Da Capo Press, 2007

Music by Morfydd Owen is published

by Oriana Publications :


Cwmni Cyhoeddi Gwynn :


Ty Cerdd

Gweddi y Pechadur :

is available from

& the orchestration by

Arwel Hughes from

Aureus Publishing

Hymn Tunes :



Cân Moliant  (1916)




Caneuon Ffydd (2001)


Hymns of the Kingdom (OUP, 1923)

Emynau’r Eglwys (1951)



Emynau’r Llan  (1997)


Y Llawlyfr Moliant Newydd  (1956)

Emynau Cymru/The Hymns of Wales

    Y Lolfa  (1995)


Welsh and English Hymns & Anthems

    Welsh National Gymanfa Ganu Association   (1995)

Recent Performances :

May 6th, 2014

Recital by Duncan Honeybourne

The Gate Arts & Community Centre, Cardiff

Piano music by Morfydd Owen

    ( Four Welsh Impressions )

William Mathias, Mansel Thomas,

   E.J. Moeran, Howard Skempton & Luke Whitlock.

Review  by Paul Corfield Godfrey at :


June 8th, 2014

Acapela Studio, Cardiff

Duncan Honeybourne

Piano music by Morfydd Owen

William Mathias, Greville Cooke

  &  Archy Rosenthal

June 27th, 2014

Aberystwyth Arts Centre

BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Morfa Rhuddlan

August 21st, 2014


Ellen Williams

Morfydd Llwyn Owen project

October 15th, 2014

Brangwyn Hall, Swansea (Swansea Festival)

Recital by Elin Manahan Thomas (soprano)

Songs by Morfydd Owen,

    Elizabeth Lutyens,

    Richard Rodney Bennett, Richard Strauss,

    Igor Stravinsky, Francis Poulenc.

November 8th, 2014

Llandaff Cathedral, Cardiff

Cardiff University Orchestra

‘Threnody’ by Morfydd Owen

    Works by Mathias, Duruflé & Caplet

‘I loved you and I loved you’

Dance-theatre production based on

Morfydd’s life and music.

On tour in UK

June - December 2015

A celebration of Welsh Women in Music


March 5th, 2016

16:30 – 17:30 Discover Welsh Music Seminar 

Drama Rehearsal Room, Bangor University

Dr Rhiannon Mathias leads a discussion about the works of two major female Welsh composers, Dilys Elwyn-Edwards and Morfydd Owen alongside performances of their works by Ellen Williams and Brian Ellsbury.

May 21st, 2016

Malfest Festival - Malpas (Wrexham)

Brian Ellsbury & Sioned Terry

Songs by Morfydd Owen &

Rhapsody in C# minor for piano -

    world premiere ?

‘Morfydd Owen -Portrait of a Lost Icon’

Tour to promote new CD due for release in November 2016

    Elin Manahan Thomas - Soprano

    Brian Ellsbury - Piano

19th November 2016 - Theatr Ardudwy, Harlech

25th November 2016 -  The Great Hall, Swansea

31st March 2017 - Dora Stoutzker Hall, Cardiff

25th March 2017  - Eglwys Jewin, London

1st April, 2017

Gweddi’r Pechadur (arr. Rees)

The Refugee

London Welsh Chorale

Holy Trinity Church, Sloane Square

            Newly published by

                     Tŷ Cerdd

        Piano Sonata ( age 18 )


      ‘The Refugee’  satb/piano


        original German text by

            Friedrich Schiller

        English translation by

       Edward Bulwer Lytton


       Newydd Gyhoeddi :

       Eigra Lewis Roberts - ‘Fel yr Haul’

       Gwasg Gomer  (2014)

         Nofel sy’n porteadu chwe blynedd olaf Morfydd

CD release by Tŷ Cerdd        Songs : Spring, Mother’s Lullaby, The Lamb, Tristesse, 

           November 2016                     To our Lady of Sorrows, Speedwell, Daisy’s Song

           Available now at                    To Violets, God made a Lovely Garden

                  Gweddi y Pechadur, The Land of Hush-a-bye

Songs and Piano Music              Piano  : Rhapsody in C sharp minor, Maida Vale

by Morfydd Owen                          Tal y Llyn,  Little Eric, Glantaf, Prelude in E minor

    Brian Ellsbury &                          Branwen, Sonata for Piano in E minor

    Elin Manahan Thomas               Chorale from Piano Quintet

Promenade Concert, Albert Hall,  London July 20th, 2018

Program included  ‘Nocturne’ by Morfydd Owen

BBC National Orchestra of Wales

Thomas Sondergard conductor

Pre - Concert talk by Dr Rhian Davies