Today, the rights of women and feminist causes are leading the news agenda, but at the turn of the 20th Century, a similar pioneering movement was underway. Set against the rise of the Suffragettes and calls for greater rights for women, young Welsh composer Morfydd Llwyn Owen took the musical world by storm.
To celebrate the talent of such a pivotal figure in Welsh music, on 20th July as part of BBC Proms, BBC NOW will commemorate the centenary of Morfydd Owen’s death on 7 September 1918, aged 26, by performing her music at the Royal Albert Hall conducted by Principal Conductor Thomas Søndergård. The chosen work is Nocturne, for which Morfydd was awarded the Charles Lucas Silver Medal at the Royal Academy of Music in 1913. It will be the first time that Nocturne will be included in the BBC Proms programme.
Morfydd Owen’s legacy lives on and has transcended more than just music. She moved to London in 1912 to study composition at the Royal Academy of Music, at a time when it was widely recognised to be very difficult for women to succeed and even more challenging for a provincial woman like Morfydd. However, she rose above the cultural and societal constraints of the time, making it much easier for other women to follow in her footsteps. including acclaimed female Welsh composers such as Grace Williams, who often cited Owen as her inspiration.
Morfydd Owen was the proud product of a country happy to celebrate the important role of women in the creative industries. This Welsh spirit followed her to London, where she was supported and warmly welcomed into the network of Welsh chapels and the wider London Welsh society. She was taken under the wing of Lady Herbert Lewis and David Lloyd George, who created opportunities for her to appear in concerts, and was commissioned to provide compositions by other Liberal M.P.s including Sir J. Herbert Lewis and Sir H. Haydn Jones.
By the time of her early death in 1918, Morfydd Owen, had already completed 250 pieces. Her impact on Welsh music and her influence continues to grow in popularity in Wales and internationally, with overseas performances including a Morfydd Owen Festival in Winnipeg in 1999.
Dr Rhian Davies, Artistic Director of the Gregynog Festival, who completed her PhD about the life and work of Morfydd Owen, said:
” I’m delighted that Nocturne is representing Welsh composition at this year’s BBC Proms, commemorating the centenary of Morfydd Owen’s death and marking 101 years since her song For Jeannie’s Sake was performed at a Promenade Concert by Robert Radford and Frederick Kiddle in 1917. Morfydd was a trailblazer in every way so it’s really special and appropriate to include her in a Proms season that honours women composers.”
Thomas Søndergård, conductor for BBC NOW and BBC Proms 8, said:
“I am delighted to be involved in this special event and am looking forward to performing one of Morfydd Owen’s most distinctive and original pieces of work. Nocturne is a confident, clever, spirited and quirky piece of music. I am sure that the Orchestra will relish the opportunity to play this iconic piece and celebrate the talents of this remarkable musician.”
BC NOW performs five concerts at the BBC Proms beginning on 20 July, conducted by Thomas Søndergård and taking in music by Lili Boulanger and Welsh composer Morfydd Owen, who died in 1918.
On 22 July, the orchestra performs alongside no fewer than five choirs in Mahler’s Symphony No. 8 ’Symphony of a Thousand’ which marks the last performance of Thomas Søndergård as BBC NOW’s Principal Conductor.
On 27 July, Martyn Brabbins conducts a centenary celebration of Parry, alongside music by Vaughan Williams and Holst. The orchestra’s final concert at the Royal Albert Hall for the season takes in music by Dame Ethel Smyth, Dvořák and Richard Strauss on 1 August, conducted by Otto Tausk.
BBC NOW joins in the annual spectacular Last Night of the Proms celebrations on 8 September with BBC Proms in the Park Wales in Colwyn Bay.