Best Welsh Songs | Classical music

Wales is justifiably proud of its singing heritage. The song, both religious and secular, is hugely important to Welsh culture – it’s not for nothing that it’s often known as the Land of Song. In particular, choral music is an essential part of the country’s musical repertoire, with many of the world famous Welsh choirs.

Here are some of the best known and most loved traditional Welsh songs.

The best Welsh songs

“We’ll keep a welcome (in the hills)”

The music for this popular song was composed in 1940 by Welsh songwriter and artist Mai Jones, while the lyrics came from lyricists Lyn Joshua and Jimmy Harper. Originally introduced for the BBC’s wartime radio variety show Welsh Rare Bitthe song has retained strong associations with Wales.

Originally broadcast on the BBC Forces programme, Welsh Rare Bit was aimed at Welsh serving in the armed forces during the Second World War. We will keep a welcome was written as closing music for each episode.

Welsh Rare Bit was then transferred to the BBC Light programme, where it became the most popular show in 1949. We will keep a welcome quickly became a popular post-war song: indeed, in the 1950s the song was sometimes referred to as “the second national anthem of Wales”.

The song got its first and second recordings in 1949. Later, in 1956, the great Welsh singer, present and comedian Harry Secombe also recorded a version.

‘Sosban Fach’ (‘Small Casserole’)

A traditional Welsh folk song, Sosban-Fach (or ‘Little Saucepan’) is a well-known and much-loved Welsh-language song. A domestic vignette involving an overworked housewife, a crying baby and a small pot boiling over the fire, the song has close associations with rugby club Llanelli RFC and, more recently, regional rugby team the Scarlets.

These links emerged through Llanelli’s tinning industry: generations of pans and other kitchen utensils were tinned in the town and then sold to the British public. The town’s industry and its most famous song are also remembered in the Scarlets’ official magazine, Sosban.

Famous Welsh bass-baritone Bryn Terfel recorded the song on his 2000 album We will keep a welcome.

‘Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau’ (‘Land of my fathers’)

Often referred to as the unofficial national anthem of Wales, this ‘Land of my fathers’ has a strong family bond. The lyrics were written by Pontypridd-based poet Evan James and set to a tune composed by his son, composer and harpist James James.

The latter, who also found time to hold a cabaret, originally composed the piece as a dance tune. It was originally intended to be played in 6/8 time, but was slowed down to a 3/4 tempo when it became an anthem to be sung by large crowds.

We named ‘Land of my fathers’ from the best rugby songs of all time

‘Ar Lan y Môr’ (‘At the seaside’)

This traditional Welsh folk song exists in different forms, with different lyrics. In all variants, however, the melody remains the same. The subject too: “Ar Lan y Môr” is a love song that also evokes the beautiful Welsh countryside.

This is another traditional Welsh song to feature on Bryn Terfel’s album We will keep a welcome: it is also present on the first album of the Welsh mezzo-soprano Katherine Jenkins, 2004’s First.

“The Men of Harlech”

This famous song and military march is believed to be a description of the seven-year siege of Harlech Castle during the Wars of the Roses. The imposing 13th century castle was held by the Lancastrians against the Yorkists and, under Constable Dafydd ap Ieuan, the garrison withstood the longest known siege in British history. Indeed, another name for the song is “Through Seven Years”.

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There may also be links to an earlier siege of Harlech when, around 1408, the Welsh chieftain Owain Glyndŵr withstood an attack by the future King Henry V of England.

Men of Harlech‘ has featured in two well-known films: the 1941 film How green my valley was and Zulufrom 1964.

‘Dafydd y Garreg Wen’ (‘David of the White Rock’)

David Owen (1712-1741), harpist and composer from Caernarfonshire, is believed to have composed the tune for this haunting traditional Welsh song. Owen was locally known as Dafydd and Garreg Wen (“David of the White Rock”), after the name of the farm where he lived.

It is believed that Owen, on his deathbed at the age of just 29, asked for his harp and composed the melody. The words were added a century later by the poet John Ceiriog Hughes (1832-1887).

‘Dafydd y Garreg Wen’ is another Welsh song with a unique distinction in history. When, in 1923, the BBC made its first broadcast from Wales, singer Mostyn Thomas opened the program – with a rendition of “David of the White Rock”. The song thus became the first-ever Welsh-language song to hit the airwaves.

Interpretations of the song are often accompanied by a harp – an important instrument in the musical heritage of Wales.

“My Little Welsh House”

“I dream of the mountains of my home”: thus begin the words of this nostalgic folk song by musician and composer William Sidney Gwynn Williams (1896-1978). Williams also played a major role in founding the Llangollen International Eisteddfod in 1947: indeed, he became the first musical director of the festival.

Main image: Getty Images

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