A Dictionary of Music and Musicians/Thomas, John

THOMAS, John (known in Wales as 'Pencerdd Gwalia,' i.e. chief of the Welsh minstrels, a title conferred on him at the Aberdare Eisteddfod of 1861), a very distinguished harpist, was born at Bridgend, Glamorganshire, on St. David's Day, 1826. He played the piccolo when only four, and when eleven won a harp at an Eisteddfod. In 1840 he was placed by Ada, Countess of Lovelace (Byron's daughter), at the Royal Academy, where he studied under J. B. Chatterton (harp), C. J. Read (piano), and Lucas and Cipriani Potter (composition). He remained at the Academy for about eight years, during which time he composed a harp concerto, a symphony, several overtures, quartets, two operas, etc. On leaving the Academy he was made in succession Associate, Honorary Member, and Professor of the Harp. In 1851 he played in the orchestra of Her Majesty's Opera, and in the same year went a concert tour on the continent, a practice he continued during the winter months of the next ten years, playing successively in France, Germany, Russia, Austria, and Italy. In 1862 Mr. Thomas published a valuable collection of Welsh melodies, and in the same year gave with great success the first concert of Welsh music in London. In 1871 he was appointed conductor of a Welsh Choral Union, which for six years gave six concerts annually. In 1872, on the death of Mr. J. B. Chatterton, he was appointed Harpist to the Queen, and is now teacher of the harp at the Royal College of Music.

Mr. Thomas has always taken a deep interest in the music of his native country. There has scarcely been an Eisteddfod of importance held during the last twenty years at which he has not appeared as both adjudicator and performer, and he has recently (1883) collected a large sum with which he has endowed a permanent scholarship for Wales at the Royal Academy of Music. In 1866, at the Chester Eisteddfod, he was presented with a purse of 500 guineas in recognition of his services to Welsh music. Mr. Thomas is a member of the Academies of St. Cecilia and the Philharmonic of Rome, the Florentine Philharmonic, and the Royal Academy, Philharmonic, and Royal Society of Musicians, of London. His compositions include a large amount of harp music, amongst which are 2 concertos, one of which was played at the Philharmonic in 1852; 'Llewelyn,' a cantata for the Swansea Eisteddfod (1863); and 'The Bride of Neath Valley,' for the Chester Eisteddfod (1866).

[ W. B. S. ]