Dictionary of National Biography, 1885-1900/Thomas, John (1795-1871)

THOMAS, JOHN (1795–1871), musical composer and Welsh song writer, also known as Ieuan Ddu, was born at Pibwr Llwyd, near Carmarthen, in 1795. He was educated at Carmarthen, where subsequently he also kept a school for a short time. He then removed to Glamorganshire to follow the same occupation, and, except for a short period when he was clerk to Zephania Williams the chartist, at Blaenau, Monmouthshire, his whole life was spent in keeping a private school of his own, first at Merthyr Tydfil, and from 1850 on at Pontypridd and Treforest successively. He was twice married and died at Treforest on 30 June 1871, being buried at Glyntaff cemetery, where a monument was erected over his grave by his ‘friends and pupils.’

Thomas was one of the chief pioneers of choral training in the mining district of Glamorganshire, and is justly described in his epitaph as ‘the first to lay the foundation of that prevailing taste for music which attained its triumph in the Crystal Palace (choral competition) in the years 1872 and 1873.’ For many years he regularly held musical classes at Merthyr and Pontypridd. In 1845 he published a collection of Welsh airs entitled ‘Y Caniedydd Cymreig: the Cambrian Minstrel,’ Merthyr, 4to. This contained forty-three pieces of his own composition and a hundred and four old Welsh airs, one half of which he had gathered from the lips of the peasantry of Carmarthenshire and Glamorganshire, and which had never been previously published. For almost all these airs he wrote both the Welsh and English songs, several of which have been adopted in subsequent collections of Welsh music (cf. Brinley Richards, Songs of Wales, pp. iii, 39, 62, 68, 70). In 1849 he published a poem on ‘The Vale of Taff’ (Merthyr, 8vo), which was followed in 1867 by a volume of poetry entitled ‘Cambria upon Two Sticks.’ Thomas also contributed many papers to magazines, and a prize essay of his on the Welsh harp was published in the ‘Cambrian Journal’ for 1855.

[M. O. Jones's Cerddorion Cymreig (Welsh Musicians), pp. 131–3, 160.]

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