Bells of Aberdyfi

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BELLS OF ABERDYFI (Clychau Aberdyfi). AKA - "Bells of Aberdovey." Welsh, Air. The tune is known today as a famous Welsh folk-song, although its origins were in the English stage. Harper Bowen's setting imitates the bells of the drowned cities and towns of Cantre'r Gwaelod, whose spectral sounds emanate from the sea off the Welsh coast at Aberdyfi. Although the tune has been incorporated into Welsh tradition, Kidson (Groves) gives that the song was composed (in broken Welsh) by Charles Dibdin (1745-1814) for his opera Liberty Hall in 1786. He explains, "Miss Williams, hearing it traditionally, published a version of it in her collection of 1844, and from that time onward it has been accepted as genuine Welsh. There is certainly no evidence to show that Dibdin used an existing tune (it was quite opposed to his practice), and no copy can be found except Dibdin's of a date prior to 1844." Dibdin's song with music was published in an oblong folio in London by John Preston in 1785 or 1786, notes Kidson (Musical Times, Feb. 1, 1911, p. 95) "ad the title-page, to distinguish the opera from those made up of odds and ends, expressly states that the whole composition is by Mr. Dibdin, thus--'Liberty Hall: or The test of goodfellowship,' a comic opera as performed with universal applause at the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, being entirely an original composition by Mr. Dibdin."

Dibdin's was an interesting life, full of financial ups and downs and successes tempered with failures. The eighteenth (!) son of a silver-maker, Dibdin himself had many children with several women, including mistresses from the stage with whom he was involved in scandal. Although his music is not highly regarded nowadays, he was intensely famous at various times during his life, known best for his nautical songs.

Irish harper Arthur O'Neill (1734-1818) mentions Dibdin in his memoirs, and clearly did not have a high opinion of his work, considering him a threat to tradition: "There is a great deal of ancient Irish music lost in consequence of the attachment harpers latterly have for modern tunes, and which is what is now chiefly in vogue: the national tunes and airs being confined only, I may say, to a few gentlemen in the different provinces I have traveled through... (If it were not for the collector Edward Bunting's) great exertions the compositions of a Dibdin and some other composers of similar productions would in a very few years be a very great means of annihilating our dear Irish music."

Source for notated version:

Printed sources:

Recorded sources: Flying Fish FF70610, Robin Huw Bowen - "Telyn Berseiniol Fy Bgwlad/The Sweet Harp of My Land" (1996).




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