A to Z of world music

15th November 2002 at 00:00
As an expatriate Welshman, I've spent most of my life looking anywhere except Wales for interesting forms of music. I sang in church choirs in Newport, but the local music was no more Welsh than Vaughan Williams.

What a surprise, then, to listen to The Rough Guide to the Music of Wales (RGNET 1062), and to discover that in 1960s Pembrokeshire there was a church-choral style as harmonically exotic as any to be found in Albania. The 20 tracks on this CD include plenty of stuff which you might otherwise have assumed came from Ireland, Scotland, or indeed the Appalachians - Welsh musicians absorb anything good they can find - but there's one instrument here, played by two of its most celebrated exponents, which embodies a history I never knew: the triple harp.

Triple, because it has three ranks of strings, amounting to 95 in all. In the beginning there was just one row - a situation which persisted until the 16th century, when it was realised that there was no reason why two rows could not be placed on either side of the neck. Then harp-makers found they could add a third, which sat inside the outer two, though this was initially a devil to play, since the fingers had to thread their way in. No matter: for some reason it was the Welsh harpists who conquered the mechanics, with the result that they were in great demand in London, where their instrument was accorded the title of "Welsh harp".

Their repertoire ranged from 16th century Italian music to Handel, who was one of their greatest fans. In the Rough Guide CD, Llio Rhydderch is the contemporary exponent - playing a bewitching solo - while the late Nansi Richards, who single-handedly saved the instrument from extinction, plays an 18th century theme and variations. This recording is impressively dexterous, yet when she made it Nansi was nearly 90 years old.

Log-in as an existing print or digital subscriber

Forgotten your subscriber ID?


To access this content and the full TES archive, subscribe now.

View subscriber offers

Get TES online and delivered to your door – for less than the price of a coffee

Save 33% off the cover price with this great subscription offer. Every copy delivered to your door by first-class post, plus full access to TES online and the TES app for just £1.90 per week.
Subscribers also enjoy a range of fantastic offers and benefits worth over £270:

  • Discounts off TES Institute courses
  • Access over 200,000 articles in the TES online archive
  • Free Tastecard membership worth £79.99
  • Discounts with Zipcar, Buyagift.com, Virgin Wines and other partners
Order your low-cost subscription today