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New Article by Sioned Williams

The following wonderfully insightful piece focuses on the recent work of legendary harpist Osian Ellis.

'What an absolute treat to receive a copy of a wonderful new solo for harp composed by the renowned Osian Ellis! My sixteen-year-old starry eyes followed Osian as he performed, especially in Wales, and I have been a fan for as long as I can remember. As those who have seen him perform live will know, there is something unique about Osian – he exudes bardic temperament, he calls you inside his playing, his entire performance, and even his speaking voice is poetic. Little did I think when Osian played the Britten Suite in north Wales, and I sat agog drawn in and mesmerised, that I would study with him later as a postgraduate student at the Royal Academy of Music, and live a few streets from his family home in London.

Rarely do we even consider age to be a barrier to any creativity, but nevertheless, at 92, not only to have the energy, the creative mind and the practical capability to write a new work, but also to perform it, is wonderful; that this work arose from such a difficult time for Osian and those close to him, makes it even more touching.

Having looked through the music a few times, I could feel the raw energy in it. I visualised Osian playing this and imagined his sound, and then a short video was released of himself performing ‘Lachrymae’ and describing the emotion he felt whilst writing it.  

The anger, so strikingly brought out in the strident opening, the bare octaves depicting the angst of a grim and cruel situation, build up into chords, then a short transition with three harmonics moving us into a ‘meditative’ section which in turn becomes a simple and beguiling Welsh lullaby, ‘Cysga di, fy mhlentyn tlws’ (Sleep, my sweet babe). However, despair returns in a parody of the opening until a slow glissando reflects the gradual receding of life, and then a crystal-clear harmonic sounds the death knell.

There follows a reflective section in the compositional style of the beginning, leading to what Osian describes as ‘the final journey’ to the forest grave at Boduan when he recollects the poet Cynan’s words (translated from the original Welsh) ‘And the purple heather blooms from your ashes in this beautiful place’. The sad and dark, straight chords move to a tranquil simpler melody, which eventually leads to ‘Elin’s Song’ with the words of John Morris-Jones (translated from Welsh), ‘O wailing wind, have you also lost somebody who loved you?’. These bring an additional dimension to the work, and the contemplative and tender ending is gut-wrenchingly sad. The title ‘Lachrymae’ (Tears) apparently came after the completion of the score but could not be more appropriate. This is Osian’s own honest and heartfelt commemoration of a dear friend, Llinos.

Cwmni Gwynn in north Wales have printed a most stunning copy (the cover photo was taken by Richard Ellis, and the image created by Llinos) which is eminently suited to the work. Harpists should take a long look at the cover before starting to look at the magic within; it draws one in, and we should always contemplate the composer’s intention before we start delving into the notes on any page. The preface by Osian himself is also essential reading.

I am not always keen to perform music written by harpists, preferring to encourage fine composers to understand our instrument better and write something for us, but I do make exceptions! Here we have a harpist who can write music which first and foremost touches the heart, is well crafted and, of course, falls easily under the fingers. I have no doubt that harpists will rush out to obtain a copy. We now await with bated breath for anything else which may come from Osian’s pen!'

The work is published and sold by Cwmni Cyhoeddi Gwynn in north Wales

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