Welsh Journals

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Who was 'Orpheus' of the 1858 Llangollen Eisteddfod? MEREDYDD EVANS Of twenty-five items published in the first volume of the Journal of the Welsh Folk Song Society in 1909, the first ten were taken from a collection of songs and melodies assembled by someone bearing the alias 'Orpheus';1 a collection that had been sent to the Llangollen Eisteddfod competition in 1858.2 Some years later, the folk song collector and botanist John Lloyd Williams came close to discovering Orpheus's real name, but in the long run Lloyd Williams never suc- ceeded in satisfying himself that he was on the right track. As a result, the mystery remains. The eisteddfod holds an honourable place within the history of collecting Welsh folk songs and melodies. At the Powys Cymmrodor- ion Society's provincial eisteddfod held in Welshpool in 1824, there was a competition for 'the best collection of old Welsh Tunes', previously unpublished; it was the first competition of its kind in any eisteddfod. John Jenkins, 'Ifor Ceri' (musicologist and antiquary) was responsible for the idea, and also the judge. Only two collections are known to exist: one from the scholar Aneurin Owen (son of the lexicographer William Owen Pughe), containing 105 tunes; the other, from John Gwynne, Darowen, with 103 melodies, the overwhelming majority harp tunes. A fair number of these had already been pub- lished. The word 'tunes' was interpreted literally by the competitors: there are no words to any of the melodies. By the 1837 eisteddfod of the Cymreigyddion Society, Aber- gavenny, the harvest was far more abundant, and this time the competition asked specifically for songs of the people: 'For the best collection of original unpublished Welsh airs, with the words as sung by the peasantry of Wales'. From that competition, in 1844, arose the noted volume by the singer and folk song collector Maria Jane Williams, Ancient National Airs of Gwent and Morganwg,3 to be followed in 1845 by the useful collection Y Caniedydd Cymreig: The