Welsh Tunes (out of print)
- Sûo Gan
- Cwm Rhondda
- St. Denio: Variations on a Ground
In the summer of 2002 I made my first visit to Wales, and spent two weeks wandering along the rocky coast through Pembrokeshire and Cardiganshire. I knew only that my paternal great-grandfather Thomas Bennett Thomas was Welsh, that he had come to the U.S. as a teenager in the 1860s, and that he had preached to congregations in both Welsh and English (a “prominent pulpiteer,” his obituary read). A family tree (from 1956, two years before I was born) gave several place names, among them Aberaeron, a harbor town on the west coast which turned out to be the ancestral home. I looked at thousands of gravestones there, and indeed found ancestors, but I also found living relatives descended from my great-grandfather: a lively 85-year-old aunt, and two cousins—one a librarian at the House of Lords in London—who gave me a private tour of Westminster. I’m now proud to know that I am a member of one of the oldest families in that lovely seaside town.
On returning to the States, I wrote six preludes on Welsh hymn-tunes, each dedicated to an organist friend. The bookends go to Marilyn and Jim Biery, respectively, organists whose encouragement and marvelous playing have inspired me to write a considerable amount of organ music. “Llanfair” opens the set with toccata and martial elements between tune bursts; “St. Denio” closes it by treating the tune as a ground bass with variations. Two preludes are cantus firmus chorales: the popular folk lullaby “Sûo Gan” (to Norma Aamodt-Nelson) presents the tune in the soprano (but in the pedal); “Rhys” (to Barbara Gulick) places it in the tenor. “Cwm Rhondda” (to Nancy Lancaster) freely elaborates tune motives in a ternary form. “Aberystwyth” is an ornamental chorale, a gift to my father—whose forebears come from that coastal university town—on his 80th birthday.