John Thomas was born in Bridgend, South Wales, in 1826. At the age of eleven he won a harp at a national eisteddfod and three years later, in 1840, Lord Byron’s daughter Ada, the Countess of Lovelace, sent him to the Royal Academy of Music in London, where he studied the instrument with J B Chatterton. In 1851 he made the first of many tours of Europe which were to continue over the next fifty years. In addition to many appearances throughout Britain and the Continent he also adjudicated regularly at his native Welsh eisteddfodau. On 4 July 1862 he gave a concert of Welsh music at St James’s Hall, London, with a chorus of four hundred voices plus twenty harps. Among his numerous compositions for harp, both solo and concerted, he published a collection of Welsh melodies, and arrangements of Schubert songs and Mendelssohn’s ‘Songs without words’. Although he played the pedal harp rather than the triple-strung Welsh harp, he was given the bardic name of ‘Pencerdd Gwalia’—‘Chief Musician of Wales’—in 1861. In 1872 he became harpist to Queen Victoria. He died in London in 1913. The harp Étude is preceded by his arrangement of one of Wales’s most beautiful and well known folk songs, Dafydd y garreg wen—David of the White Rock
, or ‘The dying bard to his harp’.
from notes by Susan Drake © 1989