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 played in the orchestra of the Opera and made the first of the many tours of Europe, continued 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 accompanied by twenty harps!
Among his numerous compositions for harp, both solo and concerted, John Thomas published a collection of Welsh melodies and arrangments of Schubert songs and Mendelssohn’s Songs Without Words. Both Bugeilio’r gwenith gwyn and Merch Megan are in the form of variations on traditional Welsh airs, whereas Echoes of a Waterfall is an original piece. Although he played the pedal harp rather than the triple-strung Welsh harp, Thomas 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.
from notes by Susan Drake © 1981