PowerPoint Presentation on T. Hopkin Evans
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The following is a PowerPoint presentation by Wyn Thomas, Vice-Chancellor of the University of Bangor, and an authority on T. Hopkin Evans, conductor of the Welsh Choral Union from 1919 to 1949. 

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Harry Evans

(Merseyside Welsh Heritage Society, November 12th 2011-10-13
Professor Huw Rees, President, Liverpool Welsh Choral Union


I consider it a great honour to give this lecture on Harry Evans, one who made an enormous impression and contribution to musical life in Britain during his short life.
I would like to acknowledge my debt to several sources relating to Harry Evans’ life, three in particular:
1. Miss Nansi Pugh’s impressive history of The Liverpool Welsh Choral Union-The First 100 Years published in 2007. I wish to dedicate this lecture as a tribute to her tremendous achievement.
2. Dr William McNaught’s obituary to Harry Evans first published in The Musical Times and later reproduced in the Choir’s memorial concert programme in December 1914.
3. Rhidian Griffiths’ essay in the series Cyfres y Cymoedd published in 2001.
I have translated some of the quotations but trust that I have retained their meaning.
Finally, my sincere thanks to Mrs Rhiannon Liddell, former Chair of the Choir, for bringing several useful sources to my attention; also to my friend Dr Arthur Thomas for translating this lecture.


HARRY EVANS was born on May 1st 1873 at 13 Russell Street, Dowlais, Glamorganshire, a town famous for its iron works.

From the beginning Harry Evans was immersed in music since Dowlais was famous for its choirs, soloists and conductors. According to Harry Evans, Dowlais was renowned during the 1870s for its choirs and conductors who were greatly feared by other entrants in eisteddfod competitions. This was the atmosphere in which Harry Evans grew up.

One of the most well known of these conductors was Harry Evans’ father, John Evans (Eos Myrddin). John Evans was orphaned when five years old and brought up by his aunt and uncle. When only nine years old he went down the pit to help his uncle. He had little formal education. He developed into an accomplished bass soloist and won many prizes. He played the flute and cello.

John Evans spent thirty busy years in Dowlais conducting and training choirs in his spare time. He put a great deal of energy into his music and conducted the first performance of The Messiah in Dowlais. With his choir from Bethesda chapel he entered 21 competitions winning 18 first prizes, two seconds, and losing only once—a remarkable record. Interestingly the ‘altos’ were all boys. Most of the choir members could not read music. John Evans taught groups of six or seven of them in his home. They learned quickly be ear.
A piano was not used at the time, everything was unaccompanied, but they never lost a beat.
John Evans was fully conversant with staff notation but oddly he had no familiarity with the tonic sol-fa. He had a remarkable energy and enthusiasm for his music making. When on the night shift at the iron works he would hasten to the chapel vestry during his supper break in his working clothes to practice with the choir and then return to the furnaces.

Often, John Evans would take the choir to a competition, win a prize, return home, change into his working clothes and then work through the night. No doubt most of the choir did the same. Remarkable.
So, that was the musical atmosphere in which Harry Evans grew up.

Harry Evans was the fifth child of John and Sarah Evans’ ten children. He learnt the sol-fa from his eldest sister. When five years old, he could play hymn tunes using the tonic sol-fa on the harmonium. His father taught him staff notation. He first appeared as a soloist on the harmonium in a local competition (Penny Readings) when seven years old. While the instrument was quite small, he had some difficulty reaching the pedals. Despite this, the audience was very pleased with his performance and collected five shillings for him. He said later, “This was my first payment, in pennies, which I proudly gave to my mother”.

In 1883, when ten years old, Harry Evans was appointed as organist at Gwernllwyn Independent Chapel. Apparently, this was a large harmonium and due to Harry Evans’ youth it was arranged for a helper to work the bellows at the rear of the instrument. Rather than give him payment, the congregation agreed to pay for him to have piano lessons.

For two years he became a pupil of Edward Lawrence in Merthyr. Lawrence had been a pupil of Moscheles, pianist and composer, who succeeded Mendelssohn as head of the
Leipzig Conservatoire. Lawrence was particularly kind to Harry Evans and took great interest in his progress. He gave him a good classical foundation especially in the works of Bach, Beethoven and Mendelssohn. This tuition from one well versed in the great European musical tradition was the foundation of Harry Evans’s musical development. He became familiar with many of Beethoven’s sonatas. These were the only formal lessons in music which he received. During the entire time he had lessons with Edward Lawrence, he had no piano at home on which to practice. A few nights a week he practiced on the piano of a chapel member. Remarkable determination.

Concerned about his musical welfare, the chapel members felt he should have his own piano. With the proceeds of a special concert, they bought him a small piano which he greatly valued. He was in great demand as a soloist and accompanist since such gifts were scarce in South Wales at the time. Harry Evans was viewed as a rare talent. His friends were anxious that he should go to London and pursue a musical career. But his father, with an eye to the future, counselled that he should look first to his general education. Later, Harry Evans was grateful for this. At the end of his time in the primary school he had to sit the scholarship to
enter the secondary school. He succeeded and remained at this school until he was fourteen. Although his great passion was music, his father decided that he should become a teacher which would ensure a future livelihood. His father said, “After that you can do as you please about following a musical career”. Naturally this was a great disappointment for Harry Evans and he rebelled against it for a time. When his father issued an ultimatum that the alternative to becoming a pupil teacher was to go to the iron works, he relented.

With a heavy heart one Monday morning he made his way to Abermorlais School, Merthyr, to start his academic career as a fourteen year old pupil-teacher.

In 1887, when he started as a pupil-teacher, he competed successfully to become organist at Bethania Independent Chapel, Dowlais, where his father led the singing. He remained in that post for nineteen years until 1906. Harry Evans was one of the first to give organ recitals in that area. Meanwhile he worked hard at his studies and passed his examinations in mathematics, science and art with honours. It was a hard life. He would leave the house at 7.30 in the morning for the two mile journey to the school, arriving by 8.00 o’clock. The school started at 9.00am. He would spend the lunch hour studying while the evening classes would last until 8.30pm. Then, often, he would rush back to Dowlais to accompany the choir for an hour or so. Later he wondered how he did it all. He was greatly helped by an understanding headmaster who gave him time-off to go as an accompanist to concerts and eisteddfodau. Saturday was a free day but only from school work, since he gave piano and organ lessons from morning till night.

At the end of his time as a pupil-teacher he sat the examination for a Queens Scholarship and entry to a teachers’ training college. Despite sharing his time between music and academic work he came top of the results in the area and was first on the list for entrants to Bangor Normal College.

Then came the turning point in his life. He decided to follow a friend’s advice, abandon the idea of going to Bangor and pursue a musical career. But the way ahead was not clear. With the Scholarship, he could stay as a teacher on a salary of £40 a year, (present day £3,600), compared with the £20 he obtained previously.

The extra £20 would make a big difference since he spent all his earnings on music, travelling around the country and buying works for the organ and piano. With no further formal instruction, he studied diligently and after a year travelled to London in July 1893 to sit the examination for an Associate of The Royal College of Organists (ARCO). To the surprise of some in Dowlais, he passed with honours. He then resigned from his school
position in Merthyr and set about increasing his activity as teacher and choir accompanist. He was much in demand to give organ recitals.

In 1893, the Dowlais Philharmonic Society was formed with some 200 singers and Harry Evans as conductor. They soon performed Handel’s oratorio Samson with a full orchestra and before a large and enthusiastic audience. This was followed by a short opera,
Acis and Galatea. By this time many were curious as to what Harry Evans could do in the eisteddfodic world. For several years after this, apart from performing a few oratorios, he spent most of his time engaged in choral competitions. Very often his choir won first or second prize. After winning a prize of £100 in Tonypandy in 1897 he decided to give up choral competitions. In the same year, he graduated as a Fellow of the Royal College of Organists (FRCO). He was among the first Welshmen to attain this honour.

For the next few years, Harry Evans limited his involvement to a few choirs. For example in 1898 he formed the Merthyr Ladies Choir, and in 1900 this joined with his male voice choir to perform Samuel Coleridge-Taylor’s Hiawatha’s Feast. He had formed the male voice choir in 1899 with the intention of competing in the Liverpool National Eisteddfod in 1900. During Easter 1901 this male voice choir gave six very successful concerts in London.

At the Merthyr National Eisteddfod in 1901 Harry Evans led the eisteddfod choir of some 500 voices in a performance of Handel’s Israel in Egypt, which was described as masterly. Interestingly, the choir and orchestra had been led in a performance of Elijah by one Dan Davies (Merthyr), regarded as one of Wales’ leading conductors from 1880 onwards. However, the performance attracted sharp criticism for his failure to give adequate
direction to the choir and orchestra. After this he disappeared from the competitive platform. At the Merthyr eisteddfod, Harry Evans conducted the orchestra in performances of the overture Tannhauser and Beethoven’s Fifth Symphony in C minor.
In the following year his choir won £200 at the Llanelli National Eisteddfod. Due to the increasing demand for him to act as an adjudicator, he decided to stop competing. However, he kept his choir going for some time, performing oratorios by Mendelssohn (Elijah and St Paul), Stanford (The Revenge), Elgar (King Olaf) and his own work Victory of St Garmon. The choir made three trips to London where they performed at the Queens Hall and other venues.

In April 1899 Harry Evans married Edith Gwendoline Rees in Dowlais. Her father, Richard Posthumous Rees was Mayor of Merthyr Tydfil in 1918-19.

Meanwhile in Liverpool, a choir of some 400 voices was formed under the direction of Mr D.O. Parry in readiness for the 1900 National Eisteddfod. They performed oratorios by Haydn, The Creation and Judas Maccabeus by Handel. At one concert, the choir was conducted by the eminent Welsh musician, Joseph Parry in the first performance of his cantata Ceridwen, which had been commissioned by the Eisteddfod. The Choir also took part in two variety concerts as well as making other contributions. It received considerable praise from audiences and critics for the standard of its performances.

On the Friday of the Eisteddfod, Harry Evans’ well-prepared Dowlais Male Voice Choir took to the stage. In a competition of eleven choirs, it came first, beating such recognised choirs as the Manchester Orpheus Choir, which went on to greater fame.

The adjudicators not only praised the choir’s performance but noted the young age of its conductor. This was the only competition in the Eisteddfod won by a choir from Wales. Harry Evans’ choir returned to Dowlais well pleased.

Given its success, members of the Eisteddfod choir were reluctant to see it disbanded. A smaller choir continued to practice and give a few performances before deciding in September 1902 to form a choir under the title Liverpool Welsh Choral Union. A conductor was now needed. Since the Choral Union was familiar with Harry Evans’ reputation, not only at the Liverpool National Eisteddfod but also in South Wales and beyond, they invited him to become their conductor, which he duly accepted.

While Harry Evans was aware that some 100,000 people of Welsh descent lived in the Liverpool area, and that the Eisteddfod Choir had been excellent, he still felt that the new venture was something of an experiment. Later, he reflected that at the time he had no idea that the Choir would become so important or that it would entice him away from the valleys of South Wales. At the beginning, Harry Evans stayed in Dowlais and continued to conduct his own choir. It won easily at the Llanelli National Eisteddfod in 1903, and in the following year it performed at the Queens Hall in London, praised by both audience and critics alike.

Harry Evans started work with the Welsh Choral Union in September 1902 with a choir of 182 selected voices. Although only 29 years old he was very experienced and with the added advantage of a fine tenor voice. With the Choir, he concentrated on voice production and intonation. In practices with the choir, which started in November 1902, he
preferred to dispense with piano accompaniment which helped to maintain intonation.

He said that he developed his technique by going around the country listening to music. His musical education was based on experience and by coming into contact with singers, composers and conductors. He spent his savings travelling around the country, going to London, especially to Covent Garden, symphony concerts in the Queens Hall, and oratorios in the Albert Hall and in Leeds, Birmingham and at the Three Choirs Festival in the
Cathedrals of Worcester, Gloucester and Hereford. He always came away from these performances having learned something new. He would travel to hear new works, whatever the cost. He believed that this had been invaluable in his musical development. He was entirely self taught and to a very high standard.

Within four months, the Choir was ready to give its first performance, Handel’s oratorio, Samson, at the Philharmonic Hall. It was a tremendous success with lavish praise from the press. Sometime afterwards, Harry Evans expressed the view that there might be dangers in confining membership to people of Welsh descent, but since the choir had not suffered in any way, he was happy with the approach. Soon the membership approached 300.

I mentioned earlier that Harry Evans travelled every week from Dowlais for the practices in Liverpool. Also during those first years, until he became too busy, he enjoyed performing as a soloist from time to time with other organisations, since his fine tenor voice was much appreciated. By 1906, his work with the Choral Union had become more
demanding and he moved to Liverpool to live in 26 Princess Avenue.

By this time, he had also taken up the position of organist and choirmaster at Great George Street Chapel (near the large Chinese gate). However, he soon found that mounting commitments, especially away from Liverpool, led him to give up the post.

At the start Harry Evans concentrated on performing familiar works and doing so more than once over the years. For example, The Messiah was performed six times, Elijah four times and Samson twice. Before Harry Evans’ time the works of Bach were seldom performed in Liverpool, being considered too difficult for most choirs. However, in 1907 the Choral Union performed St Matthew’s Passion for the first time in the City, and again in 1912. A few months before his death, the Choir also performed Brahms’ Requiem. During Harry Evans’ time, the choir consistently received much appreciation from the audiences and praise from the critics. The first performance by the Choir of Samson was described as “polished and most pleasant under Harry Evans’ masterly direction”. That performance was followed by The Messiah when hundreds failed to gain admission to the Philharmonic Hall. Again, the praise was fulsome, the Choir having been taught to appreciate and give musical expression to every phrase.

The Choir’s performance of St Matthew’s Passion in 1907 was again masterly and the Philharmonic Hall was sold out weeks before. The praise could not have been greater, comparisons being made with the performances of London’s Bach Choir, the only other choir in Britain to venture to do the work.

In 1904 and 1905 some of Harry Evans’ own compositions were performed; Hymn of Praise, The Golden Legend and the cantata, The Victory of St Garmon, which had earlier been performed at the Cardiff Musical Festival to much praise. The words were written by the poet and hymn writer Elfed. Harry Evans composed another successful cantata, Dafydd ap Gwilym, for the Llangollen National Eisteddfod of 1908. The Welsh Choral Union also performed the work in Liverpool.

He also wrote a number of anthems, for example, Oleuni Mwyn,(Lead kindly light) O perfect love, and Yr Arglwydd yw fy mugail (The Lord is my shepherd-which he dedicated to the memory of his father), several hymn tunes, as well as arranging folk songs for choirs, including Ar Hyd y Nos and Men of Harlech.

Shortly before his death he was chosen as one of the three editors of Y Caniedydd Cynulleidfaol. One of his great ambitions was to establish a music college in Wales. Unfortunately he did not see this. Such a college, the Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama was not set up until 1949.

It is not clear when Harry Evans and Elgar became acquainted. However, the Choir performed The Dream of Gerontius in 1906. The Philharmonic Hall was packed for the performance of the work in Liverpool. In 1908 they gave a second performance of the work followed by one of The Apostles, both to great acclaim.

It appears that Harry Evans was often absent for the next rehearsal of the Choir following a public performance, but he always sent a letter of appreciation to the Choir. Little wonder that the choir members worshipped him.

Not only was Harry Evans friendly with Elgar but also with other leading composers of the day, such as Sir Granville Bantock, who succeeded Elgar as Professor of Music at Birmingham University (1908 to 1934), SirWalford Davies the composer, who was born in Oswestry and who taught at the Royal College of Music in London as well as in the Music Department at Aberystwyth, and Sir Hugh Allen, the conductor, who was at one time organist at St Asaph Cathedral and principal of the Royal College of Music in London. At the Musical
League Festival in Liverpool in 1909, the Welsh Choral Union was entrusted with performing the choral works. They performed new works, indicating that Harry Evans was very keen to keep abreast of all new developments. During the festival, Elgar took advantage of the
occasion to praise the Choir for its “splendid work and its excellent conductor”. As well as working with Elgar Harry Evans worked closely with Granville Bantock, who became leader of the New Brighton Orchestra. In 1909, the Choir performed Bantock’s new oratorio, Omar Khayyam Part 1, a very demanding work since the chorus was divided into 20 parts, fourteen for men’s voices! The performance attracted great praise, especially from Bantock himself. Another difficult work, parts of Hiawatha by Coleridge-Taylor, was performed in 1911 and received considerable praise. Later, with the Manchester Orpheus Male Voice Choir and the Birkenhead Ladies Choir, the Choir performed the experimental choral symphony Atlanta in Calydon. In a letter of thanks to the choirs Harry Evans said they should congratulate themselves on being able to perform a work considered to be well nigh impossible. The correspondent of the Musical Times was most enthusiastic, stating, “The combination and their trainers can pride themselves on having accomplished a record – a virtuoso performance of the most difficult a capella choral work ever written”. According to the Musical News “To Mr Harry Evans’s magnetic personality and unsparing labours the magnificent results were due”.

It was evident that Harry Evans was confident that he could ask the Choir to perform difficult modern works: he had great faith in the Choir’s capability. He was extremely proud of being the conductor of such a Choir.

In 1914, the Choir gave the premiere of Granville Bantock’s last work. Again, Bantock took an experimental approach. His Choral Symphony, Vanity of Vanities, was based on verses from Ecclesiastes, and it was dedicated to Harry Evans and the choir. The work obtained considerable critical acclaim. Granville Bantock described the performance as one of the best he had heard of any new work.

After all the hard work, the final concert of the season, a performance of Brahms’ Requiem, was held in March 1914. This work required careful preparation and experience. Since it was apparent that Harry Evans’ health was causing concern, it was feared he would not be able to conduct the concert. However, his indomitable spirit produced an inspired performance. Poignantly, this was to be the last time he would conduct the Liverpool Welsh Choral Union. It was regarded as one of the Choir’s best performances.

Two days later, on March 30th, he conducted a memorable Welsh hymn singing festival (Gymanfa Ganu) at Sun Hall, a fitting finale to his connection with the Welsh community in Liverpool.

He was to conduct one more oratorio in Liverpool, Elijah, with the Philharmonic Society. Following this on May 8th he conducted combined choirs in the Gloria from Bach’s Mass in B Minor at the Morecambe Festival. A worthy ending to a glittering conducting career, cruelly cut short.

For some months his health had been causing concern, and many felt that he was overburdened having taken on far too many commitments after coming to Liverpool.

He was Music Organiser to the University College of North Wales, Bangor, and conductor of the Llandudno Autumn Concert Series. He was also conductor of the Liverpool University Choral Society and chorus master of the Liverpool Philharmonic Society. In 1909 he had conducted the Festival of the Musical League of Great Britain which took place in Liverpool. In 1911 he conducted a Welsh National Choir at the Festival of the Empire at the Crystal Palace in London, a 5000 strong choir drawn from all over Wales and Liverpool. He had also accepted the position of conductor of the North Staffordshire Choral Society for 1914-15. In addition he was a frequent adjudicator at eisteddfodau in all parts of Wales and
was much in demand to conduct Welsh singing festivals. Throughout, he kept his musical links with Liverpool’s many Welsh chapels. His work and devotion to the Liverpool Welsh Choral Union never diminished. Despite concern about his health, he was looking forward to taking the Welsh Choral Union to Germany to perform Elgar’s Dream of Gerontius, specifically at Elgar’s invitation. But it was not to be.

For the ailing Harry Evans, rest and treatment were ordered. Sadly his condition worsened and an investigation revealed that he had a brain tumour. He died on July 23nd 1914 at the zenith of his career aged 41, leaving a widow and two young sons. He was buried on July 27th in Smithdown Road Cemetery. Thousands came to pay their last tributes. After a
short service at his home, a service was held at Grove Street Congregational Chapel and later at the Cemetery where members of the Welsh Choral Union formed an avenue for the cortège.

At the graveside, the Rev. Dr. Owen Evans stressed in his eulogy that what matters is the intensity of life and not its length. Later, members of the Choral Union subscribed towards erecting a striking memorial to Harry Evans.

His two sons set up a fund to maintain the memorial. His eldest son, Sir Horace Evans, became physician to the Queen, while the younger son, Hubert John joined the Indian Civil service and served as a consul in South-East Asia. The two sons made provision for a scholarship for a Welsh student to study at the Royal College of Music in London. Unfortunately this was merged with other scholarships some years later and the name was changed.

Sir Horace Evans’ surviving daughter, Jean, and her late husband, Eric Hathorn, had three children, James, who died in 2003, Helen and Charles (a solicitor in London). Helen has
continued the musical tradition of the family. A violinist, trained at the Menuhin School in London and the Juilliard School in New York, she has played in leading orchestras, including the Birmingham Symphony Orchestra under Sir Simon Rattle (who was brought up in Allerton), as well as playing on many film and music sound tracks.

After Harry Evans’ death, tributes flooded in and many were reproduced in the Christmas memorial concert programme of the Choir.

Sir Edward Elgar wrote, “I had the honour to be associated with him in several important musical matters. I held him and his abilities and qualities in the highest esteem”. Tributes came from H. Walford Davies, Dr William McNaught and Granville Bantock, who said “He was a brilliant conductor..... Under his direction I have heard choral singing attain to heights of expression beyond description”. W.J. Evans, a Merthyr musician, asserted that Harry Evans “was the greatest conductor Wales had seen”. The music critic of The Daily Telegraph, Robin H. Legge, was of the view that Harry Evans “had undeniable genius.....a conductor by the grace of God”. Caradog Roberts composed the hymn tune In Memoriam as a tribute to Harry Evans.

Harry Evans’ reputation stemmed from his intense dedication and from his superb musicianship rather than through holding some important position. He insisted upon a
disciplined approach to music making and the attainment of the highest standards. In this way he achieved some notable musical successes.

What qualities made Harry Evans’ time with the Welsh Choral Union so special and memorable? When asked about his approach to working with the Choir, he replied “I always get my choir to understand the significance of what they perform and the exact position of everything they sing in a work, with the result that they sink individuality into one common whole – are animated by the sole desire faithfully to convey the composer’s idea”. Indeed, he held that one of the weaknesses of Welsh choirs generally was that they sang extracts from works rather than perform the entire work. He had the ability to discern the essential general character of a work and the close relationship between the music and the text. According to the music correspondent of The Manchester Guardian, “in the course of twelve years, Mr Evans developed the choir into one of the greatest choral forces in the United Kingdom”. Some achievement.

In December 1914, the Choir decided to perform The Messiah in memory of Harry Evans, conducted by one of his former pupils, John Watcyn from Dowlais. It was a solemn concert which started with the Dead March from Handel’s Saul. In 1915, the performance of The Messiah was conducted by T. Hopkin Evans from Glyn Neath. He also conducted the choir in a performance of The Messiah in 1918, which was held a month after the Armistice. The rendition of the Hallelujah Chorus was so superb that the audience insisted on an encore.
In 1919 the Choir invited T. Hopkin Evans to become its conductor, which he accepted.


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