Tuba part from Welsh National Anthem for Brass Quintet ''Land of my Father'' (MFAO World National Anthem Series)

James James
2 minutes
World music

An arrangement of the Welsh National Anthem for Brass Quintet.

"Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau", usually translated as "Land of My Fathers", (dear country of my fathers) is, by tradition, the national anthem of Wales. The words were written by Evan James and the tune composed by his son, James James, both residents of Pontypridd, Glamorgan, in January 1856. The earliest written copy survives and is part of the collections of the National Library of Wales.

Glan Rhondda (Banks of the Rhondda), as it was known when it was composed, was first performed in the vestry of the original Capel Tabor, Maesteg, (which later became a Workingmen’s Club), in either January or February 1856, by Elizabeth John from Pontypridd, and it soon became popular in the locality.

James James, the composer, was a harpist who played his instrument in the public house he ran, for the purpose of dancing. The song was originally intended to be performed in 6/8 time, but had to be slowed down to its present rhythm when it began to be sung by large crowds.

The popularity of the song increased after the Llangollen Eisteddfod of 1858. Thomas Llewelyn of Aberdare won a competition for an unpublished collection of Welsh airs with a collection that included Glan Rhondda. The adjudicator of the competition, "Owain Alaw" (John Owen, 1821-1883) asked for permission to include Glan Rhondda in his publication, Gems of Welsh melody (1860-64). This volume gave Glan Rhondda its more famous title, Hen wlad fy nhadau, and was sold in large quantities and ensured the popularity of the national anthem across the whole of Wales.

At the Bangor Eisteddfod of 1874 Hen Wlad fy Nhadau gained further popularity when it was sung by Robert Rees ("Eos Morlais"), one of the leading Welsh soloists of his day. It was increasingly sung at patriotic gatherings and gradually it developed into a national anthem.

First recorded Welsh-language song Hen wlad fy nhadau was also one of the first Welsh-language songs recorded when Madge Breese sang it on 11 March 1899, for the Gramophone Company, as part of the first recording in the Welsh language.

Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau has been established as the Welsh National Anthem by tradition over a hundred years; although in common with other British anthems, it has not been established as such by law. It is recognised and used as an anthem at both national and local events in Wales. Usually this will be the only anthem sung, such as at national sporting events, and it will be sung only in Welsh using the first stanza and refrain. But on some official occasions, especially those with royal connections, it is used in conjunction with the national anthem of the United Kingdom, God Save the Queen. Before BBC Wales television started to broadcast 24 hours a day, the Chorus of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau was played at the closedown, followed by the first three lines of God Save the Queen. HTV Wales, on the other hand, played the full verse of Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau and God Save the Queen before broadcasting 24 hours a day.

The existence of a separate national anthem for Wales has not always been apparent to those from outside the country. In 1993 the newly-appointed Secretary of State for Wales John Redwood was embarrassingly videotaped opening and closing his mouth during a communal singing of the national anthem, clearly ignorant of the words but unable to mime convincingly; the pictures were frequently cited as evidence of his unsuitability for the post. According to John Major’s autobiography, the first thing Redwood’s successor William Hague said, on being appointed, was that he had better find someone to teach him the words. He found Ffion Jenkins, and later married her.

Versions of Hen Wlad fy Nhadau are used as anthems in both Cornwall, as Bro Goth Agan Tasow, and Brittany, as Bro Gozh ma Zado.

Wales is a constituent nation of the United Kingdom, like the other nations within the United Kingdom, Wales has its own national anthem as well, although “Land of my Fathers” dates back to 1856. In that year, a father (lyricist) and son (composer) wrote what was first known as “Glan Rhondda” (The Banks of the Rhondda River). The tune spread throughout Wales with various performances, even gaining note as being the first piece of recorded music in the Welsh language, in 1899. In 1905, after defeating New Zealand in a rugby match, “Hen wlad fy nhadau” became the first national anthem to be sung before a sporting match.

The song has come to be used as a Celtic anthem as well, the melody (with slight variations) is used as the national anthem in both Brittany and Cornwall, both Celtic areas.

Like other anthems of the constituent countries of the United Kingdom, including that of the United Kingdom itself, “Hen wlad fy nhadau” has not been officially declared as the Welsh anthem, but it remains so as a matter of tradition. Also, despite English being a prominent language in Wales, no official English translation or versification has been made; the anthem is almost always sung in Welsh, and usually just the first verse and chorus.

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