Thomas Osborne Roberts 1879-1948

In his time, Thomas Osborne Roberts was one of Wales’s most cherished and admired musicians. He is perhaps best-remembered today (if he is known at all) as a composer of songs such as ‘Y Nefoedd’ and ‘Y Mab Anfradlon’, but he was also very active as an accompanist, conductor, teacher and adjudicator. His fluency of communication in both English and Welsh made him a popular speaker in many Eisteddfodau, which during the early years of the 20th Century were held both sides of the national border; but his versatility as a musician – composer, pianist, and teacher –  gave him an authority beyond this sphere. His second wife, Maggie Jones (better known by her stage name of Leila Megàne), was an operatic contralto whom he accompanied on singing tours to La Scala, the Metropolitan Opera House, Covent Garden, and many other prestigious venues. He was well-liked and respected by such eminent peers as Vaughan Williams, Granville Bantock, David Vaughan Thomas and W S Gwynn Williams, and despite not having a career quite as artistically defined as theirs were, his legacy still includes several popular/classical songs and part-songs that were very successful in their own rights.

Born in Weston-rhyn, near Chirk, Denbighshire, his family moved to Ysbyty Ifan, Betws-y-Coed, when he was 11 years old. From an early age he had come to find joy in music, accompanying his father, a proficient musician himself, who sang while a young Roberts played the harmonium.

While working as a land surveyor, at the age of 23 he moved to Llandudno, and while here, he decided to leave this profession to devote more of his time to music. It was in Llandudno that he wrote one of his greatest hits – a song called ‘Y Mab Anfradlon’ (The Prodigal Son). He also began to write for the local Pavilion Orchestra who performed several of his early orchestral works including his variations on the hymn tune ‘Bangor’, which would have been a valuable experience of orchestration for him as he was later required to orchestrate several of his more popular songs for large-scale performances.

Thomas Osborne Roberts was one of the judges who awarded Leila Megàne her first ever musical accolade, for singing at the Anglesey Eisteddfod in 1910 – their first encounter. After this, they initially went their separate ways – he moved from Llandudno back to his former home of Ysbyty Ifan after the death of his first wife, and began teaching privately and accompanying singers in concerts; she began an illustrious career in opera, studying in London and Paris, eventually gaining a five-year contract in Covent Garden in 1919.

Then in 1923, Megàne invited Roberts to accompany her on a tour of America, where they were married the following year, in New York. After their return, they settled in Caernarfon and Roberts began teaching privately and at the local grammar school.

In the 1930s, he moved to London as a teacher and accompanist, but returned to an isolated farmhouse in Wales – near Pentrefoelas – when war broke out in 1939. During the war years, he worked mainly at the Colwyn Bay food office but continued all his usual musical activities in his spare time.

He was taken ill after judging in Liverpool Eisteddfod in 1948 and died a few days later. He was buried in Ysbyty Ifan.

It was widely believed that he had received no traditional or formal musical education at any college or university and had always been described by the English press as self-taught. However, his brother (from whom he was separated by some years) recalled later that Osborne had studied at Bangor University at some point, though he wasn’t sure which subject. He was nevertheless able to stand comfortably alongside his (certainly well-educated) contemporaries as an authoritative voice of music in Wales – both in composition and as an exponent through his work leading choirs, accompanying and adjudicating.

His name is given, since 1951, to a prize at the National Eisteddfod awarded to singers under the age of 25 – winners of which have included Trystan Llŷr Griffiths, Gwawr Edwards, and Menna Cazel Davies. In 1933 he was elected an Associate of the Royal College of Music, for services to music education.

 

Yn ystod ei oes, Thomas Osborne Roberts oedd un o gerddorion uchaf ei barch a mwyaf hoff gan bawb yng Nghymru. Mae siŵr o fod yn fwyaf adnabyddus heddiw (os yw’n adnabyddus o gwbl) fel cyfansoddwr caneuon megis ‘Y Nefoedd’ ac ‘Y Mab Afradlon’, ond bu hefyd yn weithgar iawn fel cyfeilydd, arweinydd, athro a beirniad. Roedd rhwyddineb ei Gymraeg a’i Saesneg yn golygu ei fod yn siaradwr poblogaidd yn yr eisteddfodau lu a gynhelid yn ystod blynyddoedd cynnar yr 20fed ganrif ar boptu i Glawdd Offa, ond rhoddodd ei aml ddoniau fel cerddor – yn gyfansoddwr, pianydd ac athro – awdurdod iddo y tu hwnt i’r cylch yma. Contralto operatig oedd ei ail wraig, Maggie Jones (sy’n fwy adnabyddus o dan ei henw llwyfan Leila Megàne)  y byddai Thomas yn ei hebrwng ar deithiau canu i La Scala, Tŷ Opera’r Metropolitan, Covent Garden ac aml i ganolfan enwog arall. Roedd yn boblogaidd iawn ac yn cael ei barchu gan gymheiriaid cerddorol amlwg fel Vaughan Williams, Grenville Bantock, David Vaughan Thomas a W S Gwynn Williams, ac er na chafodd yrfa artistig mor ddiffiniedig â’u rhai hwythau, mae ei gynhysgaeth o hyd yn cynnwys sawl cân boblogaidd/clasurol a rhan-gân oedd yn llwyddiannus iawn yn ei rhinwedd ei hun.

Wedi’i eni yn Weston-rhyn ger y Waun, Sir Ddinbych, symudodd ei deulu i Ysbyty Ifan, Betws-y-Coed, pan oedd yn 11 oed. O oedran cynnar roedd wedi dod i ymhyfrydu mewn cerddoriaeth gan gyfeilio i’w dad, oedd ei hun yn gerddor medrus, a ganai tra byddai’r Roberts ifanc yn chwarae’r harmoniwm.

Wrth weithio fel mesurydd tir, yn 23 oed, symudodd i Landudno a thra oedd yno, penderfynodd adael y proffesiwn yma i roi mwy o’i amser i gerddoriaeth. Yn Llandudno y cyfansoddodd un o’i ganeuon mwyaf poblogaidd o’r enw ‘Y Mab Afradlon’. Hefyd dechreuodd gyfansoddi i gerddorfa leol y Pafiliwn a fyddai’n perfformio sawl un o’i weithiau cerddorfaol cynnar gan gynnwys ei amrywiadau ar yr emyn-dôn ‘Bangor’; buasai hyn yn brofiad gwerthfawr o offeryniaeth iddo gan fod gofyn iddo, yn nes ymlaen, drefnu sawl un o’i ganeuon mwyaf poblogaidd ar gyfer perfformiadau mawr.

Thomas Osborne Roberts oedd un o’r beirniaid a ddyfarnodd ei gwobr gerddorol gyntaf erioed i Leila Megàne am ganu yn Eisteddfod Ynys Môn ym 1910 – eu cyfarfyddiad cyntaf. Ar ôl hynny, ar y dechrau, aethant eu ffyrdd eu hunain – yntau’n symud o Landudno yn ôl i bentref ei febyd yn Ysbyty Ifan ar ôl marwolaeth ei wraig gyntaf, gan ddechrau addysgu’n breifat a chyfeilio i gantorion mewn cyngherddau; hithau’n cychwyn ar yrfa ddisglair ym myd yr opera, gan astudio yn Llundain a Pharis ac yn sicrhau, yn y pen draw, gontract pum mlynedd yn Covent Garden ym 1919.

Yna, ym 1923, estynnodd Megàne wahoddiad i Roberts i’w hebrwng ar daith drwy America lle gwnaethon nhw briodi y flwyddyn ganlynol yn Efrog Newydd. Ar ôl dychwelyd, fe wnaethon nhw ymgartrefu yng Nghaernarfon a dechreuodd Roberts addysgu’n breifat ac yn yr ysgol ramadeg leol.

Yn y 1930au, symudodd i Lundain fel athro a chyfeilydd ond dychwelodd i ffermdy anghysbell yng Nghymru – ger Pentrefoelas – pan dorrodd y rhyfel ym 1939. Yn ystod blynyddoedd y rhyfel, bu’n gweithio’n bennaf yn swyddfa fwyd Bae Colwyn ond parhaodd â’i holl weithgareddau cerddorol arferol yn ei amser hamdden.

Fe’i trawyd yn wael ar ôl beirniadu yn Eisteddfod Lerpwl ym 1948 a bu farw ychydig ddyddiau’n ddiweddarach. Fe’i claddwyd yn Ysbyty Ifan.

Credid yn eang nad oedd wedi derbyn unrhyw addysg gerddorol draddodiadol neu ffurfiol mewn unrhyw goleg na phrifysgol ac fe’i disgrifiwyd bob amser gan y wasg Seisnig fel rhywun ‘hunanaddysgedig’.  Fodd bynnag, mae ei frawd (ac roedd tipyn o flynyddoedd rhyngddynt) yn cofio’n nes ymlaen fod Osborne wedi astudio ym Mhrifysgol Bangor ar ryw adeg, er nad oedd yn siŵr pa bwnc. Serch hynny, gallai sefyll yn gyfforddus ochr yn ochr â’i gyfoedion (oedd yn sicr wedi derbyn addysg dda) fel llais awdurdodol am gerddoriaeth yng Nghymru – ym maes cyfansoddi yn ogystal ag fel arweinydd corau, cyfeilydd a beirniad.

Er 1951, rhoddir ei enw i wobr yn yr Eisteddfod Genedlaethol a ddyfernir i gantorion o dan 25 oed – ymhlith y rhai sydd wedi’i hennill mae Trystan Llŷr Griffiths, Gwawr Edwards a Menna Cazel Davies. Ym 1933, fe’i hetholwyd yn Aelod Cyswllt o’r Coleg Cerdd Brenhinol am wasanaethau i addysg gerdd.

Ffarwel.jpg
Welsh Impressions.jpg
Nefoedd CD.JPG

+44 (0)29 2063 5640 / enquiries@tycerdd.org / © 2018 Tŷ Cerdd

Tŷ Cerdd – Music Centre Wales yn sefydliad corfforedig elusennol, Rhif Cofrestru 1152853.

Tŷ Cerdd – Music Centre Wales is a Charitable Incorporated Organisation, Registration Number 1152853