William Mathias 1934-92

Ganed William Mathias ym 1934 ar ddiwrnod pwysig yn y calendr eglwysig, 1 Tachwedd, sef Dydd yr Holl Seintiau. Roedd wastad yn falch o’i dref enedigol, Hendy-gwyn, ger y ffin rhwng Sir Gaerfyrddin a Sir Benfro. Pan aeth am gyfweliad yn yr Academi Gerdd Frenhinol ym 1955 a gofynnwyd iddo gan y Prifathro, Syr Thomas Armstrong, o ble roedd yn dod, atebodd drwy ddweud, “Go brin y byddwch chi’n ei nabod hi - tre fach o’r enw Hendy-gwyn.” “I’r gwrthwyneb,” meddai’r dyn mawr, ‘dyna’r baned orau ar reilffordd y Great Western ar ei hyd.” Roedd Mathias wedi dechrau chwarae’r piano yn dair oed a chyfansoddi darnau bach ychydig flynyddoedd yn ddiweddarach. Cafodd fod y gweithgareddau hyn yn dod yn hollol naturiol nes iddo ddarganfod wrth fynd i’r ysgol nad oedd y plant eraill yn tueddu i wneud hynny. Er bod Mathias wedi datblygu enw’n gynnar yn lleol fel ‘pianydd o grwt’, gwrthododd ei athro o dad adael iddo astudio Cerddoriaeth pan aeth i Brifysgol Aberystwyth ym 1952. Ond unwaith iddo gyrraedd yno, yn anochel, fe’i cafodd ei hun ynghlwm â gweithgareddau cerddorol ac ar ddiwedd blwyddyn yn astudio Saesneg, Hanes ac Athroniaeth, newidiodd i Gerddoriaeth o dan Ian Parrott gan raddio ym 1956 gyda gradd anrhydedd yn y dosbarth cyntaf ac ysgoloriaeth i astudio yn yr Academi Gerdd Frenhinol gyda Syr Lennox Berkeley.

 

Yn Llundain, cafodd Mathias ei hun yng nghanol cylch cerddorol byrlymus a blaengar a daeth yn Ysgrifennydd Clwb Cerddoriaeth Newydd yr Academi gan drefnu’r perfformiadau cyntaf yng ngwledydd Prydain o weithiau gan Stockhausen a Boulez. Ymhlith ei gydfyfyrwyr-gyfansoddwyr roedd Birtwhistle, Bennett, Cardew a Maw, a darpar wraig Mathias, y gantores Yvonne Collins, oedd yn un o fyrdd o gydweithwyr lleisiol ac offerynnol. Yn ystod y blynyddoedd hyn fe’i gwelwyd yn ystwytho’i gyhyrau cyfansoddi ac ar ôl cyfnod byr o arbrofi arddulliedig (gan goleddu ffurf ar Gyfresiaeth hyd yn oed), atgyfnerthodd yr iaith unigol oedd eisoes wedi dechrau dod i’r fei yn ystod ei flynyddoedd yn Aberystwyth. Daeth sawl perfformiad cyntaf yn Llundain â chydnabyddiaeth eang  iddo ac ar ddiwedd tair blynedd, dychwelodd i Gymru ym 1959 fel Darlithydd mewn Cerdd ym Mhrifysgol Bangor.

 

Dechreuodd comisiynau dasgu i mewn o sefydliadau o bobtu i Glawdd Offa a chyda chontract gwerth chweil gyda Gwasg Prifysgol Rhydychen fel Cyfansoddwr Mewnol, yn fuan daeth Mathias i’r amlwg fel un o ddoniau cerddorol disgleiriaf ei genhedlaeth yng ngwledydd Prydain. Gyda meistrolaeth benderfynol ym meysydd cyfansoddi offerynnol a cherddorfaol wedi’i hen sefydlu erbyn canol y 1960au, bu Mathias yn ymateb fwyfwy i geisiadau am gerddoriaeth eglwysig a chorawl. Gyda gweithiau fel Wassail Carol  i Goleg y Brenin, Caergrawnt a’r ymdeithgan i’r organ i Albwm Organau Rhydychen, cyrhaeddodd gynulleidfa ryngwladol eang a’i gosododd ar wahân fel cyfansoddwr nad oedd yn ofni cyfathrebu â llais cerddorol uniongyrchol a hygyrch.

 

Daeth trobwynt ym 1968 wrth i Mathias symud i Brifysgol Caeredin fel yr Uwch-ddarlithydd mewn Cyfansoddi. Ond byrhoedlog fu ei gyfnod yno, yn dilyn marwolaeth ei dad ar ddechrau 1969 a phenderfyniad i adael bywyd academaidd, gan ddychwelyd i Hendy-gwyn a bywyd wedi’i neilltuo i gyfansoddi’n unig. Fodd bynnag, egwyl ddigon byr oedd hon hefyd ar ôl cael ei benodi yn Gadeirydd Cerdd ym Mangor o hydref 1970. Flynyddoedd yn ddiweddarach, wrth fwrw golwg yn ôl, disgrifiodd Mathias yr amser hwn yn ôl yn ei gynefin fel ‘ei flwyddyn wynfydus’ a’r gwaith sy’n crynhoi’r symudiad hwn yn ei ganfyddiadau yn ddi-os yw’r Concerto i’r Delyn i Osian Ellis ym 1970. Wrth ddychwelyd i Fangor fel Pennaeth Adran, ni fu fawr o dro nes i fywyd gweithio Mathias ymsefydlu’n gylch blynyddol oedd hefyd yn cynnwys trefnu Gŵyl Gerdd Gogledd Cymru yng Nghadeirlan Llanelwy – gŵyl a lansiwyd ym 1972 y bu’n ei chyfarwyddo am ugain mlynedd arall.

          

Yn y degawdau olaf hyn, gwelwyd Mathias yn cyrraedd cynulleidfa fyd-eang gyda’r anthem i briodas Tywysog Cymru â’r Fonesig Diana Spencer ym 1981. Toc ar ôl hyn, dechreuodd comisiynau o America dywallt i mewn gan esgor ar ymweliadau blynyddol i arwain perfformiadau cyntaf a mynychu gwyliau. Yn y DU, cyfansoddwyd gweithiau mawr i Ŵyl y Tri Chôr, cerddorfa Ffilharmonig Frenhinol Lerpwl a'r Hallé, Proms y BBC ac Opera Cenedlaethol Cymru. Wedi ennill ei blwy fel ffigwr rhyngwladol o bwys, bu farw Mathias yn anterth ei bwerau ar 29 Gorffennaf 1992 ar ôl brwydr hir a dewr â chanser. Mae ei enw’n parhau i dyfu yn ystod y 25 mlynedd ers ei farwolaeth gyda chyfres o recordiadau a pherfformiadau ôl-dremiol pwysig.

©Geraint Lewis 2017

© Tony Bentley

William Mathias was born in 1934 on an auspicious day in the church calendar, 1 November being All Saints' Day. He was always proud of his birthplace in Whitland, near the borders of Carmarthenshire and Pembrokeshire. When he went for interview at the Royal Academy of Music in 1955 he ventured – on being asked where he was from by the Principal, Sir Thomas Armstrong  – “You probably won't know of it – a little town called Whitland.” “On the contrary – that's the finest cup of tea on the entire Great Western Railway,” returned the great man! Mathias had started to play the piano aged three and to compose small pieces a few years later, and found these activities entirely natural until he discovered, on going to school, that other children tended not to. Despite Mathias developing a precocious local reputation as a 'boy pianist', his teacher father refused to let him study Music on going up to Aberystwyth University in 1952. But once there, Mathias found himself inextricably involved in musical activities, and at the end of a year studying English, History and Philosophy, he converted to Music under Ian Parrott and graduated in 1956 with first-class honours and a scholarship to study at the Royal Academy of Music with Sir Lennox Berkeley.

 

In London Mathias found himself at the centre of a busy and forward-looking musical circle, and he became Secretary of the Academy's New Music Club, organising first British performances of works by Stockhausen and Boulez. Fellow student-composers included Birtwistle, Bennett, Cardew and Maw, and Mathias's future wife, the singer Yvonne Collins, was one of a galaxy of vocal and instrumental colleagues. These years saw him flexing his compositional muscles, and after a brief period of stylistic experimentation (even to embracing a form of Serialism), he consolidated the individual language which had already emerged embryonically during his years at Aberystwyth. Several premieres in London brought him wide recognition, and at the end of three years he returned to Wales in 1959 as a Lecturer in Music at Bangor University.

 

Commissions began to pour in from organisations within and without Wales, and together with a prestigious contract with Oxford University Press as a House Composer, Mathias soon emerged as one of the brightest British musical talents of his generation. With a determined mastery in the fields of instrumental and orchestral writing clearly established by the mid-1960s, Mathias increasingly responded to requests for church and choral music. With works like the Wassail Carol for King's College, Cambridge, and the organ Processional for an Oxford Organ Album, he reached a wide international audience and marked him out as a composer who was unafraid of communicating with an immediate and accessible musical voice.

 

A turning point came in 1968 with a move to Edinburgh University as Senior Lecturer in Composition. But this was short-lived, following the death early in 1969 of Mathias's father, and a decision to leave academic life, with a return to Whitland and a life devoted exclusively to composition. This too, however, was a brief interlude, after an appointment to the Chair of Music at Bangor, effective from the autumn of 1970. Looking back many years later, Mathias described this time back at home as his “year in clover”, and the work which sums up this shift in his perceptions definitively is the Harp Concerto for Osian Ellis, of 1970. With the return to Bangor as Head of Department, Mathias's working life soon settled to an annual cycle which also incorporated the establishing of the North Wales Music Festival in St Asaph Cathedral, launched in 1972 and which he directed for another twenty years.

          

These final decades saw Mathias reach a global audience with the anthem for the wedding of the Prince of Wales to Lady Diana Spencer in 1981. American commissions quickly poured in and led to annual visits to conduct premieres and attend festivals. In the UK, major works were composed for the Three Choirs Festival, Royal Liverpool Philharmonic and Hallé orchestras, the BBC Proms and Welsh National Opera. Established as a major international figure, Mathias died at the height of his powers on 29 July 1992 after a long and brave battle with cancer. His reputation has continued to grow in the 25 years since his death with a series of significant recordings and retrospective performances.

©Geraint Lewis 2017

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