MUSIC IN WALES
By N. M. ROBERTS
LLANGOLLEN, North Wales, has a population of 2,9oo, the memory of the Ladies of Plas Newydd and a bridge over the Dee which is one of the Seven Wonders of Wales. Architecturally it has precious little else, except the fine timbered roof of St. CoIlen's Church, since the ruins of Valle Crucis Abbey and of the pre-Norman Casten Dimas Bran are respectively a mile and a half outside and i,000 feet above the town. Llangollen's streets last week were a patchwork of nine languages. The pavilion set up in a field near the Grammar School was filled daily with an audience twice the size of the population ; from its platform the finest choirs of Austria, Switzerland, Spain, Italy, Denmark, Sweden and Czechoslovakia showed Wales that there are other types of music than the Hallelujah Chorus and that perfection can be represented by the exquisite little Agrupacion Coral de Camara from Pamplona as well as by the sonorous splendours of the Moravian Teachers' Choir.
The occasion was the second International Musical Eisteddfod sponsored by the British Council. This event is not to be confused with the National Eisteddfod of Wales. The National is no joke. It is as grim as a Test Match, war to the knife and no holds barred. Llangollen's International is above all else a festa. The entire town is a hospitality committee ; the schools are on holiday ; the local band stands about in the evenings playing jolly, bumping tunes ; the whole place is beflagged and beflowered, and traffic comes to a standstill without question when a party of Spanish dancers decides to give a performance in the main street. Musically it can give points to the National in the selection of test pieces. Llangollen this past week has heard more of the treasures of the polyphonic' school, English and Continental, than the whole of Wales commonly hears in a year. Never, surely, has " plugging " been employed to a worthier purpose. It is to be hoped that the Board of Music Advisers, whose members include Dr. Edmund H. Fellowes, sticks stubbornly to its policy.
Impressions enough remain from the week of contests and con- certs—the electrifying singing of the Moravian Teachers' Choir, which brought a new standard to a land of male-voice choirs ; Dr. Ferdinand Grossmann and his wonder-children (most of them are little more) from the Vienna Academy, laughing and kissing their hands to an audience that would not let them go after they had sung a programme beginning with a Mozart Ave Verum and ending with a vocal arrangement of The Blue Danube ; the harsh, curiously poignant voices of the Almaden Miners' Choir, who wore overalls and helmets and carried safety lamps ; the night when two of the adjudicators, Sir Hugh Roberton and Mr. Herbert Bardgett, themselves directors of no mean choirs, got back to their hotel to find its hall packed with people listening to an eighty-one-years-old farmer singing folk songs and going on to a passionate burst of hymn-singing, Welsh tenors, devout and a little drunk, soaring to split every glass in the bar. But above 711, observers have been struck by the resource and self-reliance of this small and relatively unsophisticated community and by the good manners of both hosts and guests.
The organisation of an event of this size might be considered a job for the efficiency experts. It was carried out by the towns- people, and their arrangements have run like a watch, save that there has been no fussy ticking. The daily and evening session needed a chairman who could manage both competitors and audi- ence. So they called in a professional compere ? No, they produced a local village schoolmaster and a local Methodist minister, who have a fund of naïve humour and the ability to control six thousand excited people with a raised finger and a quiet " Hush! " Inter- preters were needed, and it was not to be expected that a 'Welsh valley could provide for anything except French and German. This Welsh valley provided also for Czech, Hungarian, Spanish, Portuguese and Italian, plus an Esperanto group, and was chagrined at having no experts in the Scandinavian languages. As for the good manners, they have been rooted in kindness and simplicity. The visitors have been charming and ready to be charmed. The Swiss loved the valley because it was so like their own country in miniature ; the Danes loved it because it was so unlike theirs. Courtesy made the Viennese eat porridge for breakfast rather than appear ungracious, though nothing could make them like it. The townspeople have received their visitors as friends, and none of them, from the schoolgirls trying out their first-year French to their grandparents, has found foreigners funny.
Is there a permanent future for this happiest of ventures ? Yes and no. Yes, most certainly, if it depended only on the pride and enterprise of Llangollen and the enthusiasm of foreign choirs. But quite probably no, unless something can be done to help the visitors to get here. Several French choirs had to cancel their entries because the devaluation of the franc had wrecked their already shaky finances. Signor Castellazzi, conductor of the Madrigalisti Citta di Milano, sold his grand piano to help pay the expenses of the journey. When the story was told to the audience at one of the evening concerts they collected L30 for him within ten minutes, but that kind of thing cannot go on indefinitely, if only because most people don't have two grand pianos.
" We come again next year, if God will help us with the money," said Dr. Grossmann after his choir's last appearance. Is there not some human agency that might help God to the tune of, say, £to,000 ? So paltry a sum would enable ten foreign choirs to be certain of coming next year to this place, which an adjudicator last week likened to " a forbidden city, a haven of refuge, where all nations meet together in peace and concord."