Morfydd Owen (1891-1918)


Morfydd Owen is an iconic figure in Welsh culture, whose fine songs Gweddi y Pechadur [The Sinner’s Prayer] and To Our Lady of Sorrows and hymn tunes Penucha and William are cornerstones of the repertory.

Born in Treforest, Owen studied at University College, Cardiff, and the Royal Academy of Music before working as a composer, singer and pianist and achieving performances of her music at the Royal Albert hall, London Palladium and Bechstein (now Wigmore) Hall.

She was an unusually brilliant student in Cardiff and London and moved in circles including David Lloyd George, D. H. Lawrence, Ezra Pound and Prince Felic Yusopov who assassinated Rasputin.

Morfydd’s plans to study in St Petersburg in 1915 were frustrated by the First World War and she concentrated instead on developing a London career as a composer and performer, receiving rave reviews in the national press. But a clandestine marriage to the Freudian psychoanalyst Ernest Jones caused tensions in her professional and private life and she died aged 26 on 7 September 1918, following an appendectomy performed at her husband’s family home in Oystermouth: a tragic end to a pioneering career that continues to intrigue and inspire.

Although she died tragically young, she had composed an incredible 250 scores including orchestral, chamber and choral works, songs to Welsh, English and French texts, and transcriptions and arrangements of Welsh and Russian folk tunes. Many of these works will be revived in the centenary celebrations.