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This chapter is shorter than the others and takes the form of a postscript devoted to the state and organisation of music in Wales at the time of the book’s publication. It is shaped around the coincidental but simultaneous occurrence of two key historical moments: the devolution of many segments of administrative authority from the UK government to Wales and the establishment of a Welsh Parliament (Y Senedd), and the ubiquitous adoption of digitisation in the service of cultural communication and creativity. This latter development was not, of course, a uniquely Welsh phenomenon, but in Wales, because of the country’s geography and bilingualism, it had an especially important impact. Digitisation facilitated the ambition of Wales’s devolved governments to express the country’s cultural distinctiveness within the UK and globally. Devolution had the ancillary effect of elevating the importance of the creative industries, including those devoted to or including music. Additionally, the legal framework that underlined devolution led to an increased protection of the Welsh language and consequently the music cultures which had flourished within it. The chapter deals with the consequences for Welsh music of two decades of devolution and its impact on traditional and the modern agencies and institutions concerned with Welsh music: music education, performance, the curation of Welsh historical materials and the associated scholarship.
This is an overview chapter covering the entire chronology of the book and touching on the topics to which each individual chapter is devoted. It is important in that it outlines the main stages through which Welsh music passed and emphasises the causal relationship between the social, cultural and political history of Wales and its music, a recurrent theme in the book. It also explains the distinctiveness of Welsh music history and the structures and agencies that have made it so. While Welsh music before the nineteenth century had loose connections with the repertoires and style periods of other European cultures, Wales was devoid of major centres of cultural production of the type that enabled the music industry to thrive elsewhere. There was neither a metropolitan centre nor national institutions or agencies to give succour to a music culture similar to those of England, Scotland and Ireland. Two agencies filled this void from the later eighteenth century: a reconstituted version of the medieval eisteddfod, which changed its emphasis from being an essentially poetic to a primarily musical event, and the rise of religious nonconformity. Nonconformity was important for a number of reasons: it was a nationwide phenomenon but its emphasis was on the local, and it promoted engagement with congregational singing to such an extent that it fostered a remarkable level of democratic musical engagement more generally. These developments occurred simultaneously with a renewed interest in Welsh musical traditions. The twentieth century saw a new phase: the development of professionalism leading to distinctive voices in art and popular music. Amidst this entire story was the status and influence of the Welsh language, a topic that also receives close attention in the chapter.
Though its origins lie in the Middle Ages and the practices of household bards and musicians of the nobility, the modern eisteddfod tradition developed from the late eighteenth century as an essentially literary movement and part of the romantic movement that has been termed the Celtic revival. Music developed as part of the eisteddfod at local and national levels, becoming a major and eventually primary presence. The emphasis was on vocal music both solo and choral, and alongside its role in detecting and curating Welsh traditional music the eisteddfod introduced the classical concert to Welsh audiences. Eisteddfodau were always competitive events and from the later nineteenth century, choral contests helped to engender popular interest in choral singing as a practice representative of Welshness. The chapter describes the development of eisteddfodau and explains their importance in various stages of Welsh history. It also examines what were often perceived as the negative effects of eisteddfod competition and the conflict it created between meeting popular demand and the achievement of higher musical standards among the population.
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