Robert Rees "Eos Morlais" 1841 - 1892
Welsh Tenor and Musician

Robert Rees
Robert Rees was born on the 5th April in 1841, at  Dowlais, Glamorgan,  he was the son of Hugh  and Margaret Rees, and brought up near the banks of the river Morlais, hence his pseudonym. He lost his father when he was 8 years old, his mother died soon afterwards, and he started to work in a coal-mine when he was only 9. As a child he showed a marked talent for singing and recitation.

His first lessons in music were given him by an uncle; these he supplemented by the study of text books. He joined the Libanus Temperance choir which was conducted by David Rosser, whom he succeeded as conductor when the latter retired. He won several prizes at eisteddfodau as vocalist and when he was 26 years old he won the prize at the National Eisteddfod which was held that year (1867) at Carmarthen. In the year 1870, Eos Morlais moved to Swansea where he worked at Landore and became precentor at Soar Congregational Chapel, Swansea.

In 1874, at the National Eisteddfod, held in Bangor, Rees performed the song Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau and according to the Baner ac Amserau Cymru journal "had taken the Eisteddfod by storm". Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau was adopted as the Eisteddfod song in 1880 and sung at every Gorsedd ceremony since. In 1887 Rees was invited to sing at the National Eisteddfod in London in front of the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward. Rees led the singing of God Bless the Prince of Wales and at the end of the meeting he also sang Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, to which the prince and his family rose, the first time royalty had stood to the Anthem of Wales. Rees sang throughout Wales and England and in 1879 he performed a tour of North America

He took a course of instruction at the Swansea Training College. So successful had he become by now that he gave up his occupation and devoted his whole time to music. He served for three years as precentor of Walter Road Congregational church, Swansea. He conducted singing festivals and served as adjudicator, his services being much in demand. He died at his home, 16 Henrietta Street, Swansea, 5 June 1892; he was buried in the C.M. chapel burial ground at Aberdulais, near Neath

In 1874, at the National Eisteddfod, held in Bangor, Rees performed the song Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau and according to the Baner ac Amserau Cymru journal "had taken the Eisteddfod by storm". Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau was adopted as the Eisteddfod song in 1880 and sung at every Gorsedd ceremony since. In 1887 Rees was invited to sing at the National Eisteddfod in London in front of the Prince of Wales, Albert Edward. Rees led the singing of God Bless the Prince of Wales and at the end of the meeting he also sang Hen Wlad Fy Nhadau, to which the prince and his family rose, the first time royalty had stood to the Anthem of Wales.

EOS MORLAIS
Poem by Alaw Goch

There’s the cry of the man and his voice,
A goodly tune which is praise to Dowlais,
Or Cardiff yn gordeddo l,(to entwine or twist – Were there connections with Cardiff?)
The sound of his talent mesmerises a meadow.

The poetry and the voice the young lad has,
Who will flee from his peaceful muse?
The little people enchant parliament,
This one, with his voice spreads out a feast:

And some ocean of music,
From his beautiful mouth came to us
To a brave man, in the presence of the whole country,
We justifiably give payment.

Funeral of "Eos Morlais"
Touching Manifestation of Sorrow
By Morien

On Friday the funeral of the popular Welsh tenor, "Eos Morlais," took place at the Welsh Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, Aberdulais, in the Valley of Neath. Few events of late years have so deeply touched the hearts of the people of the southern portion of the Principality as the death of “Eos Morlais." He was a typical Welshman of the period of the revival of music and literature in Wales: The revival was one of slow growth. As regards music, there were magnificent ancient tunes, such as "Harlech," &c., which the peasantry had handed down orally ago after age. Those tunes were fragments of a musical period whose history was lost in the conflicts in which the Cambro-Britons engaged with their foes.

Then came a period, about 80 years ago, when village vocalists became possessed with an intense desire to impart a musical knowledge to the youths of Wales. Those village vocalists would pass over mountains to remote hamlets, and, without fee or reward, would teach a small circle the Divine art. Out of those circles have sprung the great choirs of Wales of the present day, and out of those choirs have come forth vocalists of the stamp of the late “Eos Morlais." It can be said that Eos Morlais was literally the first of his class in the present age to fall before the arch enemy death. No wonder, therefore, that the Welsh choirs from Cardiff to Holyhead have quivered under the blow. It seemed so difficult to realise that all the concerts of Wales no more would be heard the charming voice of “Eos Morlais," singing such songs as “Yr Eneth Fechan Ddall," "Plas Gogerddan,” Ti a Wyddost Beth Ddywed fy Nghalon," &c. Yet it is but too true, and on Friday we journeyed sorrowfully to Swansea, in accordance with an ancient Welsh custom, to accompany the remains of our friend to his last, long home, as a token of regard for his memory. It was a lovely day. The sun shone brilliantly, and the flowered verdant landscape and the green forests clothing the sides of the time honoured hills of Glamorgan looked their best. In his own peculiar line, “Eos Morlais” was a prince among his compeers, but Anian did not seem to sympathise in the least with a tribe of vocalists in deepest black, mourning a friend lost from their midst-one who had imparted joyousness to many a circle and sorrow to none. But we only behold one side of the picture. Doubtless could we but see "Eos Morlais" as lie himself was on the day his many friends gathered to escort his mortal remains to the tomb, we would find that existence is a system of gradations, ascending step after step to perfect felicity in another sphere. Such music as "Eos Morlais's” is not extinguished in the clay.

Among the choir leaders and vocalists who gathered at Swansea to accompany the funeral were the following: Dr. Parry, Penarth; Messrs. J. Richards ("Isalaw"), Bangor; Rees Evans, Aberdare; R. C. Jenkins, Llanelly,  J. Jones (" Ab Caradog "); W. T. Samuel, Swansea Dan Davies, Dowlais and J. Walking, Morriston Councilor Arnold, Neath; and Messrs. Seth P. Jones, Penclawdd; M. 0. Jones, Treherbert; Taliesin Hopkins W. Thomas, Treorky; Gwilym Thomas, Porth Lucas Williams, London and Tom Price; Madame Penn Williams, Pontypridd; Miss Kate Morgan, Dowlais; and Messrs. W. A. Davies; G. T. Rees; H. Radcliffe; Isaac Edwards, Swansea; Tom Stephens; Thomas Evans, Dowlais and — Matthews, Neath; Councilor Hopkin Morgan; and Messrs. W. T. Rees ("Alaw Ddu"); Charles Davies; T. S. Thomas, Neath; D. T. Williams, Swansea; Sandford Jones; and D. Davies, Gore House.

Among those present were the Ven. Archdeacon John Griffiths and the Rev. Morlais Jones, and many Nonconformist ministers. The chief mourners were Mr. Edward Rees (brother of the deceased) and Mrs. Rees and young son, Mrs. Rees (widow of deceased's eldest brother), Miss Maggie Powell (deceased's adopted little daughter, and a mourner indeed!), Miss Jane Edwards, and Mr. William Edwards.

There was no religious service at the deceased's late residence before starting, but the coffin, covered with beautiful wreaths, was conveyed silently to the hearse, which was followed through Swansea by a long string of mourning carriages. During the progress through Swansea the local police band played in the procession Beethoven's "Funeral March," and also the "Dead March" in "Saul."

The cortege travelled all the way to Aberdulais by road, but many of the visitors travelled by rail from Swansea to Aberdulais. It was between five and six o'clock when the funeral entered the village of Aberdulais. When passing through the town of Neath two hymns were sung, viz.:—

Daeth yr awr i'm ddlanc adre*
Draw o gyrhaedd pob rhyw gitr,
Gwrlaf dorf o'm hen gyfeillion
Draw ar lan y Ganaau bur.

Dacw'r delyn, dacw'r palmwydd,
Dacw ninas yn y ne
Ffarwel bellach bob rhyw ofid,
Henffych wynfyd yn ei le,

And

Beth sydd imi yn y byd
Ond gorthrymder mawr o hyd?
Gelyn ar ol gelyn sydd
Yn fy nghlwyto nos a dydd.

The chapel in whose burying ground "Eos's' remains were interred, is situate on the side of a gentle hill beyond Aberdulais. Many people were stationed here awaiting the arrival of the funeral along the highway. The first intimation of the approach of the funeral those waiting here received was the sound of grand choral singing coming on the gentle breeze up the valley. Gradually the words of the hymn being sung could be distinguished. They were the ever fresh:

Bydd myrdd o ryfeddodau
Ar doriad boreu wawr,
Pan ddelo plant y tonau
Yn iach o'r cystudd mawr
Oll yn eu gynau gwynion,
Ac ar eu newydd wedd
Yn debyg yw eu Harglwydd
Yn dod i'r lan o'r bedd,

The singing was almost overpowering in its effect, and tears glistened in many an eye. Up the hill the hearse, adorned with wreaths, travelled slowly, and the beautiful Neath Valley seemed to echo back the grand words and the notes of the tune called “Denton's Green."

A platform had been erected in the chapel burying ground, and the coffin was conveyed from the hearse on the shoulders of friends and placed on a bier in front of the platform. Then the Revs. Emlyn Jones and E. Jenkins (Walter's Road) ascended the platform. Archdeacon John Griffiths also ascended it in compliance with an invitation to do so. A brief religious service Wag then conducted by the Rev. Emlyn Jones, and short addresses were afterwards delivered by Archdeacon Griffiths, the Rev. E. Jenkins, Dr. Parry, and “Isalaw." Several hymns were also sung with much feeling. This service being over, the coffin was conveyed and lowered into the grave. The Rev. E. Jenkins read a brief prepared service, which was far less effective than the burial service of the Book of Common Prayer. This was followed by the Rev. Emlyn Jones offering up a prayer on behalf of the sorrowing relatives. The hymn "Bydd myrdd o ryfeddodau," &c., boing again sung. Mr. Rees Jones was the leader throughout, and, as usual, he did his work most efficiently.

The coffin, which was of polished oak with heavy brass trimmings, bore a brass plate with the following inscription:

Robert Rees (" Eos Morlais"),
Born April 5, 1841
Died June 5. 1892

Among the beautiful wreaths were the following: A large wreath of white flowers, shaped like a lyre with one of the strings broken, from the Swansea Liberal Club; from "Caradog" and family, Pontypridd; Mrs. Glanffrwd Thomas. Glantawe Male Voice Society, Messrs., Roberts and Griffiths, Dolgelly; the Congregational Church, Walter's-road, Swansea; the Caerphilly Eisteddfod Committee, "Ehedydd Glantawe" and Mrs. Evans, Gorseinon Tabernacle Choir, Morriston; the employees of Mr. J. B. Edwards, Swansea- a magnificent wreath sent from London by the following gentlemen, whose names were written on a mourning card attached to it: Messrs. Lucas Williams, Tom Davies, Ben Davies, Dyfed Lewis, David Hughes, Maldwyn Humphries, Dan Price, William Evans, Hugh Edwards, D. and R Jones, Charles Coran, Vincent Evans, John Griffiths, Sackville Evans, Tom Phillip, and R. A. Davies the Dowlais Harmonic Society (conductor, Mr. Dan Davies). This had the lines:-

“Oh for a touch of a vanished hand,
And the sound of a voice that is still."

There were other wreaths, but the cards containing the names had disappeared.

"Eos Morlais" was buried in the same grave as his wife, in memory of whom there stood a headstone with the following in the Welsh language:
In tender memory of Margaret, the beloved wife of 'Eos Morlais. She died April 11, 1889, aged 45. “Blessed are the dead who die in the Lord.” A large concourse of representative Welshmen and Welshwomen separated about six o’clock.  An ample supply of refreshments for the visitors was given at the neighbouring school-rooms.

By our own reporters.

The funeral cortege started from Henrietta Street shortly after two o'clock on Friday. The weather fortunately, was fine, and a very large number of persons lined the side-walks in Walter Road Alexandra Road as the procession of carriage passed along. The demonstration in Swansea where the deceased singer had passed most is life and where he, naturally, was best known would, undoubtedly, have been far greater if the funeral had taken place there. As it was, the inhabitants, to some extent, seemed to regard funeral as one of a semi-private character, especially as carriages had to be specially provided cover the distance. The procession consisted of the police band, the hearse, and about carriages. After a brief service at No. 16, Henrietta Street, where the deceased resided, a start was made along the Walter Road, the Rev. E. Jenkins and the Rev. Emlyn Jones (the officiating ministers) occupying the first carriage.  The police band impressively played a funeral march.  The hearse, which was chiefly of glass, the wealth of wreaths and flowers sent by friends and admirers of the deceased. very prominent feature of these was wreath sent by the Liberal Club, which took the form of a broken lyre, the string of which were formed of the petals of A large number of persons accompanied the procession to the end of Alexandra Road, near the High Street Station, where the police band and the public left if, and the carriages proceeded their way to Neath. Demonstrations of respect sympathy were common along the whole A large number of persons left Swansea for Neath by train.

A special train from down the line arrived at Neath shortly after three o'clock. Many detrained at Neath in order to join the funeral cortege near the site of the former west turnpike gate. The train proceeded to Aberdulais, and conveyed a large number who did not feel equal the task of walking two miles through the heat and dust. It was half-past five o'clock before the procession arrived at the place of interment. The approach of the cortege was announced by singing, the sound of which was borne by breeze up the valley. The cadences of the music reached those who were waiting the arrival of funeral procession. The number of visitors being so large, no attempt was made to hold a service in the chapel.  A platform was improvised in graveyard. On this were seated Archdeacon Griffith", the Rev. Emlyn Jones, and the Rev E. Jenkins (Walter Road Chapel).

The following relatives of the deceased present: —Mr. Edward Rees (brother of deceased) and family, Dowlais Mrs. Hugh (deceased's brother's widow) and family, Mr. William Edwards, Aberdulais; Mr. John Edwards, Swansea; Miss Edwards, Swansea and m David Edwards and family, Aberdulais.

Amongst those present were: Dr. Joseph Parry,  Mr. J. Richards ("Isalaw"), “Alaw Ddu," Mr. W.T. Samuel, Mr. Lucas Williams, "Alaw Meudwy”,  “Watcyn Wyn," Mr. Rees Evans (Aberdare), Gwilym Thomas (Porth), Mr. T. S. Thomas, John Arnold, Mr. Hopkin Morgan, Mr. John Rees (Neath), Mr. T. R. Robinson, Mr. W. T. Lewis, D. T. Sims, Mr. Dan Davies (Dowlais), the Rev H. Elvet Lewis, Mr. Emlyn Evans (Hereford), Mr. B. Parry, Madame Williams-Penn, and Madame Glanffrwd Thomas. A Welsh hymn was sung, Mr Rees Jones (Landore) was the conductor of the musical portion of the proceedings. Following this portion the Rev. Emlyn Jones read a portion of the seventh chapter of Revelations. Then the hymn commencing with the "At Orsedd Gras mi af, I ddweyd nghwyn," the favourite hymn of late “Eos Morlais," was sung. Several addresses were delivered.

The Rev. E. Jenkins referred to the sterling character of the deceased, and described him as perfectly free from all petty jealousy.

Dr. Parry said "Eos Morlais'' had won a name which would be ever green amongst: people. They that day spoke the word "Farewell," but it was only for a short time would meet again.

Archdeacon Griffiths delivered a very able address, in which he enforced what he termed graveside lessons. He hoped the young men present would catch some inspiration from the solemn proceedings of that day. In the death of “Eos Morlais” Wales lost one of the brightest of sons.

Mr. J. Richards “Isalaw”, Bangor, felt that it was a national loss to lose “Eos Morlais."

The Rev. EMLYN JONES gave some pathetic narratives of interviews he had had with "Eos Morlais" on his deathbed. "Eos Morlais" told him that if he was allowed to rise from bed of sickness he would in future sing more than he had done for the glory of God.

The coffin was conveyed to the grave whilst the singers rendered the Dead March." The Rev. Emlyn Jones performed the last rites at the graveside, after which “Bydd myrdd o ryfeddodau” was sung. The coffin was covered with exquisite wreaths. Prominent amongst the floral tributes was a lyre, which bore the words, "From the Swansea Liberal Club; a token of affection and respect." A smaller lyre of similar construction was sent by the Swansea Choral Society.  The card on this recounted old associations of society with “Eos Morlais," and bore the suitable quotation from "Judas Maccabaeus”, "Our hero our leader, is no more." The funeral were efficiently carried out by Mr. J. M. James undertaker, Swansea.

Thus was buried “Eos Morlais” one of the sweetest singers of our time. The words of Longfellow are not unsuitable in this connection:

“He is dead, the sweet musician.
He has moved a little nearer,
To the Master of all Music."
Touching Tribute by “Zetus”

It is probably fifteen years ago since I first heard “Eos Morlais” sing. He may have been then in the fullness of his popularity, as he certainly was in his greatest form as a tenor. The impressions of his singing will ever remain indelibly graven in my memory. He was truly one of many great artistes whom the world have over-looked, and if the advantages of life had been as much his as they have been of other men and women of mark in the realms of music his voice and fame would have reached far beyond the limits is did.  “Eos Morlais” was essentially a man of the Principality in which he was born , but his vocal gifts were so infinitely far-reaching that it was a pity he should ever have localised himself after the manner of so many “Eos’s.” 

I do not speak of him as one who had any close acquaintance than the ordinary concert-goer. It was entirely through is singing that my wholehearted admiration for him was formed. But he had all the bearing of the “tenore idee”, and never as a singer appealed with greater force to the emotions. Whether in dramatic aria, pathetic ballad, or stimulating patriotic song, the deceased never failed to impart to all who heard him the true spirit of the composition.

His was no mere mechanical utterance of words of sounding notes, He had the rarest of power and versatility of expression. He gave the most perfect interpretations and stimulating renderings of certain compositions that it has ever been my privilege to hear. “The Trumpet Shall Sound,” “The Death of Nelson,” “Good Company,” and Brinley Richards’s “Anita,” will never be sung more soulfully or with more fire-like energy or tender passion, as the case maybe, than “Eos Morlais” sang them.

He realised that the true mission of music is to intensify the meaning of the words to which it is set. He, of all others, evidently communicated the music to the heart through is singing, and it was the strange fascination that he never failed to exercise over me that prompts me to pay this humble tribute to his memory. 

A charming writer depicts in one of her books her idea of what the heavenly choir will be like. She imagines that it will comprise all the great composers and singers who have ever lived, with Beethoven at their head. If this be so, “Eos Morlais” should certainly be found in the ranks of the celestial choir.