Brinley Richards 1819 – 1885

Composer of “God Bless the Prince of Wales”
Brinley Richards
Brinley Richards was born in 1819 in Quay Street, Carmarthen, where his father Richard kept a Musical repository, and enjoyed for many years a monopoly in the business, there being no other house of the kind in the neighbourhood. The elder Richards’ was a member of a local Volunteer corps of the period, and for some time occupied the position of bandmaster. He afterwards became organist at St. Peter’s Church and it is stated that he filled the post with considerable ability. He had five children, four sons and one daughter, all of whom displayed musical ability of a high order. This is borne out by the fact that when the father, in his declining years, was unable to preside at the organ in the old Parish Church, his place was frequently filled by his daughter and his son William, who succeeded him. In early life Brinley Richards, being intended for the Medical profession, was placed with a surgeon at Carmarthen, but in a very short time relinquished the ranks of Aesculapius for a calling more congenial to his tastes.
St Peter’s Church Carmarthen
St Peter’s Church Carmarthen

His debut in the Musical world, like that of many other prominent Welshmen, was at a National Eisteddfod, where he was a successful competitor. In the year 1834 the Gwent and Morgannwg Eisteddfod was held in the grounds of Cardiff Castle, Presided over by the Marquis of Bute, and at-tended by a brilliant gathering of the literati of Wales. Amongst the crowd of competitors who came to the front was the subject of our sketch, then a lad of fifteen years, with a big heart and a high-strung, nervous power, who, in his ardent love for music, forgot his natural timidity, lost sight of the great sea of upturned faces, and was only awakened to its influence by the deafening cheers of delight when the adjudicator, ‘Bardd Alaw,’ (John Parry), invested him with the coveted prize.
Organ at St Peter’s around 1798
Organ at St Peter’s around 1798

The success he achieved here awakened a desire among some of his musical friends to develop the latent genius of the lad, and with that object in view the Duke of Newcastle was communicated with. His grace at once requested that the boy should be sent to his seat, where a large party was about to be given, and he arrived in the midst of the festivities. His grace playfully introduced him to the assembled guests as a boy from the wilds of Wales, and asked him to show them what such barbarians could do. Without a sign of encouragement he modestly took his seat at the piano and commenced to play one of Beethoven’s sonatas. In an instant the careless cynicism of the audience gave place to astonishment and admiration, and by the time the performance was over the duke was so delighted with his newly-found protégé that he at once sent him to the Royal Academy of Music and defrayed the cost of his education. The young musician had only been at the Academy six months when in 1834, the examination took place, but, with characteristic courage and perseverance, he entered the lists and, to the surprise of everyone, carried off the King’s Scholarship. Two years later he achieved the same honour, and then followed a long period of hard work and patient study, during which time he was lost to public view. Some years later at the request of the duke, who paid his expenses, he went to Paris to obtain what his grace considered necessary for the completion of his musical education and it was while there that he attracted the notice of Chopin and formed an intimacy which lasted till the death of that illustrious composer.


When Brinley Richards received the King’s scholarship at the Royal Academy of Music, it is worthy of note that he was the first Welshman to achieve that distinction

He afterwards became a sub-professor at the Royal Academy, and was ultimately placed upon the directorate. In the year 1881 the directorate of the Royal Academy of Music, mainly through the instrumentality of Mr Brinley Richards, determined to extend the sphere of the usefulness of that institution by the establishment of examinations at different centres. Mr Richards was then unanimously chosen to supervise the whole of the examinations conducted in the Principality From that time till the date of his death he continued to occupy that position, and last year a portion of Scotland was added to his province. It was while engaged in this particular line of duty he paid his last visit to Cardiff, having conducted the local examinations held there in the early part of last week. At the conclusion of these examinations he went to Swansea, and thence to Hereford and Gloucester. His health at this time was far from what his friends would have liked to see it, and although his work was accomplished in a way characteristic of the man, he yet expressed his thankfulness at its completion. It was about this time that he commenced an article on the history and construction of Welsh music for the fourth Volume of Sir George Grove’s Dictionary of Music. To the composition of this article he devoted his time and attention till within a few days of his death. He was in constant communication on the subject with his friend Mr. Atkins, Mus. Bac., of Cardiff, who was making some analyses for him. As late as the 28th of April a long letter was received by this gentleman from him containing his views on various Welsh pieces, but on the 30th of the same month, the day before his death, his daughter had to excuse his non-reply to a letter on the ground that he was suffering from an attack of internal inflammation, which so soon afterwards proved fatal. His face was well-known in Cardiff, where he had lectured on musical subjects on several occasions. His fame, however, was not a mere local one, and though his frank and outspoken manner gained him detractors even amongst his countrymen, his name will last as long as the Welsh language exists and the national love of music is retained.

Yet his nationality has done much for him. A truer patriot never breathed. He loves Wales dearly, and his interpretation of her national melodies, while it has placed Welsh music in a good position, has opened up to Mr. Richards a noble and successful field of labour. Mr Richards, in the early part of his career, studied the works of the great classic writers, and devoted himself with the zeal of an enthusiast to the mastery of the pianoforte. These studies of the old masters gave him a refined and elegant style, and to this he added the Celtic fire and individuality which light up and embellish his numerous compositions, adorning them with that happy union of brilliancy and artistic merit which, no doubt, has made them such a success in the musical world.

At the commencement of Mr Richards’ career English compositions were held in a very light opinion, the works of German and French composers reigning supreme. Soon, however, there was a change of public opinion. Balfe, Vincent Wallace, and above all the late Sterndale Bennett, came into notice, and the undoubted merits of their works began to remove the prejudices against “native talent.” Then Mr. Richards appeared, and his writings were not long before the musical world before their high qualities were recognised.” Of all the present composers for the pianoforte, remarks, in 1867, the musical critic of the Illustrated London News, no one has done so much for the instrument to which he has devoted himself. He is a musician of great and varied attainments, and has written many things not unworthy of a Beethoven or a Mendelssohn.

Compositions of Mr Richards

Andante con Moto,” Caprice in F minor,” “Overture in F minor,” for full orchestra, and the “Tarantelle.” Herrick’s Litany, “In the Hour of nay Distress,” “The Pilgrim’s Path,” a sacred song, with violoncello obligato, “The Suliote War Song,” Santley; “Ye Little Birds” (a madrigal); “Up, Quit thy Bower,” a trio; Now Moonlight Gems,” a duet for soprano and bass a sacred part song, Through Me Day another,” Sweet Day, so Cool;” the of Sims Reeves; “Leah,” “The Harper’s Grave”. How Beautiful is Night,” Sound the Trumpet in. Zion,”an anthem, and many others. Let the Hills Resound (chorus), and repeated by request or the Prince of Wales, and was dedicated to the Princess by her wish. At the same time the Prince accepted the dedication of the volume of Welsh songs (Songs of Wales”) edited by Mr. Richards. To enumerate Mr. Richards’s works would be to make a list as long as the genealogy of King David, but we may add to those already mentioned, The Cambrian Plume,” “The Cambrian War Song,” “The Harp of Wales,” ‘As oe’r the Past” (sacred song); What Bells are those ? “Whisper what thou Feelest” (introduced into the opera of the Crown Diamonds at Drury Lane); The Old Church Chimes” (duet); “Two Wandering Stars” (duet); Hither, come hither (trio); and The Bridal of the Birds” (chorus for ladies’ voices).

The origin song “God bless the Prince of Wales”

This was no less than the hymn, God bless the Prince of Wales.” Age has not yet brought to this melody the venerableness which distinguishes its companion air, but as it has already become the accepted mark of respect for the Prince all over the world the next generation will have some difficulty in realizing that “God Bless the Prince of Wales” was composed in the second half of the nineteenth century. The origin of the hymn, for as such it is already accepted, is not without interest. Its conception occurred by a curious coincidence in the very place in which the first Prince of Wales was born nearly six hundred years before, and occurred too in the mind of a Welshman. An eisteddfod was held in 1862, in the ruins of Carnarvon Castle, and among those present were Mr. Ceiriog Hughes, and of course Mr. Brinley Richards. The former asked Mr. Richards to set some of his Welsh poetry to music. The setting was accordingly composed to a song, which translated from the Welsh into English by Mr. George Finley, had for its title, “The Prince of our Brave Land.” Mr. Brinley Richards was not quite satisfied with this title, and by an inspiration which at once lifted the song out of all its local influences, and made it national, wrote instead the simple line, “God Bless the Prince of Wales.” He also re-wrote the first four lines. The tune was as happy as the title of the song. On the 14th February, 1863, when all England was excited with the preparations for the marriage of the Prince, the song was sung for the first time in its present form by Mr. Sims Reeves at St. James’s Hall. The effect was described in the journals of the period.

The Illustrated London News said, “It is in a plain, broad, purely English style, and Mr. Reeves delivered it with a vocal power and rigour of expression which absolutely electrified the audience.” The Graphic has since said, “No parallel can be found to the wonderful popularity of this simple hymn; and Mr. Richards has unquestionable made his mark, not only upon musical, but upon our national history.” Within a month the Prince of Wales was married, and the new hymn helped the people to give expression to their pleasure at the event. From that day to this it has grown in favour until at the present time it follows the national anthem as a matter of course on all occasions when a royal demonstration occurs. When first performed at the Crystal Palace, in June, 1868, it received all the honours of a national anthem. It accompanies at public banquets the toast of “The Prince of Wales.” It was given at St. Petersburg by the military bands, after “God Save the Queen,” at the Duke of Edinburgh’s marriage. A composition which aims to give expression to national feeling would naturally be very severely criticised, and “Bless the Prince of Wales,” was not exempted from the ordeal. It has, however, triumphantly passed the most severe test of all that of public opinion; and it has been very warmly commended by the press. In. an article in Temple Bar in 1879 it was stated that since Dr. John Bull, the Professor of Gresham College, produced God Save the King,’ which was composed and performed on the King James’ visit to Merchant Taylor’s Hall in 1607, in commemoration of His Majesty’s escape from the Powder Plot, there has appeared but one truly national anthem, which has been loyally and emphatically accepted as one of the patriotic songs of the people. We mean ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales,’ by Mr. Brinley Richards.’ Wherever an attempt is made to do honour to the Heir Apparent, the hymn which Mr. Richards composed is sung. When the Prince visited India, the correspondent of the Times, writing from Madras, said All along the route to the Government House there were two dense lines of natives, who received the Prince with every mark of cordiality and respect. The most striking scene, how- ever, was a gathering of upward of 140,000 natives and Europeans who sang ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales,’ as the Prince passed. It was afterwards always sung in every place in India visited by the Prince.

It seems only natural that the Prince of Wales should be interested in the musician who had for the first time in history composed an accepted hymn in his honour. It was not, however, until the year 1867, that the opportunity for recognition arose. It was on St. David’s Day that Mr Brinley Richards was introduced to the Prince, and, then the latter took him by the hand and complimented him upon the merits and success of his work.

The editor of “Men of the Time” very correctly observes that Mr. Brinley Richards’ name is identified with Welsh national music and with an ardent love of the Principality. This spirit has had a great influence on his musical career, has given an impulse to his genius and contributed to his success. His effusions in honour of Wales have assumed a patriotic importance, and his ‘Cambrian War-Song’, ‘The Cambrian Plume,’ and The Harp of Wales,’ are destined to share in the popularity of his song ‘God Bless the Prince of Wales.’ Patriotism often gives an impulse to genius, but we doubt much if it enlarges its scope. Be this how it may, Mr. Brinley Richards is nothing if not a Welshman. We apologise for the Saxon expression. Mr. Richards first drew attention to Welsh music in his Recollections of Wales.’ He has more recently edited a volume The Songs of Wales,’ on which an authority remarks, The national music of a musical people, is a matter of interest to all persons of culture; but it becomes doubly attractive when it is rendered accessible in such a form as it presents in this volume. Many of these songs are elegant regarded merely as poems; wedded to expressive music they acquire double power and interest, and become the means whereby the music of Wales will be popularised.” He has also rendered professional services in aid of many public institutions, amongst others the Carmarthen Infirmary, St. David’s Church in Carmarthen. Llandrindod New Church, Scartho New Church, Lincoln, the Fern- dale Colliery Explosion Fund, the University College of Wales, the Welsh Charity School, and many other public and private charities.

The ‘Cor Mawr’

Mr. Richards has done much for Wales in reviving a taste for choral singing. He has seen his efforts crowned with success. In 1872 the South Wales Choir won the gold prize cup (valued at a thousand guineas) at the Crystal Palace; and through the efforts of Mr. Richards, and by the personal kindness of the Duke of Edinburgh (whom he fortunately knew), he had the honour of introducing the Choir to Marlborough House, where a selection of music was sung before the Prince and Princess of Wales and other royal personages.

This was in July, 1874, and the incident is remembered by Mr. Richards as one of the most pleasant in his career, such a gathering as that of five hundred Welsh singers at Marlborough House being considered an event of national importance. In consequence of their success at the Crystal Palace, a desire was expressed that they should give a short concert before the Prince and Princess of Wales. Several Welsh Members of Parliament who were spoken to by Mr. Richards believed it would be impossible to arrange any such concert. Mr. Richards then asked the Duke of Edinburgh, to whom he was personally known, to speak to his brother on the subject. The meeting was arranged, and a very successful concert was given. Mr. Richards was introduced to the Princess of Wales, and at the special request of the Prince remained at his side and gave the Royal party information respecting the choir and the music. A repetition was demanded of his song, “Let the Hills Resound,” and the Princess of Wales signified to the composer that she would allow it to be dedicated to herself.

Picture courtesy of the Museum of Welsh Life
Picture courtesy of the Museum of Welsh Life

Mr. Richards’ efforts on behalf of the music of Wales deserve all praise, especially, when it is remembered that the fact of his identifying himself with anything Welsh interfered in some degree with his position as a London artist. This, however, did not cause to hesitate for a moment. The Cambrian, in speaking of his great efforts to spread a knowledge of Welsh music, has fairly said The position his abilities have secured for him has put it in his power to make the music of the principality known all over the world. That he has done so, like a true lover of the old country, need not be said, since only prejudice, which shuts its eyes, can be ignorant of the fact.

But for Mr Richards, whose works are known wherever music is cultivated, the melodies of Wales would have remained unheard beyond these shores, and have been far less familiar than they are over a large part of Great  Britain.” In May, 1874, Mr. Richards delivered lectures at the rooms of the Society of Fine Arts on National Music,” and drew attention to the peculiarity of Welsh music, as distinct from Gaelic music, or the music of Ireland and Scotland. The lectures were afterwards given in Bristol, Plymouth, and various towns in North and South Wales.

The Death of Brinley Richards

On Monday the announcement was made public that on Friday last Mr Brinley Richards the eminent Welsh Musical composer, had succumbed at his London residence to an acute attack of inflammation of the lungs. The sad intelligence will be received throughout England, and especially in Wales, with the utmost regret. He had only recently returned to Lo don from the Academy Local Examinations, and was at the Royal Academy on Wednesday last. On Thursday morning internal inflammation and congestion of the lungs set in, and sank rapidly although his-medical attendants Dr Lattey and Dr. Pollock, did all that was possible. He was 67 years of age, but had not lived long enough to see the tardy acknowledgment of his musical services which was recently Sported to be probable. His name however will live even as simply Brinley Richards. He married a daughter of Mr Banting, the author of the well-known treatise on corpulence.

The grave of Brinley Richards
The grave of Brinley Richards