John Roberts (Ieuan Gwyllt) 1822 – 1877

John Roberts

Calvinistic Methodist and musician, he was born on the 27th Dec 1822 as Tanrhiwfelen a house just outside Aberystwyth the son of Evan and Elizabeth Roberts who moved in 1823 to Tyn-y-ffordd Pen-llwyn and in 1829 to Pistyllgwyn Melindwr. His father was presenter, and his mother was a good vocalist. He attended Lewis Edwards School at Pen-llwyn for some years, when quite young he composed a poem to which he signed Ieuan Gwyllt Geelltydd Melindwr; henceforward he became known as ‘Ieuan Gwyllt’. He became a clerk to Messrs. Griffith and Roberts, druggists in Aberystwyth but after 2 years started to teach in Skinner Street School.  This latter post he relinquished after a few months in order to go to the Borough Road Training College London, where he stayed for 9 months. On his return to Aberystwyth in 1845 he opened a British School which however he left after to become clerk of Messrs. Hughes and Roberts, solicitors he stayed in that post for nearly 7 years. In 1852 he became assistant editor ‘Yr Amserau’, a Liverpool Welsh newspaper of which Williams Rees (Gwilym Hiraethog) was editor, this connection was maintained until 1858. On the 15th June 1856 he preached his first sermon at Runcorn, in 1858 he went to Aberdare to edit ‘Y Gwladgarwr’ and the following year he married Jane Richards of Aberystwyth.

Ieuan began to compose music when he was quite young a hymn tune be him ‘Hafilah’ was published in November in 1839 in ‘Yr Athraw’. In 1852 he published “Blodau Cerdd” which contained lessons in music together with hymn tunes which like ‘Hafilah’ were imitations of the poorer kind of English hymn tunes. It was after that he went to Liverpool in 1852 that he came to recognise what was characteristic of true ecclesiastical hymn tunes, and it was then he began to start on his real life work the collection and selection of the best tunes for use by his countryman.

Rev. John Roberts moved to live in Aberdare in 1858, and became editor of the publication “Gwladgarwr”; and began preaching at services in the district. He had many talents, being a teacher, editor, minister, journalist, lecturer, poet, composer and conductor, travelling all over South Wales. In 1859, he set up a choral union in Aberdare, with the aim of improving Welsh choral singing. He was a fervent non-conformist and an accomplished musician for whom singing was an expression of a pure and godly way of life. His “Llyfr Tonau Cynulleidfaol” was the first book of Welsh Hymn Tunes of which he composed a number himself.

After labouring for 6 years he was able to produce in April 1859 Llyfr Tonau Cynulleidfaol, with the publication of which there began a new era of Welsh congregational singing. To the original work he added an atodiad (supplement) and in1870 and “Y cheanegaid (Appendix), he arranged and harmonized a large number of hymn tunes and psalms and he composed some two dozen including the very famous “Moab”. At this time he was travelling much throughout Wales to lecture on congregational music, in 1859 he and Thomas Levi of Aberystwyth issued first number of Telyn y Plant, the name of which was changed in 1861 to Trysorfa y Plant; Ieuan Gwyllt was responsible for the hymn tunes.  In 1859 he was asked to become minister of Panttywyll Calvinistic Methodist Church at Merthyr Tydfil, he was ordained on the 7th August 1861 at Newcastle Emlyn Association. March 1861 he issued the first number of Y Cerddor Cymreig, a periodical which he continued to edit and publish on his own responsibility for 4 years until Hughes and Son of Wrexham took it over in 1865. Ieuan continued as editor until 1873.

He founded the Gwent and Morgannwg musical festival in 1854, Gwyl Eryn in 1866 and Gwyl Ardudwy in 1868, he began to study the Tonic Sol-fa system in 1863, producing a sol-fa edition of his Llyfr Tonau Cynulleidfaol the next year, he also founded Cerddory y Tonic Solffa in 186 and edited until 1874, 1865 he became minister of Capel Coch Calvinistic Methodist Church Llanberis Caernavon, where he remained until he retired to Y Fron Llanfaglan near Caernavon in 1869. He was secretary of the committe which prepared “Llyfr Emynau y Methodistiad Calfinaidd” he edited Y Goleuad from July 1871 until October 1872.

1874 he issued Swn y Jiwbili and arrangement it Welsh of Sankey and Moody hymns and tunes. Throughout the years was a well-known as  music adjudicator  and as conductor of singing festivals; he was also a frequent contributor to Y Traethodydd and Yr Oenig, he died on the 14th ay 1877 and his buried in Caeathro cemetery near Caernarvon.

First Gymanfa Ganu

According to John Roberts, writing in the publication “Cerddor Cymraeg” in 1873, the first Gymanfa Ganu was held in the Temperance Hall “Old Palladium”, Canon Street, Aberdare, on the 4th April 1859. Prior to this a kind of rehearsal had taken place at Bethania Calvinistic Methodist Chapel, Aberdare on January 10th, when six or seven hymn tunes from his “Llyfr Tonau” were rehearsed.

The account reports that at 11.00 a.m. on April 4th, the Temperance Hall was full, when Rev David Saunders, minister of Bethania, called upon Ieuan Gwyllt to address the congregation on the art of congregational singing, and that at 2.00 p.m. that afternoon an excellent Gymanfa Ganu was held, conducted by Ieuan Gwyllt.

The hymn tunes that were sung on that occasion were Cwyn Luther, French, Eifionydd, Narberth, Dinistr Newydd, Dyfrdwy, Kent, Dorofid, Dismission, Saxony, Tiverton, St Mary, Peniel, Holstein, Tytherton and Wareham.

Some of these hymn tunes have survived the century and a half, and will be sung at our Gymanfa Ganu.

Rev John Roberts