Monday, 13 May 2013

How do you paint in Welsh?

H'm, how do you paint in Welsh?

When I was very small, my mother used to sing to us in Welsh. I can still hear the tones of her gentle lilting soprano:

Holl amrantau'r sêr ddywedant / All the stars' twinkles say
Ar hyd y nos / All through the night ……

The many alternative versions of this popular lullaby include:

Sleep my child and peace attend thee / All through the night.

The fact that music touches me so deeply must surely be linked to these earliest lullabies. No wonder my eyes are already misting up, as I recollect those memories of over seventy-five years ago. Then further:

Old age is night when affliction comes,
But to beautify man in his late days,
We'll put our weak light together,
All through the night.

Not the greatest of lyrics (!), but that doesn't bother sleepy infants.

Would my Mom ever have believed that, in my old age, the great Welshman Bryn Terfel would be singing these very words to me in his mellifluous bass-baritone? Sitting in his temporary apartment in Milan, I’m telling him about my Welsh family connections and we both launch into the lullaby we remember from our earliest years. The Welsh seem to have a natural gift for song, encouraged long ago by chapel hymn-singing, the coal-miners’ choirs and the Eisteddfod tradition (a Welsh festival and competition of music and poetry, possibly originating with the ancient Celtic bards of the twelfth century). The BBC Cardiff Singer of the World competition now carries enormous prestige and Bryn Terfel was one of the prize-winners in 1989. I don’t sing, but there must be Celtic blood in both sides of my family. The music is definitely in there, somewhere deep down.


                                              Bryn Terfel. (copyright Norman Perryman)

No wonder that when Bryn sings in Welsh, the music combined with the intrinsic musicality of the language itself (a variety of velvety greens) really touches me. 

H’m – so how do you paint in Welsh? I’ve been commissioned by Symphony Hall Birmingham to make a watercolour of Bryn Terfel, to add to their collection of twenty-seven of my paintings of the great musicians who have performed in this great Hall.

When Bryn was in Milan recently to sing the "Dutchman" in Wagner's Der Vliegende Holländer at La Scala, I flew down from Amsterdam to make sketches of him. Naturally, with his legendary humour, he greeted me with “Ha - the flying Dutchman!”  He sang and posed for me; we had a great session, agreed on a creative approach and now I’m hard at work on the painting in my studio, trying to paint in German. (That’s a clue!). Can't reveal any more yet, but give me a few weeks and I’ll show you the result.


  1. Holl amrantau'r sêr ddywedant there is a reaggae version... I think... it's the first thing that comes up when that phrase in Welsh is put into youtube... a search on Bryn Terdel's name give this version of all through the night.. (Ar Hyd y Nos)

  2. Really interesting article - I hope the painting is in a public space in the Symphony Hall building - a number of Welsh children/Youth choirs are competing there in July and we would all appreciate seeing it in its full glory!