Brian Davies: Pianist described as 'the Rachmaninov of the Rhondda'

The accompanist and arranger Bryan Davies was one of the most brilliant musicians to come out of south Wales. A concert pianist in his own right – the soprano Rebecca Evans dubbed him "the Rachmaninov of the Rhondda" – he was also an exceptional technical exponent of the art of accompanying. It was not only the most celebrated vocalists of the opera house and concert hall who could testify to his consummate musical skills, he was also a great enabler: he taught young musicians how they might become better than they had dreamt of being.

Bryan was born in Ferndale, Rhondda, in 1934. He was a product of the south Wales coalfield, both in his short, portly physique, and in his character. Born in the 1930s to a coalminer and his wife, he inherited the values born of the trials and tribulations of the Depression. The militancy and political intransigence of the 1920s had led the townships of the upper Rhondda Fach to be known as "Little Moscows" and Bryan Davies was always politically and artistically committed to the community which had given him so much.

He played on BBC Radio's Children's Hour at the age of 14. After Ferndale Grammar School he studied at Cardiff Castle School of Music; then, deciding on a teaching career, he moved to Yorkshire to train at Bretton Hall. After two years in London he returned to the Rhondda to teach music and English in local schools until he retired in 1988. During this time he was travelling to study the piano privately with Vaughan Williams, Khachaturian, Vlado Perlemuter and Aaron Copland. Few homes in the Rhondda boast a grand piano, but a baby Bechstein was an essential item of furniture in the terraced house he shared with his wife in Ferndale. The bay window had to be dismantled to get it in.

He was the least egotistical, the most generous and modest of men. On his retirement from teaching in 1988, he was appointed by the RWCMD as a vocal and instrumental coach, where he accompanied master-classes by such talents as Brigitte Fassbaender, Dennis O'Neill, Raphael Wallfisch and Wen Zhou Li. When in 2000 the College conferred on him an honorary fellowship he was given the longest ovation the RWMCD has ever known. A year later he was elected to the Royal Society of Musicians. In 2006 he received the Chancellor's Medal of the University of Glamorgan, one of what he called "several long-service gongs from the music community which, if worn, would make me rival Herman Goering at his most flamboyant."

His many arrangements were favourably received on both sides of the Atlantic, and as befitted a musician from the Rhondda, he made a notable contribution to the repertoire of the Welsh male choir, most of whom he accompanied at one time or another, and he enjoyed particularly close links with the Pendyrus choir of Tylorstown and Côr Meibion De Cymru (the South Wales Male Choir), whose only accompanists have ever been Bryan Davies and his daughter Siân.

Not for Bryan the showy leather case; he carried his music in a paper bag. When it was suggested he ought to have something more in keeping with his standing, he upgraded it to an M&S carrier bag. Apparently unworldly, he had total confidence in his knowledge and mastery of the keyboard, and scores of singers had reason to be grateful for his support and, when required, unobtrusive rescue. Those carrier bags contained the music to accompany at one time or another all Wales's leading artists, from Gwyneth Jones to Bryn Terfel; in 2004 and 2005 he accompanied the latter at the World Economic Forum in Davos.

He had a Pickwickian humour that was irrepressible to the end. In his final days at the Royal Glamorgan Hospital, he was called from New York by Bryn Terfel, who sang down the phone. As Terfel's rich bass-baritone rang around the ward, the man in the next bed said, "That boy's got a voice. He should go on X Factor." Bryan was unable to speak but fully conscious; his twinkling eyes danced with delight.

Bryan Arthur Davies, musician: born Ferndale, Rhondda 14 May 1934; married 1959 Eirwen Jenkins (one son, two daughters); died Llantrisant, Rhondda Cynon Taf 2 April 2011.

Start your day with The Independent, sign up for daily news emails
Arts and Entertainment
Lou Reed distorted the truth about his upbringing, and since his death in 2013, biographers and memoirists have added to the myths
musicThe truth about Lou Reed's upbringing beyond the biographers' and memoirists' myths
Ed Miliband received a warm welcome in Chester
election 2015
Life and Style
Apple CEO Tim Cook announces the Apple Watch during an Apple special even
fashionIs the Apple Watch for you? Well, it depends if you want it for the fitness tech, or for the style
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksA special investigation by Andy McSmith
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

iJobs Job Widget
iJobs General

Recruitment Genius: Project Implementation Executive

£18000 - £23000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Chiropractic Assistant

£16500 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Chiropractic Assistant is needed in a ...

Recruitment Genius: Digital Account Executive - Midlands

£18000 - £26000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: They work with major vehicle ma...

Recruitment Genius: Web Developer

£28000 - £30000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company provides coaching ...

Day In a Page

NHS struggling to monitor the safety and efficacy of its services outsourced to private providers

Who's monitoring the outsourced NHS services?

A report finds that private firms are not being properly assessed for their quality of care
Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

Zac Goldsmith: 'I'll trigger a by-election over Heathrow'

The Tory MP said he did not want to stand again unless his party's manifesto ruled out a third runway. But he's doing so. Watch this space
How do Greek voters feel about Syriza's backtracking on its anti-austerity pledge?

How do Greeks feel about Syriza?

Five voters from different backgrounds tell us what they expect from Syriza's charismatic leader Alexis Tsipras
From Iraq to Libya and Syria: The wars that come back to haunt us

The wars that come back to haunt us

David Cameron should not escape blame for his role in conflicts that are still raging, argues Patrick Cockburn
Sam Baker and Lauren Laverne: Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

Too busy to surf? Head to The Pool

A new website is trying to declutter the internet to help busy women. Holly Williams meets the founders
Heston Blumenthal to cook up a spice odyssey for British astronaut manning the International Space Station

UK's Major Tum to blast off on a spice odyssey

Nothing but the best for British astronaut as chef Heston Blumenthal cooks up his rations
John Harrison's 'longitude' clock sets new record - 300 years on

‘Longitude’ clock sets new record - 300 years on

Greenwich horologists celebrate as it keeps to within a second of real time over a 100-day test
Fears in the US of being outgunned in the vital propaganda wars by Russia, China - and even Isis - have prompted a rethink on overseas broadcasters

Let the propaganda wars begin - again

'Accurate, objective, comprehensive': that was Voice of America's creed, but now its masters want it to promote US policy, reports Rupert Cornwell
Why Japan's incredible long-distance runners will never win the London Marathon

Japan's incredible long-distance runners

Every year, Japanese long-distance runners post some of the world's fastest times – yet, come next weekend, not a single elite competitor from the country will be at the London Marathon
Why does Tom Drury remain the greatest writer you've never heard of?

Tom Drury: The quiet American

His debut was considered one of the finest novels of the past 50 years, and he is every bit the equal of his contemporaries, Jonathan Franzen, Dave Eggers and David Foster Wallace
You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

You should judge a person by how they peel a potato

Dave Hax's domestic tips are reminiscent of George Orwell's tea routine. The world might need revolution, but we like to sweat the small stuff, says DJ Taylor
Beige is back: The drab car colours of the 1970s are proving popular again

Beige to the future

Flares and flounce are back on catwalks but a revival in ’70s car paintjobs was a stack-heeled step too far – until now
Bill Granger recipes: Our chef's dishes highlight the delicate essence of fresh cheeses

Bill Granger cooks with fresh cheeses

More delicate on the palate, milder, fresh cheeses can also be kinder to the waistline
Aston Villa vs Liverpool: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful,' says veteran Shay Given

Shay Given: 'This FA Cup run has been wonderful'

The Villa keeper has been overlooked for a long time and has unhappy memories of the national stadium – but he is savouring his chance to play at Wembley
Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own - Michael Calvin

Michael Calvin's Last Word

Timeless drama of Championship race in league of its own