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
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
ebooksAn unforgettable anthology of contemporary reportage
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: Business Development Manager / Sales - OTE £45,000

£35000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This company is a solutions / s...

Recruitment Genius: Sales Executive - OTE £45,000

£18000 - £45000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A Sales Executive is required t...

Recruitment Genius: Test Development Engineer

£35000 - £40000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Are you inspired to bring new a...

Recruitment Genius: Trainee Motor Engineer

£14000 - £18000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This is an exciting opportunity...

Day In a Page

Sepp Blatter resignation: The beginning of Fifa's long road to reform?

Does Blatter's departure mean Fifa will automatically clean up its act?

Don't bet on it, says Tom Peck
Charles Kennedy: The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

The baby of the House who grew into a Lib Dem giant

Charles Kennedy was consistently a man of the centre-left, dedicated to social justice, but was also a champion of liberty and an opponent of the nanny-state, says Baroness Williams
Syria civil war: The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of this endless conflict

The harrowing testament of a five-year-old victim of Syria's endless civil war

Sahar Qanbar lost her mother and brother as civilians and government soldiers fought side by side after being surrounded by brutal Islamist fighters. Robert Fisk visited her
The future of songwriting: How streaming is changing everything we know about making music

The future of songwriting

How streaming is changing everything we know about making music
William Shemin and Henry Johnson: Jewish and black soldiers receive World War I Medal of Honor amid claims of discrimination

Recognition at last

Jewish and black soldiers who fought in WWI finally receive medals after claims of discrimination
Beating obesity: The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters

Beating obesity

The new pacemaker which helps over-eaters
9 best women's festival waterproofs

Ready for rain: 9 best women's festival waterproofs

These are the macs to keep your denim dry and your hair frizz-free(ish)
Cycling World Hour Record: Nervous Sir Bradley Wiggins ready for pain as he prepares to go distance

Wiggins worried

Nervous Sir Bradley ready for pain as he prepares to attempt cycling's World Hour Record
On your feet! Spending at least two hours a day standing reduces the risk of heart attacks, cancer and diabetes, according to new research

On your feet!

Spending half the day standing 'reduces risk of heart attacks and cancer'
Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Liverpool close in on Milner signing

Reds baulk at Christian Benteke £32.5m release clause
With scores of surgeries closing, what hope is there for the David Cameron's promise of 5,000 more GPs and a 24/7 NHS?

The big NHS question

Why are there so few new GPs when so many want to study medicine?
Big knickers are back: Thongs ain't what they used to be

Thongs ain't what they used to be

Big knickers are back
Thurston Moore interview

Thurston Moore interview

On living in London, Sonic Youth and musical memoirs
In full bloom

In full bloom

Floral print womenswear
From leading man to Elephant Man, Bradley Cooper is terrific

From leading man to Elephant Man

Bradley Cooper is terrific