Obituary: Daniel Jones
Wednesday 28 April 1993
WHEN listening to Daniel Jones speaking one was often reminded of the pleasantly rhetorical Wynford Vaughan-Thomas (himself the son of a distinguished Welsh composer) - the distinctive sound of Mumbles, a seaside suburb of Swansea where the composer lived, writes Geraint Lewis.
The so-called 'Anglo-Welsh' somehow inject Welsh fervour into English delivery and often love language in the abstract to a much greater degree than the purely English. Daniel Jones was a noted linguist and during the Second World War was employed as a codebreaker. His undergraduate study was principally of English literature and arguably his finest, most eloquent work is a symphony (the fourth) dedicated to the memory of his closest friend, Dylan Thomas, in 1954.
Jones will be remembered in musical text-books for two main achievements, both essentially linguistic in a musical sense. In the 1930s he invented a rhythmic system he called 'complex metres', a form of metrical interplay which allowed the pattern of a musical phrase to be composed of regular groupings of irregular units in a variety of permutations. Although not aurally iconoclastic or even innovative as compared to the revolutions of Stravinsky of Schoenberg, such an approach was typical of Jones's meticulous attitude to composition. His other great claim to fame was the successful completion of a cycle of 12 symphonies each based on one of the 12 notes of the chromatic scale.
The Welsh sense of rhetoric is never far away from Jones's music and his most frequently performed orchestral piece - the popular Dance Fantasy (1976) - is imbued with a stirringly Celtic sense of heraldic display. Yet in many ways he seemed happiest when writing for chamber groups, and particularly the string quartet. Having composed so many in youth and early maturity he eventually gave up numbering them and simply allocated dates to those within the accepted canon. At least eight of these, along with nine or ten of the symphonies can be justifiably considered among the notable British quartets and symphonies of the post-war era. Along with similar works by Edmund Rubbra, Elizabeth Maconchy and others of the same generation, Jones's scores have been neglected. A rehabilitation would not now be surprising or overdue.
Unlike his British contemporaries Benjamin Britten and Michael Tippett, or the younger Welsh figures of Alun Hoddinott and William Mathias, Daniel Jones did not easily achieve international recognition. Despite the indubitable cogency and eloquence of his musical language it never quite touched a nerve with Welsh audiences and it didn't readily export either. He was not a musical Dylan Thomas. But his sterling qualities, hidden again to some degree because of his maverick status, will surely be recognised alongside his significance to the development of Welsh music in the 20th century.
His swansong was a symphony - the 13th, though not actually numbered - dedicated to the memory of John Fussell (director of the Swansea Festival) and premiered in Swansea last October. The composer was visibly and touchingly moved by the reception accorded him. He was probably happy however to die virtually with pen in hand while engaged - more or less in the manner of his master Haydn - on a final string quartet.
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