Mervyn Burtch

Mervyn Burtch

(7 November 1929–12 May 2015)

Mervyn Burtch was one of the most practical of composers, responding to requests for music from a wide variety of musicians throughout the community over a period spanning some sixty years. His output ranged from operas, concertos and string quartets through to a vast output for brass bands, choirs, community groups and, in particular, children.

Born in Ystrad Mynach in South Wales's Rhymney Valley, Mervyn Burtch attended Lewis School at Pengam where he was taught by one of Wales's most significant composers, David Wynne, then the school's music teacher. In due course he took the position of Head of Music at Lewis School for GIrls, until joining the staff at the Welsh College of Music and Drama in 1979. Throughout that time he also produced a continuous stream of music and left over 650 works behind him.

Burtch's work always reflected the need to write music of practical use; he probably reached more performers at a grass root level than any other Welsh composer. But his string quartets, chamber music, songs and orchestral work also reveal a composer whose voice was hard won and whose work could also make considerable demands on the listener. His music is often brisk, clear and concise, with an instantly recognisable individual voice.

He will be particularly remembered for the large number of operas he wrote for performance by children and young people. He also reached a huge number of amateur musicians through his choral music and works from brass band. He was a keen reader of poetry and his hundred or so songs reflected his deep knowledge of poetry as well as collaborations with many contemporary writers and poets including Mark Morris, Francesca Kay and Simon Rees. But he also set great store by his concertos and the cycle of seventeen string quartets that he completed between 1985 and 2013; perhaps the most significant contribution to the genre to come out of Wales.

It is no coincidence that one of the composers he most admired was Haydn; Burtch's music rejoices in the everyday and commonplace, responding to the challenge of providing useful music with a fresh, fertile and lively invention.

As a man, Burtch was the best kind of quiet, gentle company with whom it was possible to spend many enjoyable hours in discussion of his wide range of interests, fuelled by his keen sense of humour. He worked tirelessly for the cause of Welsh music, sitting on numerous committees during his life, but also enjoyed nothing more than an afternoon at the cricket ground. He did not marry until the age of seventy-five, but the last ten years of his life spent with his wife, Rita, brought him a sense of deep contentment.