Life and career
Hughes was born in Rhosllannerchrugog near Wrexham and was educated at Ruabon Grammar School and at the Royal College of Music, where he studied with Ralph Vaughan Williams and C. H. Kitson. Following his studies at the RCM he became organist at the church of St Philip and St James, Oxford, and in 1935 returned to Wales to join the staff of the BBC’s music department. His duties included a great deal of conducting, and he directed the first performances of many works by Welsh composers, including Grace Williams, David Wynne, and Alun Hoddinott. He was also called upon to compose, arrange and orchestrate music for live radio broadcasts.
He became Head of Music at BBC Wales in 1965, holding the post until his retirement in 1971. He was appointed OBE in 1969 for his services to Welsh music and for organising the music for the Investiture of Charles, Prince of Wales, in the same year. From 1978 until 1986 he was Honorary Music Director of the Llangollen International Eisteddfod.
For many years Arwel Hughes conducted performances by the Welsh National Opera, and his own two operas, Menna, to a libretto by Wyn Griffith, a tragedy based on a Welsh folk legend; and Serch yw’r Doctor ("Love’s the Doctor"), a comedy adapted by Saunders Lewis from Molière's L'Amour médecin, were produced by WNO in 1953 and 1960 respectively. These works played an important role in the development of opera in Wales, and demonstrate Hughes' lyricism and melodic originality.
He is best remembered for his music for chorus and orchestra. The large-scale oratorios, Dewi Sant (Saint David) and Pantycelyn, exemplify his imagination and technical competence and combine the early twentieth century British tradition with his original harmonic language. Gweddi (A Prayer) is a shorter work containing haunting melodies which encapsulate the spirit of the composer, which is recognisably Celtic.
The composer’s orchestral writing includes a Fantasia for Strings which has received many performances. From the 1940s onwards, he produced a stream of works for orchestra including Suite for Orchestra, Prelude for Orchestra (dedicated to the Youth of Wales), Anatiomaros, and a symphony. There are a quantity of songs and chamber music.
- Menna (1950–51), libretto by Wyn Griffith (first performance 1953 at the Sophia Gardens Pavilion Cardiff by Welsh National Opera with Richard Lewis and Edith Osler)
- Serch yw’r doctor (Love’s the doctor), libretto by Saunders Lewis, after Molière's L’Amour médecin (first performance 1960 at the Sophia Gardens Pavilion Cardiff by Welsh National Opera)
- Fantasia, strings, 1936
- Anatiomaros, 1943
- Prelude for Orchestra, 1945
- Suite, 1947
- Saint Francis (masque, G. James), S, T, narrator, chorus, orch 1965
- Symphony, 1971
- Legend: Owain Glyndŵr, 1979
- Tydi a Roddaist (T. Rowland Hughes), chorus, piano, also arranged for female chorus, male chorus with orchestra, 1938
- Gweddi (A Prayer) (liturgical text), S, chorus, str (full orch version also), 1944
- Dewi Sant (Saint David) (A.T.Davies), S, T, B, chorus, orch, 1950
- Pantycelyn (text arr. A. T. Davies(, S, T, B, chorus, orch, 1963
- Mab y Dyn (Son of Man) (cantata, biblical text), S, chorus, org, 1967
- The Beatitudes (biblical text) S, (T) TTBB, organ
- In memoriam (Psalm cxxi), chorus, org, 1969
- Psalm 148, male chorus, 1970
- Mass for Celebration, S, A, male chorus, orch without ww, 1977
- Gloria Patri, SATB orch, 1986
- 3 string quartets, 1948, 1976, 1983;
- Unfinished quartet 1932;
- Various choral, orchestral and vocal pieces;
many arrangements of folk songs; incidental music for radio and television.