Blog: Sally Marie

The award-winning choreographer on researching the loves and life of Welsh composer, pianist and singer Morfydd Owen

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I Loved You And I Loved You is a new dance-theatre production by Sweetshop Revolution about the loves and life of Morfydd Owen and her music. The piece was originally to have been a duet about Owen and her husband, Ernest Jones, a fascinating character who was also Welsh and a close associate of Freud. By the time they met at a party, Owen was fast becoming the toast of London’s musical society, developing quite a reputation as composer, pianist and singer, and being hailed as Wales’s next great musical hope, compared to Elgar among others. Hailing from a small Welsh valley, once on scholarship at the Royal Academy she won more awards than anyone has ever had before and since. To top it all she had reputedly received 21 marriage proposals by the time she was 21, being very beautiful.

In London, she was loyal to the Welsh Chapel in Charing Cross, which was also a real social centre, yet also friendly with many of the Hampstead intelligentsia at the time, including Ezra Pound and DH Lawrence, who was noted in one letter as “coming to tea”. The name Eliot Crawshay-Williams was mentioned numerously in various biographies and we were, during the research, often curious about their relationship.

Crawshay-Williams had been born into a well-to-do Welsh family of high standing. With an Eton education under his belt, when he met Owen, he was an MP and planning an ambitious political career, having served in the military. Yet in his spare time he was writing plays and poetry, to which Owen began setting music when she was 19 and he was 31.

During the last few days of our research project, we contacted the National Library of Wales in Aberystwyth. Purely by chance, it turned out that Crawshay-Williams’s estate had released a large number of Owen’s letters written by her to him. Two hundred of them arrived in the post, written in her own hand. We were to leave the studio that evening and, although excited, had only time to glance at a few, which appeared to be written in a flamboyant, passionate sort of a way. As we got on the train to go home we carefully divided the piles between five of us. A quiet ten minutes later, as we were reading, someone screamed, because she had found a love letter. It was a love letter to Crawshay-Williams. So, Owen wasn’t just his friend as the biographies had suggested – she had, in fact, loved him. It came as a revelation to us all and what had started as a duet became a trio: Owen, the man she married and the man she loved.

Crawshay-Williams was married, and without any question absolutely smitten with Owen but, at the same time, having an affair with his best friend’s wife. As a politician, he’d already had posts as parliamentary private secretary to Winston Churchill and Lloyd George. But unfortunately his affair was found out. Divorce ensued and it was the end of his political career. More importantly, he was forced to marry the woman he had been having an affair with in order to appease the strict moral codes demanded by Edwardian society.

Owen writes in one letter: “Why didn’t you ask me to marry you? T’was a leap year, perhaps I should have asked?” In another: “Oh please have a son, aged 23 that I can marry, so I can be called Mrs Eliot Crawshay-Williams, I should love that. Tis the nicest name I know.”

I think when Owen saw Crawshay-Williams marry this second time, she too knew now that there was no hope of becoming Mrs Eliot Crawshay-Williams. And so when she met Ernest Jones at a party, she recognised something of herself in terms of background and ambition and it probably felt like a good match. They were married within six weeks.

Owen’s prolific output as a composer ceased on her marriage to Jones. Many friends considered it to be an unhappy marriage, in fact. Owen would disappear for days at a time. And there is strong evidence to suggest too, that Jones was having an affair within the first year.

The couple were on holiday in the Gower when Owen was taken ill. She died from chloroform poisoning, after an operation carried out by her husband on the kitchen table. It is a death that has never been fully explained and the truth may never be known. On her gravestone are engraved these words from Jones: “Here lies the Indescribable.”

I Loved You and I Loved You is part concert, part dance piece, with three incredible dancers playing each of the above-mentioned people, as well as a singer and pianist playing live. Much of the music has not been heard for 100 years. It comes to the Stanley and Audrey Theatre, Leeds, 30 Sept, and the Lowry, Salford, 5-6 Oct.

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