Obituary: Osian Ellis (1928–2021)

Osian Ellis

The LSO is saddened to hear of the death earlier this month of former Principal Harp, Osian Ellis. Osian joined the LSO in 1961 as Principal and was a member of the orchestra until his retirement in 1994.

Osian was brought up in Denbigh, North Wales. His mother was a harpist and encouraged him to learn to play, although football was his other passion. He studied at the Royal Academy of Music with Gwendolen Mason, whom he later succeeded as Professor of Harp from 1959 to 1989.

Osian was always listed as a member of the LSO even when he had protracted leave to work with his friend Benjamin Britten in the sixties and long tours as accompanist to Peter Pears in the seventies. Britten wrote the harp part in several of his major pieces with Osian in mind, particularly A Midsummer Night's Dream, the War Requiem and the Church Parables. He also wrote his Harp Suite (Op 83) for Osian in 1969. Osian often appeared as soloist in LSO concerts and recordings.

osian ellis, benjamin britten, peter pears

Osian Ellis with Benjamin Britten and Peter Pears

Osian was highly respected as a musician, composer, teacher, scholar and author. He inspired many contemporary composers to write new works for the harp including William Mathias, Alun Hoddinott, Malcolm Arnold, Robin Holloway, Elizabeth Machonchy, William Alwyn, Carlo Menotti and Jorgen Jersild.

Osian was the founding harpist of the Melos Ensemble and featured on their widely acclaimed 1962 recording of Ravel’s Introduction et Allegro. His 1959 recording of Handel’s Harp Concertos with Thurston Dart won the Grand Prix du Disque in Paris.

His career saw him play in the world’s finest concert venues and rub shoulders with film stars like Oscar-winning Anglesey actor, Hugh Griffith, Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor. He famously played with the backing band for the original Goon Shows.

Osian Ellis

He was made Commander of the Order of the British Empire in 1971. He was Honorary President of the Wales International Harp Festival and a member of the executive committee of the Welsh Folk Song Society. He received numerous honours from the University of Wales, Bangor University as well as from the nation’s leading musical institutions.

As a scholar, he published several important works on the history of the harp in Wales including his book, The Story of the Harp in Wales, published by the University of Wales.

After celebrating his 90th birthday, he was inspired to compose two new works: Cylch o Alawon Gwerin Cymru (for Bryn Terfel and Hannah Stone) and his work for solo harp, Lachrymae.

At this sad time, our thoughts are with his family, his son Richard Llywarch, daughter-in-law Glynis and grandchildren David and Katie, and his elder sister Elfrys.