Welsh Hymn Meter Numbering

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jamesdowden's picture

Does anyone know anything about the hymn meter numbering system found in Welsh books such as Y Caniedydd, Welsh and English Hymns and Anthems, and Caneuon Ffydd? As well as the usual way of describing meters, these books share a system of numbers from M1 to M100 (with some gaps in the books I've got) describing various meters. So M1 is Mesur Byr, i.e. Short Meter, and M100 is 8.8.7D. It's clearly been devised with some care – for instance, it distinguishes between M5 (which is Long Meter) and M21 (its evil trochaic counterpart, chiefly found in the carol Awn i Fethlem). I imagine this scheme is Welsh in origin (and not just in popularity), as M2 is Mesur Byr Cymreig, Welsh Short Meter, i.e., which would be a very unusual meter in a non-Welsh context to think of at all, let alone list it ahead of Common and Long Meters! Does anyone know the origin of this system?


I've seen those designations frequently, and yes I think always in Welsh hymnal contexts, but never bothered to try to figure the system out. I second the motion of interest in more information on the subject.

This is a very interesting system. While I like the English system of syllable counting, this way seems to me to be very thought out.

I should really have included a couple of other things I've spotted:

  1. The meter numbers are used as an organisational principle in Y Caniedydd (1961). This might be suggestive of an origin among the Annibynwyr (Congregationalists). As far as I know, their earliest hymnal was Y Caniedydd Cynulleidfaol (1895), which I sadly haven't got a copy of.
  2. Contrary to this, the meter numbers show up in Aberth Moliant (1875). But here they are not used as an organisational principle – hymns 1-14 are M1 (SM), but then hymns 15-23 jump to M13 (DSM). So clearly it was an existing system by that point; and so there's a still earlier source out there – but I have no idea what it is.
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