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As the Diamond Jubilee of our Queen is upon us, I couldn’t let this wonderful occasion pass without a celebratory blog post. It’s no secret that Queen Elizabth II loves music and so today I am delving into one of the most illustrious music positions in the country: Master of the Queen’s Music.
The post is roughly comparable to that of Poet Laureate. It is given to people eminent in the field of classical music; they have almost always been composers (George Frederick Anderson was one exception; he was a violinist who is not known to have ever composed any music). Duties are not clearly stated, though it is generally expected the holder of the post will write music to commemorate important royal events, such as coronations, birthdays, anniversaries, marriages and deaths, and to accompany other ceremonial occasions. The individual may also act as the Sovereign’s adviser in musical matters.
The first appointed Master of the King’s Musick was Nicholas Lanier for whom the title was created in 1626 by Charles I of England. At that time the holder of the post took charge of the monarch’s private band, a responsibility which continued until the band was dissolved in 1901.
The Master received an emolument. At the time of George III it was £200 a year for leading the band and composing birthday odes. If minuets were composed for court dances, an additional £100 was added. Additional payments were made for any music copying done for the court.
Two of the early Masters, Louis Grabu and Nicholas Staggins, were more courtiers than musicians, and composers such as Henry Purcell were called on for the music such as Purcell’s ‘Welcome Song to His Majesty at His Return from Newmarket’ (1682). During the reign of composer John Eccles as Master of the King’s Musick, George Frideric Handel supplied the Ode for the Birthday of Queen Anne (1713).
In 1924 with the appointment of Edward Elgar, often considered the greatest British composer of his generation, the position became akin to that of Music Laureate. The title might now be given to composers or academics of proved attainment, signifying an endorsement of national achievements. Most of Elgar’s “royal music” was behind him by then – the Imperial March (1897), the first four Pomp and Circumstance Marches (1901–1907) and the Coronation Ode (1901). The Pageant of Empire was performed a few weeks after he was appointed Master, although composed before the appointment. He did compose the fifth Pomp and Circumstance March (1930) and the Nursery Suite in 1931 dedicated to “their Royal Highnesses Princess Elizabeth and Margaret Rose“.
Elgar’s successor, Sir Walford Davies, a popular broadcaster, was the first Master of the King’s Music to be well known to the public by this title. Other composers who have enjoyed the much coveted title include: William Boyce (1755-1760), John Stanley (1779-1786), Sir Arnold Bax (1942-1952), Sir Arthur Bliss (1953-1975), and Malcolm Williamson (1975-2003).
The longest-serving Master of the King’s Music was John Eccles, who served for 35 years, from 1700 until his death in 1735. He is also the only one to have served four monarchs (King William III, Queen Anne, King George I and King George II).
Three monarchs have had four different Masters during their reign: King George III, Queen Victoria and Queen Elizabeth II.
The monarchs who had the same Master of the King’s Music throughout their reign were: King Charles I (Nicholas Lanier), King James II (Nicholas Staggins), Queen Anne and King George I (John Eccles), King Edward VII (Sir Walter Parratt) and King Edward VIII (Sir Walford Davies).
The current Master of the Queen’s Music is Sir Peter Maxwell Davies (1934 -), who was appointed in March 2004 for a ten-year period, unlike previous appointments, which were for life.
Since his appointment, Sir Peter has composed a Christmas carol for The Queen which was recorded by the Chapels Royal, as well as a work to accompany the Poet Laureate’s poem to mark The Queen’s 80th birthday in 2006.
He has also been greatly involved in the creation of The Queen’s Medal for Music in 2005, which will reward individuals who have made a significant contribution to the community at large, though music.
Join me soon for more about Sir Peter Maxwell Davies. Meanwhile enjoy all the Diamond Jubliee celebrations!