7 Notable Masters of Queen’s/King’s Music

If you’ve witnessed a royal event on TV (or were lucky enough to attend), it’s likely that at least some of the music was written especially for that event. And it’s just as likely that some of it was composed by Queens’ master of music.

The role, which is almost exclusively assigned to a composer, has been around for over 400 years and although the details of it have changed, the basic premise lives on. The Queen’s (or King’s) Music Master is in the service of the Royal Household, to provide musical commentary on special royal occasions or events of national importance. Think of it as the musical equivalent of Poet Laureate.

Today, those who received this honor hold the position for ten years, although it was a lifetime title for those who held the position until 2004.

Were there any memorable Masters? Here are seven of the most notable…

Nicholas Lanier (1588-1666)

Composer, singer, lutenist, scenographer and painter of French Huguenot origin, Nicholas Lanier was the first musician to hold the title of Master of Music of the King – in the service of Charles I and II. He was appointed to the post in 1618, having first served as a royal lutenist and – as a connoisseur of the arts – he was instrumental in convincing the king to bring the Flemish painter Van Dyck to England. Lanier spent the Commonwealth period living in the Netherlands, having lost his role in 1649 when Charles I was deposed, but returned to resume his duties with Charles II in 1660. Very impressed with the new Italian music that he heard on his many travels, he was one of the first English composers to introduce monody and recitative to England, contributing to the development of the English Baroque style.

William Boyce (1711-1779)

Although his music is rarely performed today, Boyce was a prolific composer of his day, familiar with Handel, Arne, Gluck, Bach, Abel and the young Mozart – all of whom admired his work. Raised in London, he was organist at Oxford Chapel, conductor at the Three Choirs Festival and composer, writing music for venues such as the Drury Lane Theater and Vauxhall Pleasure Gardens, before landing a job. plum as a composer at the Royal Chapel. He was made Master of the King’s Musick in 1757. Although he later became deaf, he continued to compose, cementing a reputation as one of the greatest composers of church music of his time. After his death in 1779, the composer Charles Wesley (1757-1834) said of him, ‘a humbler man than Dr Boyce I ever knew. I never heard him say a vain or malicious word, either to exalt himself or to depreciate others.

Edward Elgar (1857-1934)

It’s only Elgar was 67, in 1924, when he was appointed Master of the King’s Musick, by which time he had already held the position in the public mind for several years, and was writing most of his “royal music”, including the Imperial March (1897), the four first Marches of pomp and circumstance (1901-1907) and the coronation ode (1901). Yet he used his tenure – during which the job title was changed to Master of King’s Music (removing the ‘k’ from ‘Musick’) – to write another Pump and circumstance March (1930) and his Children’s room (1931), dedicated to “Their Royal Highnesses Princess Elizabeth and Margaret Rose”. He also ensured that the Royal Music Library was well ordered. At the time of his death, ten years later, few would have regarded Elgar as anything other than – as his biographer Basil Maine put it – “the nation’s premier musician”.

Arthur Bliss (1891-1975)

A pillar of British musical life, Arthur Bliss worked at the BBC’s Overseas Music Service and was the BBC’s Music Director before being appointed Master of the Queen’s Music in 1953 – the year of the Queen’s coronation. His first task in the role was to compose the Coronation Processional – a heavy responsibility, but one which the composer, who wrote quickly and with ease, took on in stride. He continued to perform his other duties with similar professionalism, producing music for state occasions ranging from the birth of a royal child to the funeral of Winston Churchill. He wrote his last cantata, Shield of Faith, celebrating 5,000 years of St George’s Chapel at Windsor Castle, the year before his death in 1975.

Malcolm Williamson (1931-2003)

Some were surprised in 1975, when Australian composer Malcolm Williamson was appointed Queen’s Master of Music. Not only were there other seemingly more obvious candidates, including Benjamin Britten, Michael Tippett and Malcolm Arnold, but Williamson was also the first non-Briton to hold the post. A former nightclub pianist who in 1952 converted to Roman Catholicism, Williamson was a colorful character. In 1977 he caused controversy when he failed to complete his ‘Jubilee Symphony’ for the Queen’s Silver Jubilee, and he was outspoken in his criticism of fellow composers. As for his music: Influenced by everything from twelve-tone technique to jazz and popular music, it has often been criticized for its lack of discipline. Yet there is no denying the fertility of Williamson’s imagination, and during his tenure he wrote several works for the Royal Family, including the Jubilee Hymn (1977)his Complaint to the memory of Lord Mountbatten of Burma (1980), sound Ode to Queen Elizabeth (1980) and his Songs for a Royal Baby (1985).

Peter Maxwell Davies (1934-2016)

When Sir Peter Maxwell Davies was appointed Master in 2004, the terms of the role were changed, changing the tenure from a lifetime position to a ten-year position. Although he was a Republican for most of his life, he embraced the role wholeheartedly, giving lectures denouncing the decline in the provision of classical music in schools and advising the Queen to create an annual medal of the Queen for music, which she accepted. In fact, he was one of the hardest working composers of all time, producing a staggering amount of work in a variety of styles over the course of his career, from violently experimental Eight songs for a mad king to light orchestral works, many of which were inspired by the folk music of Orkney, where he lived the latter part of his life.

Judith Weier (born in 1954)

Weir was announced as Queen’s Music Master in July 2014 and has two more years in the role. A prolific composer of opera, orchestral and choral works, she – like her predecessor Peter Maxwell Davies – placed music education at the heart of her work in this prestigious role. His fThe first commission was in 2015, to mark the 500th anniversary of Hampton Court Palace, and her tenure has seen her compose music for Her Majesty’s 90th birthday (in 2016), as well as a number of works for community groups. She has also composed a special commemorative coin to mark the centenary of the 1918 Armistice. Her successor will be announced in 2024.

About Wesley Williamson

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