Friday 1 June 2012

Masters of the King’s and Queen’s Music

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies is the Master of the Queen’s Music and on 9th June 2012 Vasily Petrenko will conduct the premiere of Sir Peter Maxwell Davis’ Ninth Symphony at Liverpool Philharmonic Hall This new symphony is dedicated to Her Majesty the Queen, in celebration of her Diamond Jubilee.

So what are the origins of the title Master of the King’s or Queen’s Music? There are many and various holders of this post and some of their music has been recorded. Sources are vague about the earlier Master of the King’s Band, so I have stated where there is doubt.

The custom of English monarchs to retain, as part of their household, a band of musicians is very ancient. Edward IV had thirteen minstrels, ‘whereof some be trumpets, some with shawms and smalle pypes.’ In 1526, Henry the VIII’s band consisted of 15 trumpets, 3 lutes, 3 rebecks, 3 taborets, a harp, 2 viols, 10 sackbuts, a fife and 4 drumslades. Elizabeth Ist’s band in 1581 included trumpets, violins, flutes and sackbuts, as well as other non-specified instruments.

In 1625 Charles I gave the title Master of the King’s Musick to the director of the monarch's private musicians.  The first to hold this post was Nicholas Lanier (c.1588 –1666).

In 1660 in imitation of Louis XIV, Charles II established a band of 24 performers on violins, tenors and basses, popularly known as the ‘four and twenty fiddlers.’ This band not only played while the king was dining, but was also introduced into the Royal Chapel where, together with the gentlemen and children of the Chapel Royal, they performed odes annually composed for the King’s Birthday and New Year’s Day. After the discontinuance of such odes, they were used on the occasions of royal weddings, baptisms and other state occasions.

By 1837 the band had been reduced to a small body of wind instrumentalists, but Prince Albert reorganised it three years later. Edward VII abandoned the giving of state concerts and the band was rarely called upon to perform.

Since the reign of King George V, the position has had no fixed duties, although the Master may choose to produce compositions to mark Royal or State occasions. It is now honorary and held by a distinguished British composer from whom occasional works are commissioned.

Nicholas Lanier, (1588 –1666) was appointed in 1625. He was an English composer, singer, lutenist and painter. He was first taught by his father, John Lanier, who played the sackbut. In 1613 he composed a masque for the marriage of the Earl of Somerset jointly with Giovanni Coperario and others. He also wrote the music and made the sets for Ben Jonson's The Masque of Augurs and Lovers Made Men.

In the 1610s, Lanier was appointed as a lutenist to the King's band, also singing and playing the viol. In 1625, Lanier became the first to hold the title Master of the King's Musick. During the Commonwealth of England he lived in the Netherlands, but returned to resume his duties in 1660. Lanier died in 1666 in East Greenwich. One of his grandfather's direct descendants is said to be Tennessee Williams.

Metronome Records  have issued a fascinating disc of works by Nicholas Lanier.

METCD 1027

Davis Mell (1604 - 1662), an English violinist and composer was appointed in 1660. He served as a violinist under Charles I and during the Commonwealth and in 1660 became Master of the King's Band. His instrumental works include masque music and many dances for violin and bass, grouped in suites.

George Hudson (c. 1615/1620–1672) (appointed 1660?), was an English viol player, violinist and composer. Some sources name Hudson as a Master of the Kings Band but he appears to have been merely a member of the King's Private Music from 1660.

Thomas Baltzar (c. 1630 –1663) (appointed 1661?), was a German violinist and composer born in Lübeck.  In 1655 he travelled to England, leaving behind his newly attained position of Ratslutenist of Lübeck. He was employed as a private musician for Sir Anthony Cope at Hanwell House in Banbury before, in 1661, entering Charles II's service as a member of the king's private music ensemble. Again some sources refer to Baltzar as being appointed as the Master of the King’s Band but this seems unlikely.

MSR Classics have recorded his complete works for unaccompanied violin.

MS 1224

John Banister (1630 –1679) (appointed 1663), was an English composer and violinist and the son of one of the waits (municipal musicians) of the parish of St. Giles-in-the-Fields. His expertise on the violin attracted the interest of Charles II, who sent him for further education to France. On his return, Charles appointed him to the post of leader of his own band, vacated by the death of Thomas Baltzar in 1663. 

Linn Records have a recording by the Palladian Ensemble that includes Divisions on a Ground by Banister. 
(also can be seen on Youtube ) 

CKD 141

Louis Grabu or Grabut, Grabue, or Grebus (1665 – died after 1693) (appointed 1666) was a Catalan-born, French-trained composer and violinist. In his youth he moved to Paris, where he was thought to have been trained by Lully. At the time of the Restoration he went to England, where Charles II appointed him as a composer for his own private music in 1665. With the death of Nicholas Lanier in 1666 he became Master of the King's Musick. The Parley of Instruments directed by Peter Holman have recorded the Incidental music for Rochester's play Valentinian and the Concert of Venus from Albion and Albanius by Grabu for Hyperion Records together with, amongst other music, a piece by John Banister.

CDA 66667

Pelham Humfrey (1647–1674) (appointed 1672?) died at the age of only 27, but in his short time strongly influenced other composers such as Henry Purcell and John Blow. He studied in Paris and later became Master of the Children of the Chapel Royal, and some sources say he was jointly appointed Master of the King’s Band in 1672. He wrote many anthems, some of which were recorded by Harmonia Mundi with Romanesca and the Choir of Clare College Cambridge directed by Nicholas McGegan and available through Amazon


Thomas Purcell (d. 1682) (appointed 1672?), was Henry Purcell’s elder brother. He was also a musician and a gentleman of the Chapel Royal. He sang at King Charles II’s coronation. Some sources say he was jointly appointed Master of the King’s Band in 1672.

Dr Nicholas Staggins (d 1700) (appointed 1678), was made Master of the King's Music by Charles II in 1674. In 1682, he was granted a musical doctorate by Cambridge University and from 1684 until his death was Professor of Music at Cambridge. His work includes odes for the various birthdays of William III.

John Eccles (1668 – 1735) (appointed 1705) was born in London, eldest son of professional musician Solomon Eccles. John Eccles was appointed to the King's Private Musick in 1694, and became Master of the King's Musick in 1705. Eccles was very active as a composer for the theatre; he wrote a large amount of incidental music and songs and composed music for the coronation of Queen Anne.

Chandos have recorded Eccles’ Masque The Judgment of Paris (or the Prize Music) with the Early Opera Company conducted by Christian Curnyn.

CHAN 0759

Dr Maurice Greene (1696 –1755) (appointed 1735) was an English composer and organist. Born in London, the son of a clergyman, Greene became a choirboy at St Paul's Cathedral under Jeremiah Clarke and Charles King. He studied the organ under Richard Brind, and after Brind died, Greene became organist at St Paul's. Following William Croft’s death in 1727, Greene succeeded him as the Chapel Royal organist. In 1730, he became a Professor of Music at Cambridge University and in 1735 was appointed Master of the King's Musick. He wrote a good deal of sacred and secular vocal music, including operas and oratorios. His best known work is the anthem 'Lord, let me know mine end'.

Edward Higginbottom and The Choir of New College Oxford have recorded a CD of anthems by Maurice Greene for CRD Records

CRD 3484

Dr William Boyce (baptised 1711 – 1779) (appointed 1755) was born in London and became a choirboy at St Paul's Cathedral before studying music with Maurice Greene. He was employed as an organist at the Oxford Chape and went on to take a number of similar posts before becoming Master of the King's Musick in 1755. He became an organists at the Chapel Royal in 1758. Boyce is best known for his set of eight symphonies, his anthems and his odes.

There are many more recordings of Boyce’s music available than most of the other early Masters of the Kings Musick. Most people’s favourite works will probably be the eight symphonies Op.2. Kevin Mallon and the Aradia Ensemble have recorded a period instrument performance for Naxos


Boyce’s Trio Sonatas are attractive works which have been recorded by Hyperion on an inexpensive 2CD set featuring The Parley of Instruments directed by Peter Holman.

CDD 22063

John Stanley (1712 –1786) (appointed 1779) was an English composer and organist born in London. An accident left him almost blind, but he went on to study music from the age of seven, later under the guidance of Maurice Greene, composer and organist at St. Paul's Cathedral.

He was organist at All Hallows, Bread Street, London before becoming organist to the Society of the Inner Temple, a position which he held until his death in 1786. In 1779 Stanley succeeded William Boyce as Master of the King's Band of musicians. Alongside his concertos, cantatas and voluntaries for organ, he composed many New Year and Birthday odes for the King. His music features on a number of recordings but the much praised recording of his complete organ voluntaries played by Margaret Phillips is one to go for.


Sir William Parsons (1745/6 –1817) (appointed 1786) was an English composer and musician who became Master of the King's Musick under George III between 1786 and 1817. Following his choristership at Westminster Abbey, he sought employment abroad before returning to England. He acted as assistant director at the George Frideric Handel commemorations in Westminster Abbey in 1784 and gained a doctorate in music at Oxford University in 1790. His compositions include a number of anthems for royal occasions.

There is little of his music recorded but I have seen a Harmonia Mundi recording available from Amazon with Paul Hillier and His Majesties Clerkes featuring just one work by Parsons  The Lamentation Of A Sinner ('O Lord turne not away thy face') together with works by John Farmer, John Dowland and others. (William Parson is not to be confused with the earlier Robert Parsons c. 1535–1572)


William Shield (1748 –1829) (appointed 1817) was an English composer, violinist and violist who was born in Swalwell near Gateshead and studied music with the composer Charles Avison in Newcastle upon Tyne. Shield became a composer for Covent Garden and there he met Haydn. In 1817, he was appointed Master of the King's Musick and wrote a large number of operas, other stage works and instrumental music.

I have found a Hungaroton recording of Shield’s Trios for Strings played by the Szabadi Trió.

HCD 32669

Christian Cramer (d. 1834) (appointed 1829), born in Hannover, was a composer, arranger, musician and Master of the King's Musick between 1829 and 1834. He served under George IV and William IV. It was said that he could play all of the instruments in his orchestra to a remarkable degree.

Francois Cramer Franz or François Cramer (1772 – 1848) (appointed 1834) was an English violinist and conductor who was Master of the King's/Queen's Musick from 1837 until his death. He was born in either Mannheim or London, the son of Wilhelm Cramer and the brother of Johann Baptist Cramer a pianist admired by Beethoven The king died in 1837, and he continued as Master of the Queen's Musick to Queen Victoria. Little seems to be known about his compositions.

George Frederick Anderson (1793 –1876) (appointed 1848) born in London in 1793. He was a violinist in a variety of orchestras and in July 1820 he married the pianist Lucy Philpot, who, as Mrs Anderson, taught the piano to Queen Victoria and her children. He was a professor of music and Treasurer of the Royal Philharmonic Society, a position he held until his death. In 1848 he was appointed Master of the Queen's Music by Queen Victoria, succeeding Franz Cramer. He remained in the post until 1870; the circumstances of his departure are not known. He was the last Master of the Queen's Music to leave the post before his death, and the first since Nicholas Staggins in 1700. It is not known that he wrote any music.

Sir William George Cusins (1833 –1893) (appointed 1870) was an English pianist, violinist, organist, conductor and composer. Born in London he studied music in Brussels and later at the Royal Academy of Music under Cipriani Potter and William Sterndale Bennett. He toured as a concert pianist and composer in England, Leipzig, Berlin.

He was appointed organist to Queen Victoria's private chapel and played the violin in various orchestras in London. He became professor at the RAM and, in 1867, succeeded Sterndale Bennett as conductor of the Philharmonic Society. He was appointed Master of the Queen's Musick by Queen Victoria in 1870, succeeding Anderson, who had retired and knighted in 1892. His compositions include a Piano Concerto, an oratorio, marches and songs.

Sir Walter Parratt KCVO (1841 – 1924) (appointed 1893) was an English organist and composer, born in Huddersfield, son of a parish organist. From 1854 to 1861 he was an organist at St Paul's Church in Huddersfield and succeeded John Stainer, in 1872 at Magdalen College, Oxford.  He became Professor of Music at Oxford University in 1908, taking over from Hubert Parry. He became president of the Royal College of Organists and was knighted in 1892. In 1893 he was appointed Master of the Queen's Musick to Queen Victoria, holding the same office under Kings Edward VII and George V. There are monuments to him in the grounds of Huddersfield Parish Church and in St George's Chapel, Windsor Castle.

What little of Parratt’s music has been recorded is perhaps not worth buying a whole CD for, but for those interested there is a Chandos recording  entitled A Choral Festival that includes a very short work by Parratt called Confortare together with works by such composers as diverse as Brahms, Stanford, Dyson and Vaughan Williams all performed by the Choir of Westminster Abbey directed by Douglas Guest.

CHAN 6603

Sir Edward William Elgar, Baronet, OM, GCVO (1857 - 1934) (appointed 1924), the most famous holder of the post of Master of the King’s Music, was born in the small village of Lower Broadheath, outside Worcester. The son of a piano tuner and music shop owner, Elgar was almost entirely self-taught. He went on to become the first internationally recognised composer since Henry Purcell. His compositions include the choral work The Dream of Gerontius, two symphonies, a violin concerto, a cello concerto and of course the Variations on an Original Theme (Enigma).

Working outside of the musical establishment, he held no academic posts except for a brief unsuccessful period as Peyton Professor of Music at Birmingham University. He was appointed Master of the King's Music on 13 May 1924, following the death of Sir Walter Parratt.

Elgar had written works for Royal Occasions earlier in his career, but after his appointment as Master of the King's Music, he wrote very little. His Nursery Suite (1931) was written for ‘Their Royal Highnesses the Duchess of York and the Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret Rose. So Many True Princesses was written for the unveiling of the Queen Alexandra Memorial outside Marlborough House in London in 1932 and has been recorded by Dutton Epoch along with the re-constructed Piano Concerto.

CDLX 7148

The Nursery Suite has been recorded many times but can be heard on a Naxos CD from the New Zealand Symphony Orchestra conducted by James Judd.

Sir Henry Walford Davies KCVO OBE (1869 –1941) (appointed 1934) was a British composer, born in Oswestry on the Wales-England border. He was a chorister at St. George's Chapel, Windsor, coming under the influence of Walter Parratt with whom he was an assistant for five years before entering the Royal College of Music in 1890, where he studied under Parry and Stanford.

Davies taught counterpoint at the RCM from 1895, also holding a number of organist posts in London. In 1919, Davies was made professor of music at Aberystwyth and from 1927 he was organist at St. George's Chapel, Windsor. In 1924, Davies became Professor of Music at Gresham College, London, this a part-time position giving public classical music lectures. A series of recordings of lectures followed in the 1920s, followed by radio broadcasts on the BBC.

Davies was knighted in 1922 and succeeded Elgar as Master of the King's Music in 1934. His compositions include 2 symphonies and the oratorio Everyman which has been recorded by Dutton Epoch with the London Oriana Choir and Kensington Symphony Orchestra conducted by David Drummond.

CDLX 7141
Sir Arnold Edward Trevor Bax, KCVO (1883 –1953) (appointed 1942) was an English composer, born in Streatham, London, into a Victorian upper-middle-class family. He was accepted to the Royal Academy of Music in 1900.

In 1911 he settled in Rathgar, Dublin where he was introduced to the intellectual circle which met at the house of the poet George William Russell. At Russell’s house, Bax met the Irish Republican Patrick Pearse, whose execution following the Easter Uprising in 1916 prompted Bax to compose several laments, the most noted being In Memoriam Padraig Pearse (1916).

With such Irish republican sympathies, Bax was then a surprising choice for knightoood in 1937, let alone his appointment as Master of the King's Musick in 1942. Bax was further honoured by appointment as a Knight Commander of the Royal Victorian Order (KCVO).

Bax was a prolific composer who wrote seven symphonies, orchestral tone poems, chamber music, piano music choral works and songs. He has been well served on CD in recent years but in connection with his appointment as Master of the King’s Music is his Coronation March (1947) and Royal Fanfare for the Wedding of Princess Elizabeth (1953) both recorded by Decca and available through Amazon with the London Symphony Orchestra conducted by Malcolm Sargent and the Philip Jones Brass Ensemble.

473 080-2

Sir Arthur Edward Drummond Bliss, CH, KCVO (1891 – 1975) (appointed 1953) was an English composer, born in Barnes, London, son of a businessman from Massachusetts. Bliss was educated at Bilton Grange preparatory school, Rugby and Pembroke College, Cambridge, where he studied classics, but also took lessons in music from Charles Wood. Bliss graduated in classics and music in 1913 and then studied at the Royal College of Music. Bliss was knighted in 1950 and succeeded Bax as Master of the Queen's Music in 1953.

His compositions include his Colour Symphony as well as opera, choral music, ballet and film music, concertos and chamber and piano works. Of his music for Royal Occasions his A Song of Welcome (1944) for baritone, chorus and orchestra, with words by Cecil Day Lewis, and Welcome the Queen (1954) for soprano and baritone soli, chorus and orchestra are on an EMI disc with the Philharmonia Orchestra conducted by the composer.

Malcolm Benjamin Graham Christopher Williamson AO (honorary), CBE (1931 – 2003) (appointed 1975) was an Australian composer, born in Sydney who studied composition and horn at the Sydney Conservatorium of Music. His teachers included Eugene Goossens In 1950 he moved to London where he worked as an organist, a proof-reader and a nightclub pianist. From 1953 he studied with Elisabeth Lutyens.

Williamson was a prolific composer at this time, receiving many commissions. Following Bliss’s death in 1975, he was appointed as Master of the Queen's Music, a surprise choice given the possible alternatives such as Benjamin Britten, Michael Tippett and Malcolm Arnold.

He wrote a number of pieces connected to his royal post, including Mass of Christ the King (1978) and Lament in Memory of Lord Mountbatten of Burma (1980). His failure to complete the intended "Jubilee Symphony" for the Silver Jubilee of Queen Elizabeth II in 1977 courted controversy and his output slowed considerably towards the end of his life due to a series of illnesses.

His compositions include choral works, symphonies, concertos and chamber music. His Royal works include Jubilee Hymn (1977), Symphony No. 4 - Jubilee (1977), Ode for Queen Elizabeth (1980) and Songs for a Royal Baby (1985). The Fourth Symphony doesn’t appear to have even been performed let alone recorded but Chandos have started a series of Williamson recordings that includes his Symphonies 1 and 5

CHAN 10406

Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, CBE (born 8 September 1934) (appointed 2004) is an English composer born in Salford, Lancashire. He took piano lessons and composed from an early age.

After education at Leigh Boys Grammar School, Davies studied at the University of Manchester and at the Royal Manchester College of Music (amalgamated into the Royal Northern College of Music in 1973), where his fellow students included Harrison Birtwistle, Alexander Goehr, Elgar Howarth and John Ogdon. Together they formed New Music Manchester, a group committed to contemporary music. After graduating in 1956, he studied in Rome before working as Director of Music at Cirencester Grammar School from 1959 to 1962.

In 1962, he secured a Harkness Fellowship at Princeton University where he studied with Roger Sessions, Milton Babbitt and Earl Kim. He then moved to Australia, where he was Composer in Residence at the Elder Conservatorium of Music, University of Adelaide from 1965–66. After returning to Britain, he moved, in 1971, to the Orkney Islands, initially to Hoy, and later to Sanday. Orkney hosts the St Magnus Festival founded by Sir Peter in 1977.

Sir Peter was made a CBE in 1981 and knighted in 1987. He was appointed Master of the Queen's Music in March 2004. The tenure of the appointment now changed from life to ten years, giving more composers the opportunity to take up this honorary position.

Sir Peter, or Max as his friends call him, is a prolific composer whose compositions include opera, choral music, nine symphonies, concertos, chamber music including ten Naxos Quartets and piano music. Sir Peter has written a number of works for Royal Occasions which brings us back to his Ninth Symphony that will be premiered in Liverpool on 9th June 2012.

In the absence of any recordings of music for Royal Occasions, try Hyperion’s wonderful recording of the Westminster Cathedral Choir directed by Martin Baker in sacred choral works by Davies including his Mass (2002) and Missa parvula (2003).

CDA 67454
 The works on this disc will not disappoint nor will the performances.


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