As he battles cancer, Master of the Queen’s Music Sir, Peter Maxwell Davies still plans to compose this year’s Royal Christmas carol. “I’m afraid my illness held me back a bit,” the composer commented in The Telegraph.
“It is a little delayed, but this is the last one I will do before I retire as Master of the Queen’s Music in March, so I will try and make it special for a very special person.”
Sir Peter was appointed Master of the Queen’s Music in 2004. Prior to his appointment, the title was bestowed for a lifetime but changed to ten years allowing more musicians the chance to hold this esteemed position in the Royal Household.
The 11th Royal carol is not heard by Her Majesty until the choir of the Chapel Royal at St. James’s Palace performs it. The carol is also recorded and presented to the Queen to listen to whilst on her Christmas holiday at Sandringham.
Sir Peter spent three months in hospital for cancer treatment. During his time there, the Queen passed along two get well messages and a message to welcome him back when he returned to work.
The Master of the Queen’s Music is akin to the Poet Laureate, a title bestowed upon a musician of merit in their field. They receive an honorary stipend for their work. The title of Master of the King or Queen’s music dates back to the Middle Ages when the Sovereign always kept a group of musicians at court.
According to the British Monarchy’s website, during the reign of Edward IV he commissioned a group of musicians which became known as ‘the Musick.’
In 1626, Charles I appointed Nicholas Lanier the first Master of the King’s Musick. As time went on the Masters of Musick were in charge of the band of Royal Musicians. The musicians were then charged with providing the entertainment in Court as well as during meals.
Unfortunately the odes dwindled and the Master’s obligations were pared down to attending State occasions, Royal Weddings and baptisms. It continued in this course until the end of Queen Victoria’s reign. When King Edward VII was sovereign, the band no longer performed as it had in the past. Instead, the musicians only brought out their instruments to play at Court gatherings.
When George V became King, the group became even smaller. In fact the position of Master of the King’s Musick eventually became an honorary one.
By far the most famous of the Masters was Sir Edward Elgar, who held the title during King George V’s reign. During his time as Master, the k in ‘Musick’ was removed.
In 1931, Elgar composed the ‘The Nursery Suite’ for Princesses Elizabeth and Margaret.
Elgar’s work may be familiar as The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge chose his Serenade for Strings in E minor Opus 20, and elements of his Sonata for Organ Opus 28 for their wedding in 2011.
Masters of the King or Queen’s Music in the past 100 years
Walter Parratt (1893-1924)
Edward Elgar (1924-34)
Walford Davies (1934-41)
Arnold Bax (1942-53)
Arthur Bliss (1953-75)
Malcolm Williamson (1975-2003)
Peter Maxwell Davies (2004-present)