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Harmonia Early Music

Masters of the King’s Musick

Explore music of the first seven composers who were dubbed The Master of the Queen's Music. Also, a new release from recorder virtuoso Dan Laurin.

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The post of “Master of the King’s Musick” was created in 1625 shortly after the coronation of the English monarch Charles I.  The first “Master” was Nicholas Lanier who was a lutenist, singer, and viola da gambist in charge of the king’s private band.  He held the post until 1666, at which point the Catalan composer and violinist Louis Grabu took it over for a relatively brief period of eight years.  In that time, Grabu was successful in raising the musical standards of the king’s band.  Yet, politics being what they were, Grabu was fired from his position when a law known as the Test Act was passed, which prevented Catholics from court employment.

The third Master was Nicholas Staggins, who, like his immediate predecessor, was a violinist and composer, yet only a handful of his compositions survive.  Although he held the post under three monarchies beginning with Charles II, Staggins was not well-liked, a contemporary account suggests.  Staggins’ successor, John Eccles, was the first big name to be “Master of the King’s Musick.”  Eccles’ musical legacy finds its greatest value in the varied and beautiful songs he composed for the Restoration theater.

In 1735, the fifth Master, Maurice Greene, was appointed to the post.  He was the first in a brief series of composers who were also organists.  By the age of forty, Greene had held every major musical appointment in England.  William Boyce, his successor, acheived similar recognition throughout his career, composing in every genre of the day.  He is best remembered as the composer of British Royal Navy’s official march, “Heart of Oak.”

The word “King” in “Master of the King’s Musick” stayed in the post’s title from its inception through most of the 20th Century when it was more correctly changed to “Queen.”  The current “Master of the Queen’s Music” is Sir Peter Maxwell Davies who holds what is now primarily an honorary title.

Our final Master featured this week is the composer John Stanley who is best remembered for the many works he created for his principal instrument, the organ.

Our new release of the week features recorder virtuoso Dan Laurin who is accompanied by the ensemble Parnassus Avenue.  A BIS label recording, the release focuses on Scottish tunes and music heard in late-Baroque London.

Here’s a video of harpsichordist Ernst Stolz performing two keyboard works by Maurice Greene:


The music heard in this episode was performed by The Parley of Instruments Renaissance Violin Band, Ensemble L’AURA, Catherine Bott, The King’s Consort, and Christopher Stembridge.

Bernard Gordillo

Bernard Gordillo was born in Managua, Nicaragua, and raised in New Orleans. He holds degrees from Centenary College of Louisiana, the Early Music Institute at Indiana University, and the Guildhall School of Music and Drama (London). Bernard also writes and hosts the Harmonia Early Music Podcast.

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