Masters of the Monarchs' Musick - Part 2: 1834 to 1934
Created | Updated Jun 20, 2013
Part I of this Entry looked at the first ten Masters, from the creation of the title in 1626 by King Charles I, until 1834 shortly before the accession of Queen Victoria. This second part covers the following century up until the death of Sir Edward Elgar in 1934.
Franz (or Francis or François) Cramer
11th Master 1834-48
Monarchs: William IV, Victoria
Born on 12 June, 1772, at Schwetzingen, near Heidelberg, Germany, Franz Cramer came to London at the age of five to join his parents and his elder brother. His father was the famous violinist and conductor Wilhelm Cramer, his brother the later-to-be-famous pianist and composer Johann Baptiste Cramer. Franz received violin lessons from his father, who accompanied him in a sonata when he made his public début in 1787.
In 1794 he became a member of the Royal Society of Musicians1, at which time he was principal second violin in the band of musicians of the Italian Opera at the King's Theatre in the Haymarket. He was leader of the band when the Society gave a performance of Handel's Messiah at the Hanover Square Rooms on 31 May, 1815, by command of the Prince Regent (later King George IV).
In 1818 Cramer, his brother JB and others formed the Regent's Harmonic Institution – a partnership to 'print and vend our own musical Compositions and the Compositions of our Musical Brethren at large who found themselves unable to obtain fair Terms from other Publishers'.
At the coronation of George IV in 1821, Cramer was leader of the King's private band while his brother JB conducted. He was appointed one of the first professors at the newly-founded Royal Academy of Music in 1822, and Master of the King's Musick in 1834.
Cramer was more renowned as an orchestral leader – including that of the Philharmonic Society, of which he was one of the 30 founding Members (along with his brother JB) – rather than as a composer. In 1844, he retired as leader of the Philharmonic Society orchestra, but continued as a Member until his death in London on 25 July, 1848, aged 76.
George Frederick Anderson
12th Master 1848-70
George Anderson was born in London on 2 December, 1793, and baptised at St Martin-in-the-Fields2. Little is known about his early life and musical training, but in April 1815 he was admitted as a Member of the Royal Society of Musicians. His application form states:
Performs on the Violin Tenor and Piano Forte. Belongs to the Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Kings [Theatre], Ancient and other Concerts. Theatre Royal Brighton3.
...practising music as a livelihood for upward of 7 years4.
He would later serve the Society as their Honorary Treasurer from 1849 until his death in 1876. He served the Philharmonic Society in the equivalent role from 1840.
In July 1820 Anderson married a young lady from Bath, Lucy Philpot, who would become pianist to Queen Victoria, instructress to the Princess Royal5 and have a long, illustrious career in her own right as a concert performer. The couple were married at St George, Hanover Square, the church where Handel had worshipped while living in Brook Street after coming to London in 1724.
On Cramer's retirement in 1844, Anderson became leader of Her Majesty's private band, and Master of the Queen's Musick in 1848 when Cramer died. He was elected one of the Directors of the Philharmonic Society in 1845.
When Michael Costa resigned as conductor of the Philharmonic concerts at the end of the 1854 season, Anderson was sent to Zurich by the Society, before the start of the following season, to engage Richard Wagner as their new conductor. This he did, but Wagner only lasted one season, being disliked by the critics and in disagreement with the Directors of the Philharmonic:
As a rule an hour's music takes several hours' rehearsal – how can any conductor, with a few hours in the morning at his disposal, be supposed to do justice to monster Programmes such as the Directors put before me? Two Symphonies, two Overtures, a Concerto and two or three vocal pieces at every concert!
Anderson led the royal band until retiring in 1870, leaving both his post as leader and as Master of the Queen's Musick. He was a loyal and faithful servant both to the Royal Family and to the Philharmonic Society. Towards the end of Anderson's life, at the Royal Society of Musicians' 136th annual festival on 28 April, 1874, the Prince of Wales in his address as guest of honour said:
There is one whom I regret not to see here this evening – one who has been known to my brother and myself for nearly a quarter of a century – and that is your honorary treasurer, Mr Anderson. It gives me great pleasure to see Mrs Anderson here this evening. I hear from your secretary that during the 21 years6 Mr Anderson has held office he has been the means of collecting £20,0007.
George Anderson died on 14 December, 1876. He was succeeded as Master by his nephew. Lucy Anderson retired from public performances in 1862. She died two years after her husband, in 1878.
Sir William George Cusins
13th Master 1870-93
The English pianist, violinist, organist, conductor and composer William Cusins was born in London in 1833. As a child he was a chorister at the Chapel Royal, then studied music in Brussels and later at the Royal Academy of Music in London. In 1849 he was appointed organist of Queen Victoria's private chapel at Windsor, and became a violinist with the Royal Italian Opera, Covent Garden, and with the Philharmonic. He was assistant professor, later professor, at the Royal Academy of Music from 1851 to 1885, and became a member of the Royal Society of Musicians in 1855.
From 1867 to 1883, he conducted 134 Philharmonic Society concerts, including the first English performances of Schubert's 'Great' C major symphony (1871), and Brahms' German Requiem (1873). The music critic Eduard Hanslick, visiting England in 1886, described him as:
a pedantic gentleman, with grey whiskers, black coat, and white tie... He looks exactly like an English clergyman, and conducts also very piously.
His compositions include a symphony – Gideon, an oratorio – produced at the Gloucester Festival in 1871, two concert overtures, a royal wedding serenata composed for the marriage of the Prince of Wales and Princess Alexandra of Denmark, and a piano concerto.
He succeeded his uncle George Anderson as Master of the Queen's Musick in 1870, was appointed Professor of Instrumental Music at Queen's College, London in 1875, Professor of Piano at the Guildhall School of Music in 1885, and was knighted in 1892. Cusins resigned as Master in 1893 and died suddenly from pneumonia while in Belgium, on 31 August, 1893.
Sir Walter Parratt
14th Master 1893-1924
Monarchs: Victoria, Edward VII, George V
If the organ is the King of Instruments, then Walter Parratt was the Monarch of the Organ. Born in 1841 in Huddersfield in Yorkshire, where his father Thomas Parratt was the parish church organist – the father and two sons between them occupied the post in succession for a period of 95 years – Walter Parratt was regarded as the finest performer and teacher of the organ of his day. His pupils included almost all the notable British organists and composers of church music of the succeeding generation. A measure of his outstanding ability is shown by the fact that he could play JS Bach's 48 Preludes and Fugues from memory at the age of only 10.
After Huddersfield, Parratt held posts as private organist to the Earl of Dudley at Great Witley, Worcestershire and then organist at Wigan parish church, Lancashire, where he married in the early 1870s. In 1872 he succeeded John Stainer8 as organist of Magdalen College, Oxford, where he also conducted the choirs of Jesus and Trinity colleges, the musical societies of Exeter, Jesus, and Pembroke colleges, the Oxford Choral Society, and the Trinity College Glee9 Club. He graduated BMus in 1873.
Parratt's memory skills were also of use on the chess board, a game to which he applied himself rigorously. He captained the Oxford side in the first inter-varsity match between Oxford and Cambridge Universities in 1873, and was at one time President of the Oxford Chess Club.
In 1882, he was appointed as organist of St George's Chapel, Windsor, and in the following year was invited by Sir George Grove10 to accept the post of Professor of Organ at the newly-formed Royal College of Music in London, a post he retained for 40 years. In 1892 he was knighted and made private organist to Queen Victoria, succeeding Sir William Cusins as Master of the Queen's Musick in 1893. Honorary doctorates from Oxford, Cambridge and Durham universities followed, as did further civil honours – MVO (1901), CVO (1917) and KCVO (1921)11.
In 1905 he became Dean of the Faculty of Music at London University, and from 1905 to 1909 President of the Royal College of Organists. In 1906 he was elected an honorary fellow of Magdalen College, and succeeded Sir Hubert Parry as Heather Professor of Music at Oxford in 1908.
Walter Parratt died at his home at Windsor Castle on 27 March, 1924; his ashes and those of his wife are buried beneath the north choir aisle of St George's Chapel, Windsor, near the organ-loft stairs. He composed little music. His lasting legacy is the generation of musicians whom he taught and inspired.
Sir Edward Elgar
15th Master 1924-34
Monarch: George V
Probably the best known of all the Masters, Edward Elgar, often regarded as the very epitome of English music, was born on 2 June, 1857, at Broadheath, Worcestershire, an English county that would remain a passion all his life, especially the nearby Malvern Hills. His father ran a sheet music and musical instruments shop in Worcester, played the organ at St George's RC Church, and tuned pianos for upper-class patrons in the county, including Queen Adelaide, the widow of William IV.
As a boy, the young Edward had lessons in piano, violin and theory, learning a lot from books borrowed from the Cathedral library. He began composing about the age of ten. Leaving school at the age of 15, his ambition was to attend the Leipzig Conservatory, but the family finances could not meet the cost. He became a solicitor's clerk briefly, before helping at his father's music shop and assisting as organist at St George's.
A largely self-taught musician, Elgar learned at every opportunity, playing the organ and listening to music at the cathedral, playing Bach on the piano, reading books on music theory and playing the violin with the Worcester Philharmonic Society. In 1877 he went to London for violin lessons, but realised that he did not have the technique to be a solo performer. Thereafter he started playing bassoon with a wind quintet and composing music for them to play every weekend. He also played in the staff band of the county lunatic asylum at nearby Powick, becoming the band's conductor in 1879.
Elgar took up teaching, which he loathed, and found himself settling into a provincial way of life, playing and conducting in the area around Worcester. He was writing small-scale pieces which were beginning to be performed in the Midlands area, and on one occasion near London.
In 1886 he took on a piano student, Caroline Alice Roberts, the daughter of a well-to-do senior Indian Army officer. In 1888 Elgar dedicated to her a piano piece – Salut d'amour – which has since become one of Elgar's signature tunes, although at the time he sold it to a publisher for the princely sum of £2. They became engaged, but Alice's family vehemently opposed the wedding and cut her off financially. Nonetheless they married in May 1889. Alice, who had total faith in Elgar's musical talent, persuaded him to give up everything in Worcester and move to London where he could join the musical life of the capital. The capital however had other ideas and Elgar made little progress. Despite huge efforts on Alice's part – they twice moved to cheaper accommodation – eventually they had to admit defeat and move back to Elgar's beloved Malvern, where he resumed teaching. The experience was to leave its mark upon him; for the rest of his life he harboured a disdain for the musical establishment.
He continued to compose, including, in 1890, the concert overture Froissart in response to a commission from the Worcester Three Choirs12 Festival Committee. This was a pivotal moment for Elgar; it was his first published work that was recognised nationally and it brought him into contact with August Jaeger13 at the music publishers Novello.
For Queen Victoria's Diamond Jubilee in 1897, Elgar composed the Imperial March, which the Queen herself requested be performed at the state concert marking the jubilee. This led to the Leeds Festival committee asking him for a choral work, for which he wrote the cantata Caractucus, premièred in 1898.
A story is told that one evening, Elgar was at home, idly tinkering at the piano. What's that? asked his wife. Nothing, said Elgar, but something might be made of it. What that something became was one of the most popular pieces of music ever written: the Enigma Variations14. It was premièred in London in June 1899, conducted by the great Hans Richter. Its success was immediate.
In 1898, Elgar was asked to compose a choral work, to be the principal new item at the Birmingham Festival in 1900. For this he provided The Dream of Gerontius, a setting of a poem by Cardinal Newman, in which Gerontius dreams of his own death and the subsequent judgement of his soul before the Lord. It includes one of the greatest of all choral excerpts – Praise to the Holiest. Inadequate preparation of the complex and difficult work, even under the baton of Hans Richter, resulted in a poor reception at the première. However a performance in Düsseldorf in 1901, and two more in England in 1903, firmly established the work in the choral repertoire, and it remains today one of the most popular oratorios, both with choirs and audiences. No less a composer than Richard Strauss hailed Elgar as the greatest English composer of his day.
For the coronation of Edward VII, Elgar was invited to compose a Coronation Ode. For its finale, a melody from the Pomp and Circumstance March No 1, was used to accompany the text – Land Of Hope and Glory – an unofficial second English National Anthem.
For the next dozen years before the First World War, Elgar wrote a succession of great works: three more Pomp and Circumstance Marches; the overture Cockaigne; two more oratorios, The Apostles and The Kingdom; the Introduction and Allegro for strings; two symphonies; a violin concerto (written for Fritz Kreisler), and many more – the Symphony No. 1 in A flat was performed 100 times in England, Europe and Russia in just over a year.
Elgar was knighted in 1904 and in 1911 became the first musician to be appointed to the Order Of Merit15. His last, and arguably his greatest, major work was the impassioned Cello Concerto, written just after the First World War. In 1920, Elgar's wife died, and with her most of his will to compose. He succeeded Walter Parratt as Master of the King's Music in 1924, was appointed KCVO in 1928, created a baronet in 1931 and GCVO in 1933.
At his death from cancer on 23 February, 1934, he left uncompleted a third symphony16, an opera and a piano concerto. He was buried next to his wife at Little Malvern.
In the third and final part of this Entry, we'll take a look at Elgar's successors, including Bax and Bliss, and then continue the story right up to the present day.