Reference Entry

Masters of the king's (and queen's) music (c. 1626–2015)

in Oxford Dictionary of National Biography


Published online September 2004 | e-ISBN: 9780198614128 | DOI: https://dx.doi.org/10.1093/ref:odnb/93041

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The employment of instrumental musicians at the English royal court is recorded from at least the thirteenth century. But an official director of their performances is first recorded only in 1626, when Nicholas Lanier was referred to as 'master of the music'. From the beginning of the eighteenth century the master's duties included the composition of birthday and New Year odes glorifying the monarch, a practice which continued for over a century. During the eighteenth century membership of the band of which the master was nominally director became increasingly a sinecure, and for musical performances the king or queen looked instead to his or her private orchestra. Although the master might direct both groups (and doing so was in the nineteenth century his principal function), the anomaly of their concurrent existence continued until 1893. In the twentieth century the monarchy ceased to maintain a band of musicians, and the office of master has become essentially honorific, an acknowledgement of distinction, though its holder may still be called upon to give advice on, or to compose, music appropriate to important state occasions such as a coronation....

Reference Entry.  319 words. 

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