Judith Weir will succeed Sir Peter Maxwell Davies as the next Master of the Queen’s Music, the Palace announced today. On Tuesday The Queen will receive both Judith Weir and Sir Peter at an audience, for Ms Weir it will be to assume her appointment while for Peter Maxwell Davies it will be to relinquish his appointment.
Being Master of The Queen’s Music is an honorary positions which is usually bestowed on a musician of a very high calibre, however since the reign of King George V the role has seen no fixed duties given to the Master although they may compose pieces for special royal or State occasions.
Judith Weir was born in 1954 to a Scottish family however the majority of her childhood was spent near London. During her schooldays she played the oboe and performed with the National Youth Orchestra of Great Britain, she also studied composition with John Tavener. When Judith left school she attended Cambridge University before attending a summer school at Tanglewood. Ms Weir then spent several years actually working in education, both in schools and adult education after which she began teaching at Glasgow University and RSAMD.
Ms Weir now resides in London and in recent years she has taught as a professor at Princeton, Harvard and Cardiff universities but only as a visiting professor.
She has also been awarded a CBE and the Queen’s Medal for Music.
Judith Weir commented on the appointment, “It is a great honour to take up the position of Master of the Queen’s Music, in succession to Sir Peter Maxwell Davies, who has given his musical and personal gifts so freely to this unusual national role.
“I hope to encourage everyone in the UK who sings, plays or writes music, and to hear as many of them as possible in action over the next ten years”.
Typically, the Master of the Queen’s Music is appointed for a fixed term of ten years.
Equivalent to the literary position Poet Laureate, the Master of the Queen’s Music is paid an honorary gratuity for their work.
When Sir Peter Maxwell Davies was appointed Master in 2004 the terms of the position was changed, changing the tenure from a lifetime position to a ten-year position, giving a lot more composers the chance to take up the role.
The post of Master of the King or Queen’s Music dates back to at least the middle ages. Kings and Queens would always employ a band of musicians as part of their household and records show that King Edward IV had 13 minstrels.
The office of Master of the King’s Music was first created in the reign of King Charles I when in 1626 Nicholas Lanier was appointed and from that time onwards the Master was responsible for the band of Royal Musicians, who were Court Musicians that played at meals for the Sovereign and as Court entertainment.
During the reign of King George V, the number of musicians with Court appointments dwindled and the position eventually became an honorary one. A notable Master of the King’s Music under King George V was Sir Edward Elgar, who was greatly influential in shaping the role of Master. One of his compositions was called ‘The Nursery Suite’ and was composed for Princess Elizabeth (future Queen Elizabeth II) and Princess Margaret in 1931.
The Queen’s Coronation in 1953 saw compositions from two Masters, Sir Arnold Bax (1942-1953) who composed the Coronation March and Sir Arthur Bliss (1953-1975) who wrote a Processional for the Coronation.
Judith Weir will also become BBC Singers new Associate Composer in 2015 in a position that will carry on until 2018. Her first commission for the BBC Singers was Concrete which premiered in 2008 at the BBC Composer weekend.
Weir concluded with this, “Listening is also a skill, and I intend to uphold our rights to quietness and even silence, where appropriate. Above all our children deserve the best we can give them, and that includes access to live music, whether as learners, performers and listeners”.