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Chapel Royal

Chapel Royal. No one institution was more useful in fostering Eng. musicianship and promoting the development of Eng. mus. than the Chapel Royal—by which must be properly understood not a building but a body of clergy and musicians (like Ger. Kapelle) whose principal duty was to arrange and perform divine service in the sovereign's presence.

Existing records go back to 1135. During reign of Edward IV (1461–83) the Chapel consisted of 26 chaplains and clerks, 13 minstrels (a very wide term), 8 choirboys and their master, and a ‘Wayte’, or mus. night-watchmen, sounding the hours nightly. Under Richard III (1483–5) a press-gang system was authorized (though the practice of pressing seems to have existed earlier); this remained in operation for about 2 cents.; representatives of the Chapel were entitled to listen to all the best cath. choirs, and rob them of any boys whose vv. marked them out as fit to sing before the King. Under Henry VIII (1509–47), a practical musician, the mus. staff of the Chapel rose to 44 (32 Gentlemen and 12 Children) and remained at this strength under Edward VI (1547–53) and Mary (1553–8). Under Elizabeth I (1558–1603) and James I (1603–25), the Chapel's personnel incl. Tye, Tallis, Byrd, Gibbons, Morley, Tomkins, and Bull. These brought church mus. to a level not exceeded even by the musicians of the Sistine Chapel at Rome; they developed the Eng. madrigal, and laid foundations of artistic kbd. music. The artistically-minded Charles I (1625–49) established the King's Band (6 recorders, 3 fl., 9 ob. and sackbuts, 12 vn., and 24 ‘lutes and voices’, plus trumpets, drums and pipes). He appointed Nicholas Lanier as ‘Master of the Musick’ as from 30 Nov., 1625. With the death of Charles I in 1649 the Chapel ceased. Cromwell was a lover of mus. and retained a small body of domestic musicians, but did not maintain a princely state, and, of course, did not approve of choirs as an inst. of public worship. In 1660 Charles II recalled the Chapel. A talented choirboy, Pelham Humfrey, was sent abroad to learn foreign styles; a younger boy, Purcell, without going abroad, was very apt to learn, and these youths and others, as they matured, largely trained by Captain Henry Cooke, were quickly able to put to good use the new resources (such as the band of 24 fiddlers in church) with which the King had provided himself. Purcell, from 1677 to his death in 1695, was ‘Composer in Ordinary’ to the Chapel.

Under William and Mary, Anne, and the Georges, less was heard of the Chapel. George III had musicians in his employ beyond those of his Chapel; he spent little time in London, and when at Windsor had no need of his ‘Chapel Royal’, in the technical sense, since the Chapel of St George, in Windsor Castle, had its own distinct staff, as it still has. The great days, then, were over, but a line of orgs. continued. Some clever boys, incl. Sullivan, still received training in the Chapel.

Today the ‘Chapel Royal’ consists of a body of clergy, choirmen, and boys (‘Priests in Ordinary’, ‘Gentlemen’, and ‘Children’), and the org. charged with the conduct of the Sunday services. Their place of duty is chiefly the chapel of St James's Palace, but they have other places of duty incl. Buckingham Palace.

By the end of George III's reign the King's Band had almost ceased to exist. George IV maintained a private wind band and so did Victoria after her accession in 1837. The Prince Consort enlarged it to a small orchestra. In 1893 the ‘Queen's Band’ was constituted, unifying the private band and the state band, but Edward VII (1901–10) only required the musicians for state functions and abandoned concerts. Under George V (1910–35) they were never used, though the 24 musicians nominally still belonged to the royal household. Four survivors played in the orch. at the coronation (1937) of George VI (1936–52). Today the post of Master of the Queen's Music is an honour for a distinguished musician, with no real duties.

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