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Master of the Queen's Music
Malcolm Williamson
Australian-turned-English composer Malcolm Williamson died on March 2, 2003 at age 71. Essentially unknown in the U.S., Williamson had a high-profile job in Britain as Master of the Queen's Music. Now the position has come under scrutiny.

The position of Master of the King's Musick (spelling changed to "Music" in 1975) was created by King Charles I in 1626. At first, the post's primary responsibility was to direct the monarch's private band of musicians. Eventually, the position became that of a composer who had to write music commemorating important royal events.

Williamson succeeded Arthur Bliss as Master in 1975. He was a prolific composer who wrote in every classical genre including symphonies, stage works, film scores, and chamber, choral and relgious music, though his interests in an overwhelming array of styles pegged him as having no sense of direction.

Williamson's death has set off a debate in London papers about whether the job of Master of the Queen's Music should be filled again. Some say it is a thoroughly outdated and irrelevant postition. Others say that, in the right hands, the title can be used to champion causes as arts funding and education, an undertaking that Williamson failed to consider.

The Master of the Queen's Music hasn't always been a contentious issue. Some of the best English composers have held that title, including Bliss, Arnold Bax, and Sir Edward Elgar.

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