Cambridge Professors of Music, 1684 – 1821

Academic dress at Cambridge: DMus, third from left.

Academic dress for Scarlet Days at Cambridge: DMus, third from left.

This week, we are launching an exhibition covering the first five Professors of Music here in Cambridge, so a little background seemed in order.

The first Bachelor of Music degree in Cambridge was awarded to Henry Abyngdon in 1463, but it would be over 200 years later before the creation of the first Professor of Music in 1684. A grace and favour appointment, it brought with it no obligation for teaching, research or even residence in the City and certainly no formal documentation setting out the role and purpose of the post, neither did it carry any payment or endowment. The early professors were practising musicians and composers based primarily in London at, for example, the Chapel Royal or as Master of the King’s Musick, although some were also organists at Cambridge colleges. Their only official duty was to compose an Ode for the Installation of a Chancellor. Not until as late as 1875 did the Senate take the radical step of requiring that in exchange for an annual stipend of £200, the Professor should be required to give at least four lectures in music during the course of an academic year.

Staggins: A song sung before the King at Kensington on the 4th of November being his Majesties Birth day. [1692. MRC.230.65.1] c. Cambridge University Library

Staggins: A song sung before the King at Kensington on the 4th of November being his Majesties Birth day. [1692. MRC.230.65.1] © Cambridge University Library

That first Professorship was granted to Nicholas Staggins in 1684. Two years earlier on the recommendation of Charles II, he had been granted the degree of Doctor in Music, quite probably in recognition of his role as Master of the King’s Musick (although he did not complete the ‘exercise’ demonstrating his abilities and thus fitness for the role required of him). He would, in those days, have been elected as Professor through the passing of two Graces at two successive Congregations and in order to make good the omission of a Doctoral exercise, he provided one for his Professorship, announcing his achievement in the London Gazette for the year 1684, No. 1945:

“Cambridge, July 6. Dr. Nicholas Staggins, who was some time since admitted to the degree of Dr. of Music, being desirous to perform his exercise upon the first public opportunity for the said degree, has quitted himself so much to the satisfaction of the whole university this commencement, that by a solemn vote they have constituted and appointed him to be a public professor of music there.”

His was the life of a court musician rather than a composer, and his output is modest. It includes the music for the court masque Calisto, or The Chaste Nymph of 1675, a number of hymn tunes including a setting of “Hark the Glad Sound” and several songs two of which appear in George Etherege’s 1676 comedy of manners The Man of Mode

Thomas Tudway, by Thomas Hill

Thomas Tudway, by Thomas Hill

Staggins was succeeded in 1705 by Thomas Tudway. In contrast to Staggins, Tudway was organist at King’s College in Cambridge from 1670, remaining in the post for the rest of his life and also becoming University organist and organist at Pembroke College. However, it is the work in collecting music sung in cathedrals up and down the country for which he is best remembered. His task was undertaken for Robert, Lord Harley and its six volumes formed part of the famous Harleian Library, now in the British Library. The collection embraces works from Tye to Handel and includes a good number of Tudway’s own anthems. On the occasion of Queen Anne’s visit to Cambridge in 1705, his anthem ‘Thou oh Lord hast heard our desire’ was sung to her in King’s Chapel. His unfortunate habit of maladroit puns at inappropriate moments caused a temporary suspension from his Professorship and other posts when he let slip a less than helpful observation on the Queen’s visit. Order was, thankfully, restored following a suitable apology and a Royal Pardon.

On Tudway’s death in 1730, he was succeeded by Maurice Greene who was created Doctor of Music the same year. His “exercise”, a setting of Alexander Pope’s Ode on St. Cecilia’s Day, was performed at the opening of the new Senate House. But more, much more, on Greene in a separate post in due course…I am fast running out of space.

Memorial to John Randall and his wife in St. Bene't's Church.

Memorial to John Randall and his wife in St. Bene’t’s Church.

After Greene came John Randall in 1755. He too, spent time as a college organist: at King’s, St. John’s, Pembroke and Trinity Colleges. He was also heavily involved in the many performances of Handel oratorios in Senate House and Great St. Mary’s which took place during the two-day ‘music meetings’ in Commencement  Weeks. To him fell the honour of composing the music for a setting of Gray’s Ode for Music for the installation of Henry Fitzroy, Duke of Grafton as Chancellor on 1 July 1769. The music was to have been composed by Charles Burney but there was something of a disagreement over who paid for the performers, Burney resigned and thus Randall took over, much to Gray’s wry amusement observing that:

“the musicke is as good as the words: the former might be taken for mine and the latter for Dr. Randall’s”

Randall died in 1799 and is buried in St. Bene’t’s Church where a plaque in his memory may be seen.

Charles Hague by George Henry Harlow (Fitzwilliam Museum collection)

Charles Hague by George Henry Harlow (Fitzwilliam Museum collection)

The last (but by no means least) of our present quintet is Charles Hague. He succeeded Randall in 1799 as Professor and held the post until his death in 1821. He was not only a highly-respected violinist (a pupil of Antonio Manini, the elder Hellendaal  and Salomon), but also a singer and composer whose works included the Ode at the installation of the Duke of Gloucester (1811) [MR210.a.80.28], and intriguingly, arrangements of several Haydn symphonies for flute quintet, now in the British Library. Hague often led the band at the Black Bear Music Club for whom it is quite possible that these versions of the Haydn symphonies were created as they would certainly have fitted the forces available. There is a striking portrait of him in the Fitzwilliam Museum by George Henry Harlow and a delightful appreciation of him in the Quarterly Musical Magazine and Review for 1822, pp. 123 – 128 from which I cannot resist a short extract:

“Dr Hague was well acquainted with the principles of playing on keyed instruments, although not a performer himself. Besides the violin, he was a complete master of the tenor and the violoncello.

On public occasions, on which his services were more particularly called for, he was accustomed to lead the musical performances with a precision and a certainty which shewed that he was clearly entitled to the situation in which he was placed.

In quartets, his style of playing was the most delightful that can be imagined. If, however, we were required to state one department in which he more particularly excelled, we should mention his violin accompaniment to the piano forte. In that, we are almost inclined to think he was unrivalled; so prompt was the intelligence with which he seized the meaning of the composer, so fascinating the eloquence with which he developed his ideas.” (QMMR 1822, p. 125).

Our exhibition will run in the Anderson Room and the corridor outside, until Easter 2017, so if you are in the University Library during that time, do come along and have a look.


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