Cambridge Professors of Music: Maurice Greene

Portrait of Maurice Greene by Francis Hayman

I promised – possibly rashly – in my previous post on our current little exhibition about the early Professors of Music here in Cambridge that I would write a little more about Maurice Greene. So here goes: in a nutshell, Greene succeeded Thomas Tudway as Professor in 1730 and remained in the post until his death in 1755. Perhaps, in Cambridge, he is best-remembered for being the composer whose music was performed at the grand opening of the new Senate House in 1730. But there is, of course, more to his story than that…

Maurice Greene, born in about 1696, was a chorister at St. Paul’s Cathedral, later becoming organist at St. Dunstan’s in the West, St. Andrew’s Holborn and St. Paul’s in 1714, 1717 and 1718 respectively and then in 1727 was made Organist and Composer at the Chapel Royal. Eight years later George II appointed him Master of the King’s Musick. He was also a teacher, with William Boyce and John Stanley numbering amongst his pupils. In short, Greene was a key figure in the English musical scene in the mid-eighteenth century, holding all the key appointments. But Handel’s reputation was equally exalted: and therein lies a very strange tale.

Giovanni Bononcini. Artist unknown.

It seems that whilst Greene was at St. Paul’s as assistant to the then organist Richard Brind, he and Handel were on friendly terms to the extent that sometimes when Handel was playing the organ, Greene acted as bellows boy! Here’s where it gets complicated: in 1731 it appears that Greene, in good faith attributed to the composer Bononcini a composition performed at the Academy of Ancient Music (which Greene had helped to found) rather than to its alleged rightful owner Lotti. Handel, who had quarrelled with Bononcini anyway and was miffed at Greene’s continued support of the composer, was – allegedly – much discomposed at the apparent deception, and even more discomposed with Greene who was also a friend of Bononcini’s. A Great Huff ensued, Greene would have no more to do with the Academy and took himself off to set up the rival Apollo Society, near Temple Bar which met in the Devil Tavern. Legend has it that Handel remarked, somewhat waspishly that “Doctor Greene had gone to the Devil.”

What a to-do! It’s a good story, but Handel was not involved with the Academy until after Greene’s departure and the stand-off between them is likely to have a multiplicity of causes (for some sane and structured thinking on which, see Matthew Gardner’s Handel and Maurice Greene’s Circle at the Apollo Academy. V&R Unipress, 2008, pp7ff. [M499.c.200.21] Thank goodness they hadn’t invented Twitter or Fake News by then.

Greene’s considerable compositional output consisted of his 1743 Forty Select Anthems (to which Handel, still in a Huff, refused to subscribe)[MR230.a.70.5], a Te Deum, a couple of oratorios, songs, catches, canons, several masques, many individual anthems and his quota of Birthday Odes, etc which were required of him for his Royal employer and, of course, his Doctoral Exercise, Ode on St Cecilia’s Day [M200.a.30.41]

We should also remember that he was one of the founders in 1738, along with Michael Christian Festing of ‘The Fund for the Support of Decayed Musicians and their Families’ the charitable organisation which later became the Royal Society of Musicians.

In later life, having inherited Bois Hall in Essex and become comfortably off, Greene embarked on his project to collect church music and present the resulting anthology to every English cathedral. He died before it could be completed, but the baton was taken up by Boyce and the three volumes of The Cathedral Music were published between 1760 and 1778.

The Senate House in Cambridge. c.1904.

Back at Senate House, the audience has gathered for the grand opening. A hush descends (one hopes) and the noble strains of Greene’s setting of Alexander Pope’s “Ode on St. Cecilia’s Day” (specially revised for the occasion) christen what was to become the focal point of the University and which would see many ‘musical crashes’ (as such festive occasions were affectionately known) in the ensuing centuries. Perhaps we might see a repeat for the tercentenary in 2030?



About mj263

Music Collections Supervisor at Cambridge University Library. Wide musical interests. Often to be found stuck in a composer's archive, or enthusing about antiquarian music.
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