Which King did Handel compose Zadok the Priest for?

On 11 June 1727, while visiting his native Hanover, George I, King of Great Britain and Ireland, died suddenly from a stroke, aged 67. London received the news several days later, and the late king’s son George Augustus (pictured above) was proclaimed George II. The coronation was originally announced for 4 October, but after several postponements the date was finally fixed for 11 October 1727.


Who chose Handel to compose George II's coronation music?

Meanwhile, the official court composer, William Croft, had died in Bath on 14 August – not before, it seems, the new monarch had made quite clear that he did not want him to write the music for his coronation. Though the Bishop of Salisbury recommended Maurice Greene as Croft’s successor, it was Greene’s friend, George Frideric Handel, who received in effect a royal command to write new music for the coronation.

Handel had long served the monarch’s family since his time in Hanover, and George II and his consort Queen Caroline both knew and loved his music. Usually a foreigner would not be allowed to hold an ‘office of profit under the Crown’, but one of George I’s final acts in February 1727 had been to grant Handel naturalisation as a British subject.

Even before that, Handel had been given the strictly honorary, though significant, title of Composer of Music for His Majesty’s Chapel Royal in 1723. Now George II himself insisted that Handel was to write music for his coronation to be held at Westminster Abbey.

Who influenced Handel's coronation music?

According to the English music historian Charles Burney, Handel was offended when the English bishops then sent texts for him to set for the coronation, ‘as he thought it implied his ignorance of the Holy Scriptures: “I have read my Bible very well, and shall chuse for myself”’, he is said to have muttered.

Handel appears to have made a careful study of scores written by Blow and Purcell for the coronation of James II in 1685, the last occasion on which a Queen Consort had been crowned: all the texts he selected had featured during that coronation, though Handel made some further cuts and alterations to them.

What instruments are used in Zadok the Priest?

Blow and Purcell’s anthems do not feature any arias, duets and trios, but involve full orchestra and chorus, with occasional passages for semi-chorus or solo voices. Handel followed their character in this, making masterful use of the exceptionally large forces placed at his disposal: he divided the Chapel Royal choir, augmented by a further 47 singers, into six or seven voice parts, and wrote for a large orchestra in which the violins are divided into three (rather than the customary two) parts, with oboes, bassoons, trumpets and drums.

How many coronation anthems did Handel compose for George II?

The four Coronation Anthems he composed were ‘Let thy Hand be strengthened’ (which does not involve trumpets, as the players would have been required elsewhere in the Abbey at that point of the service); ‘The King shall rejoice’; ‘My Heart is inditing’; and – the most famous of them all – ‘Zadok the Priest’.

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Indeed, that anthem, performed as the new king was anointed, was an instant hit, with its gently rocking string opening that creates a sense of building anticipation through its gradual increase of harmonic tension, released by the sudden blaze of choral and trumpet sound. It has been performed at every British coronation ever since.