Wednesday, April 29, 2009

Coronation Anthems - George Frideric Handel

This year is the 250th anniversary of the death of one of the greatest composers, George Frideric Handel, who died on 14 April 1759. Handel composed a total of 18 organ concertos, 40 operas and 21 oratorios.

The four anthems Handel composed for the coronation of
King George II and Queen Caroline on 11 October 1727 have never lacked popular favor. They were repeatedly performed at concerts and festivals during his life and since. Rarely did a composer of the day have such an audience for his new works and Handel composed his four anthems to match the pomp and grandeur of the occasion and, of course, the venue – Westminster Abbey.

The success of the anthems may have contributed to the popular image of Handel as a grandiloquent composer demanding huge forces of voices and instruments. In fact, Handel always matched his music to the occasion and the building for which it was written, and no occasion could be grander than a coronation. The forces that he used were substantial for the period: an augmented Chapel Royal Choir of 47 and an orchestra that may have numbered as many as 160!

Zadok the Priest
, the first anthem, was written with words adapted from the first chapter of the First Book of Kings:

Zadok, the Priest, and Nathan, the Prophet, anointed Solomon King;

And all the people rejoic'd, and said:

God save the King, long live the King, may the King live for ever!

The words of Zadok the Priest have been sung at every coronation since that of King Edgar in 973 AD, and Handel's setting has been sung at every one since 1727.

Let thy hand be strengthened
, the second anthem, Psalm 89:

Let thy hand be strengthened and thy right hand be exalted.

Let justice and judgment be the preparation of thy seat!

Let mercy and truth go before thy face.
The King Shall Rejoice uses a text from Psalm 21 and Handel sets each of the four sentences and the final Allelujah as separate musical sections:

The King shall rejoice in thy strength, O Lord.

Exceeding glad shall he be of thy salvation.

Glory and great worship hast thou laid upon him.

Thou hast prevented him with the blessings of goodness and hast set a crown of pure gold upon his head.

The piece has a magnificently grand and elaborate conclusion which, as it was performed at the actual crowning section of the coronation service, matches the occasion perfectly.


My Heart is Inditing is an adapted and abridged text using verses from Psalms 45 and Isaiah 49. It was sung late in the service when Queen Caroline was crowned, and throughout Handel's setting are references in the words that are relevant to a queen:

My heart is inditing of a good matter: I speak of the things which I have made unto the King.
Kings daughters were among thy honourable women.

Upon thy right hand did stand the Queen in vesture of gold and the King shall have pleasure in thy beauty.

Kings shall be thy nursing fathers and queens thy nursing mothers.

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