Tuesday, August 27, 2013

Coronation Anthem #1: Zadok the Priest by Handel / A Thing of Beauty

George Frideric Handel
by Balthasar Denner

George Frideric Handel

Born in 1685, George Frideric Handel showed a remarkable aptitude for music at a young age. After training in Hamburg and Italy, he moved to London in 1712 and became an English citizen in 1727. He is famous for his Messiah and for his Water Music. He composed four coronation anthems: Zadok the Priest, Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened, The King Shall Rejoice, and My Heart is Inditing. Handel was probably made a citizen so he could write these in 1727. (In 1727, Gulliver's Travels had been out for a year, Bach was composing, and Voltaire was in exile in England) For further information see George Frideric Handel.

Coronation Anthem #1: Zadok the Priest


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,
Amen, Allelujah.


While it's true that this song is not known for its subtlety, there's no need to disparage it. Handel does a great job setting up the triumphant entry of the chorus with the soft patterns at the beginning. The song then goes from a 4/4 beat to a 3/4 dance beat during the lines, "And all the people rejoic'd." It returns to a majestic and stirring 4/4 time as the music pauses before the almost percussive "God save the King!" Handel originally composed this for George the II's coronation. This particular anthem has been played at every English coronation since, generally during the anointing.


Westminster Abbey
One day, as I was listening to this song, it struck me that when it was written, people did not listen to music as much as they do now. Certainly, people only heard a few musicians play at a time. You traveled, you set aside time, for music. I tried to imagine when this was first played. Of course, it would be easy to romanticize this and include all the peasants. The nobility who were more likely present would be more used to grand sights. However, at a time when music was hardly, "on demand," I can only imagine how incredible it would be to experience this piece for the first time as the monarch was anointed. So, a couple concluding thoughts- Music is supposed to surprise you, the context does change how you perceive the music, and it can sometimes be good to approach one piece of music with a fresh ear rather than listen to music all the time and allow it to grow stale.

I'm indebted to Wikipedia for many of the basic facts about the song, but most of all, I'd like to thank Handel for writing such an incredible composition.


  1. Beautiful. First time I've heard it. Sad eh?

  2. Not really, I just heard it for the first time two years ago. I'm just happy to finally share it. :)