Zadok the Priest and The King shall rejoice were composed in 1727 on the occasion of the coronation of George II. Since then, they have gone on to become extremely popular choral concert pieces throughout the world.
Following on from the publication in summer 2015 of the Coronation Anthems HWV 258–261 as a scholarly-critical edition in the Halle Handel Edition (HHA), we are now making available in practical performing editions conductor’s scores, vocal scores and orchestral parts for Zadok the priest HWV 258 and The King shall rejoice HWV 260. The Coronation Anthems are amongst Handel’s best-known works and are frequently performed in concerts. But the history of their composition is not fully known: after the death of King George I in June 1727, his son George Augustus (1683–1760) was proclaimed the new British King George II in London a little later. At this point, William Croft (1678–1727) probably still had the primary claim to compose the music required for the forthcoming coronation, for he had held the key positions of Organist, Composer and Master of the Children in the Chapel Royal since 1707/08. After Croft’s unexpected death on 14 August 1727 and the fixing of the date for the coronation, a new composer for the anthems had to be found urgently. As well as Handel, who fulfilled the most important requirements for such a commission having been appointed “Composer of Musick for his Majesty’s Chappel Royal” in 1723 and having become a British subject in February 1727, Maurice Green was possibly also under consideration, having succeeded Croft as Organist and Composer of the Chapel Royal on 4 September. However, according to a statement made by George III (1738–1820), George II decided against Green and for Handel.
It is no longer possible to determine how Handel came by the texts for the Coronation Anthems. The person responsible for these was William Wake (1657–1737), the Archbishop of Canterbury. In consultation with the privy council, Wake determined the order of service, which was confirmed on 20 September and then printed. If Handel had only received the anthem texts then, it would barely have been possible to set these to music by the day of the coronation and to ensure the provision of performance material on time. In his choice of texts he probably drew inspiration from a description of the coronation of James II and Mary of Modena in 1685 published by Francis Sandford in 1687.
For the order of the coronation service a more-or-less set liturgy had developed in which the Recognition, the Anointing and the Crowning were amongst the most prominent parts. The pieces of music allocated to these parts were, with their biblical texts, intended to reinforce the most visibly prominent points in the ceremony. The anthem Zadok the priest, which occurs first in the autograph manuscript volume of the Coronation Anthems and therefore received the HWV number 258, was heard not at the Recognition, but only at the Anointing, the actual high point of the ceremony. It was regarded by George III as perhaps Handel’s most perfect piece of music. Since its first performance on 11 October 1727 in Westminster Abbey, it has been heard at each successive coronation of a British King or Queen (most recently in 1953 at the coronation of Elizabeth II). The anthem The King shall rejoice was performed at the Crowning. The autograph manuscript of HWV 260 contains annotations by Handel relating to the singers and instrumentalists performing: in choruses nos. 1, 3 and 4 he wrote the names of singers from the Chapel Royal, in nos. 1 and 3 he also annotated the number of singers in each; in no. 1 he also stipulated that twelve singers (probably the Boys of the Chapel Royal) were to sing the treble part. From this information we can deduce that a choir of about 50 singers took part, drawn from the choirs of the Chapel Royal, Westminster Abbey, St. Paul’s Cathedral and St. George’s Chapel, Windsor. The number of instrumentalists must have been far greater than the number of singers, as can be gauged by Handel’s requirement for twelve violoncelli for the bass part of chorus no. 1.
The instrumental ensemble comprised Royal Musicians, the royal trumpeters and court drummers, musicians from Handel’s orchestra and other instrumentalists – a total of probably 90 to almost 100 players.
The grandiose effect of the anthems HWV 258 and 260 was achieved both by the large number of musicians performing, but also by the concise musical setting (including three obbligato trumpet and violin parts, divided soprano, alto and bass) and the effective, easily comprehensible themes. With the powerful choral numbers of his Coronation Anthems, Handel created perfect examplars for the choruses in his later oratorios, ultimately leading to a new sound ideal.
(translation: Elizabeth Robinson)
(from [t]akte 1/2016)