Handel wrote ‘Zadock the Priest’ for the Coronation of George II in 1727. The work has been performed at the coronation of every British monarch since this date, most recently at the Coronation of King Charles III and Camilla on 6th May 2023. 
 
The work is recommended for Year 4 and above in the Model Music Curriculum. Our activities inspired by the work explore how to create drama and anticipation in music. 
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George Frederick Handel 

George Frederick Handel was born on 23rd February 1685 was born in Halle, now part of Germany. He was baptised Georg Fried(e)rich Händel. His parents were Georg Händel, court barber-surgeon, and Dorothea Taust. 
 
As we discussed in our earlier blog on Handel, it is believed Handel’s father did everything he could to stop Handel becoming a musician. However, Handel visited the palace of Duke Johann Adolf I when he was 10 years old and took the opportunity to play the chapel organ. The Duke apparently heard the music and it has been said that “something there was in the manner of playing which drew his attention so strongly” that he asked who was playing. The Duke rewarded Handel with money and it seems this was a turning point in Handel gaining his father’s support to focus on music. Handel took lessons with Friedrich Wilhelm Zachow, the Haller parish church organist, who was viewed by some as one of the finest musical teachers of the day. It is believed Zachow taught Handel traditional harmony as well as introducing him to contemporary styles. 
 
Just after his 17th birthday, Handel was appointed organist of the Domkirche, introducing him to fellow composer, Telemann who was to become a dear friend. However, as was to become a pattern in his life, Handel left to travel: on this occasion to Hamburg. The city was a vibrant place for the Arts, having one of the earliest civic opera houses in Europe, built in 1677, leading to Parisian and Venetian influences on Hamburg’s musical life. It was here that Handel’s first operas were produced. 
 
In 1706, Handel visited Italy, travelling around the states. ‘Agrippina’, still one of his most popular operas, was premiered in 1709 in Venice and ran for 27 nights. 

London 

In June 1710, having returned to Germany, Handel became Kapellmeister (master of the chapel choir) to George, the Elector of Hanover, however, he left before the end of the year. This time his travels took him to London where he composed ‘Rinaldo’, the first Italian language opera which was written for the London stage. The work was written quickly, with Handel borrowing and adapting music he had written during his visit to Italy. The piece was premiered at the Queen’s Theatre, Haymarket, London – the theatre on the same site is now known as His Majesty’s Theatre. 
 
Handel made the decision to settle permanently in London in 1712 with patronage from 3rd Earl of Burlington and 4th Earl of Cork. 
 
In 1714, Handel’s former Patron, George, the Elector of Hanover, became King George I of Great Britain and Ireland. It is believed that George was angry that Handel had abandoned him, and so Handel wrote his now famous ‘Water Music” to placate his former patron (read more here). 
Handel (centre) and King George I on the River Thames, 17 July 1717, by Edouard Hamman (1819–88). 
 
Handel wrote what went on to become his most popular opera, ‘Acis and Galatea’ in 1718 for the Duke of Chandos. Originally written as a one act masque, he developed it into an three act opera in 1732, and a two act work in 1739. The Duke of Chandos became one of Handel’s most important patrons in 1719 as a primary subscriber to the Royal Academy of Music, Handel’s new opera company. Handel, along with many of his subscribers, made money through speculation including investing in the slave-trading Royal African Company. 
Having settled in London, by 1723, Handel had moved into the home he would rent for the rest of his life, 25 Brook Street, now Handel Hendrix House museum (Jimi Hendrix lived at 23 Brook Street). 
 
In 1727, Handel was commissioned to write four anthems for the Coronation of the new King, George II. One of these was ‘Zadock the Priest’. 
 
One of Handel’s most famous works, ‘Messiah’, was written in 1741. The 3rd Duke of Devonshire invited Handel to Dublin to give concerts to raise money for local hospitals. ‘Messiah’ was premiered on 13th April 1742 with combined choirs from St Patrick’s and Christ Church Cathedrals. It received its London premiere the following year. In 1750, annual performances began at London’s Foundling Hospital to raise money for the charity. 
 
The ’Messiah’ was the last performance he attended before his death at 25 Brook Street on 14th April 1759. 
 
 
 
Image Handel House, Published by William Hutchins Callcott (1807-1882) and Christopher Lonsdale (1795-1877)., Public domain, via Wikimedia Commons 

Zadock the Priest 

Handel was commissioned to write four coronation anthems for the Coronation of George II. These anthems were ‘The King Shall Rejoice’, ‘My Heart is Inditing’, ‘Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened’ and ‘Zadock the Priest’. 
 
‘Zadock the Priest’ has become the best known of this quartet. It has been performed at the coronation of every British monarch since 1727. It is performed at the moment of anointing. 
 
The text is taken from the Bible’s book of Kings I, and gives an account of the anointing of Solomon by Zadock the Priest. 
 
“Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet anointed Solomon king. 
And all the people rejoiced and said: 
God save the King! Long live the King! God save the King! 
May the King live for ever. Amen. Hallelujah” 
 
The use of this text has been part of the coronation ceremony in England since King Edgar’s Coronation in 973 at Bath Abbey. 
 
Handel took inspiration from the music written by Blow and Purcell for the Coronation of James II in 1685. 

Instrumentation / Voices 

Chorus 
1st sopranos 
2nd sopranos 
1st altos 
2nd altos 
Tenors 
1st basses 
2nd basses 
 
Orchestra 
2 oboes 
2 bassoons 
3 trumpets 
Timpani 
1st violins 
2nd violins 
3rd violins 
Violas 
Cellos 
Double basses 
 
Score available at IMSLP

Structure 

The piece is in three parts. 
 
It begins quietly with the strings, oboes, bassoons and continuo playing either repeated notes or arpeggios - https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Arpeggio. The tension is built until bar 22, approximately 1.5 minutes into the piece, when the chorus enters loudly supported by the trumpets. 
 
The second section begins with the words “And all the people rejoic’d and said”. It moves from the formal 4/4 of the introduction to a dancelike 3/4 with dotted rhythms. 
 
The final section, “God save the King”, returns to 4/4 with declarations of “God save the King, long live the King, may the King live for ever” interspersed with “Amen” and “Allelujia”. After a short statement of the words, the voices and orchestra include running passages of semiquavers alongside the declarations. 
 
The piece ends with a plagal cadence, traditional in church music, with the chorus singing ”Allelujia”. 
 
In the Coronation of King Charles, the Chorus entered with the words “Zadock the Priest” just as the King retired behind a screen for a private moment within the ceremony, when the King was anointed by the Archbishop of Canterbury. 

Activity 

The introduction to ‘Zadock the Priest’ is very long compared to many songs today, however, Handel used the introduction to build anticipation through both its length and the use of repetition. 
 
The use of repetition to build to a climax is used in many pieces of music. Ravel’s ‘Bolero’ does this through an ostinato (repeated rhythm) on the snare drum and then two main themes. 
Other uses of repetition to build a piece include ‘Palladio’ by Karl Jenkins 
Why not explore how repetition can add drama to a piece? Create a 4 or 8 bar piece or about 20 seconds of music played on a single instrument or voice, then repeat it with a second instrument / voice playing the same music or a second part. On each repetition add another instrument or voice. 

Further Reading on Handel and 'Zadock the Priest' 

 
English National Opera - Handel - https://www.eno.org/composers/george-frideric-handel/ 
 
Orchestra of the Age of Enlightenment (OAE) - Handel - https://oae.co.uk/people/handel/ 

Further Reading on building drama, anticipation and tension in music 

Beyond Music Theory - Create Tension with Anticipation and Suspension - https://www.beyondmusictheory.org/create-tension-with-anticipation-and-suspension/ 
 
David Huron - Sweet Anticipation: Music and the Psychology of Expectation - https://direct.mit.edu/books/book/1961/Sweet-AnticipationMusic-and-the-Psychology-of 
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