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One of the last official acts of the reign of George I of Great Britain was to both naturalize George Frideric Handel as a British citizen and to commission Handel to write the coronation anthem for King George's son and successor, George II.

As 1727 drew to a close, Britain had been enduring a generation's worth of political and religious turmoil. The union of Scotland and England was still tenuous at best, with many Scots and English Catholics (Jacobites by name) still supporting the line of the deposed King James II. When George I (of the House of Hanover) assumed the throne in 1714, he was hardly popular -- he spoke German and not English -- many Jacobites rose against him and joined James in rebellion. The rebellion was put down, but anti-Hanoverian sentiments still ran strong.

George I looked to the Old Testament for a parallel to his situation, and found one in 1 Kings. The Bible told how King David of Israel, while nearing death was facing his own succession crisis. After some deliberation, he chose his son Solomon as his heir, rather than Solomon's ambitious half-brother Adonijah. In a grand ceremony, David's most trusted advisors, Zadok the priest and Nathan the prophet, annointed Solomon as king. George feared another Jacobite uprising (which nonetheless came in 1745), and wanted to use the spectacle of his son's coronation to establish George II as the legitimate ruler in the public's eye.

Thus Handel was called upon to write an appropriately-grandiose set of anthems for the ceremony, and he didn't disappoint. Four anthems were sung that day: The King Shall Rejoice, Let Thy Hand Be Strengthened, My Heart Is Inditing and Zadok the Priest, but it is the last that has endured.

Zadok the Priest was first sung during the annointing of George II during his coronation on October 11, 1727. It since has been sung at at every British coronation since 1727, the only anthem from Handel's four to endure the last three centuries.

The anthem is anything but subtle. Regal, yes. Ambitious, yes. But subtle? I'm afraid not. It is played in four-four time, and at a slow tempo (about 60 beats per minute), picking up to ~80 bpm at the first "God save the king". The anthem is written in seven-part SSAATBB harmony, sung in the key of D flat. The libretto was adapted from a Latin antiphon, "Unxerunt Salomonem Sadoc sacerdos". The running time of the piece can vary between 5:15 and 5:45, depending on the arrangement and conductor.

Libretto (Lyrics):

(24 measure introduction)
Zadok the priest
And Nathan the prophet
Anointed Solomon king

And all the people
Rejoiced, rejoiced, rejoiced
And all the people
Rejoiced, rejoiced, rejoiced
Rejoiced, rejoiced, rejoiced
And all the people
Rejoiced, rejoiced, rejoiced and said:

God save the king
Long live the king
God save the king
May the king live forever
Amen, amen, alleluia, alleluia, amen, amen
Amen, amen, alleluia, amen

(4 measure rest)

God save the king
Long live the king
May the king live forever
Amen, amen, alleluia, alleluia, amen, amen
May the king live
May the king live
Forever, forever, forever
Alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, amen, amen
Alleluia, alleluia, amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, alleluia, alleluia, alleluia, amen

Long live the king
God save the king
Long live the king
May the king live
May the king live
Forever, forever, forever
Amen, amen, alleluia, alleluia, amen, amen, amen, amen
Amen, amen, alleliua, amen, alleluia,
Amen, amen, alleluia, alleluia

Having sung this piece once, I can say with some degree of accuracy that it is not an easy choral piece. By glancing at the transcribed lyrics, one can tell that it's a bit repetitive -- only 21 individual words are used in a piece that is over five minutes long. Vocally, most of the parts are rather challenging to sing. Some of the "amens" are drawn out for three measures, while being sung as slurred sixteenth notes. (To the musical novice, think of a breathy, warbled "amen" being drawn out for 10 seconds.) Timing is also an issue, as Handel employs numerous rests to emphasize certain phrases, most notably with "alleluia".

When the day comes that Elizabeth II abdicates or dies, and a new monarch is crowned, you'll be rewarded if you watch the ceremony on television and listen for this piece. Keep an eye out for when the Archbishop goes for the oil, because that should be when the intro starts. I'm sure that the BBC commentator will give you plenty of notice to cue up your VCR.


Submitted as part of Everything Quests - Classical Music

"Zadok the Priest" should not be confused with "Zadoc the Priest" of The Internet Oracle fame. Zadoc's story can be found at: http://www.molerat.demon.co.uk/zadoc.htm


Sources:
The Brass Band Portal - http://www.bandsman.co.uk/scores/brassband/zadok.pdf
xrefer - http://www.xrefer.com/entry/240571
Naperville Chorus - http://www.napervillechorus.org/zadok.html

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