It is coronation time again after seventy years! It will be a grand ceremony with old and new elements of the service and its music. Let us introduce you to a coronation anthem which was composed by German-British composer, George Frideric Handel (1685-1759) for the coronation of George II in 1727: Zadok the Priest. It has been performed at every coronation of a British monarch ever since and will be heard again this coming Saturday, 6 May 2023, at Westminster Abbey.
For a taster, watch this famous anthem being performed by Westminster Abbey Choir and the choristers of the Chapel Royal on YouTube
George Frideric Handel was made Composer of Music for His Majesty’s Chapel Royal in 1723. After the unexpected death of George I in June 1727 he was commissioned to write coronation anthems for the coronation of George II and his consort Queen Caroline at Westminster Abbey on 11 October. The four coronation anthems which include the famous Zadok the Priest were published in the early 1740s, much later than the composition date of 1727. In the early years the musicians would have performed from copyists’ handwritten copies of the music. John Walsh was the main publisher of Handel works during his life time and the printing of his editions was very distinctive.
Here is the famous opening of Zadok the Priest with woodwind and strings:
Now we see the entry of the choir in Zadok the Priest:
There are also editions of arrangements for piano suitable for playing at home including this early edition again by publisher John Walsh:
The Balfour Handel Collection in the National Library of Scotland
The National Library of Scotland holds an internationally-renowned collection of early Handel editions, the Balfour Handel Collection. It contains first and other early editions of the works of George Frideric Handel, circa 500 printed music scores and over 100 libretti. It was originally gathered together by the famous music collector Julian Marshall (1836-1903). The collection was subsequently acquired in 1876 by Arthur J Balfour (1848-1930), later Prime Minister of Great Britain. Handel was Balfour’s favourite composer. He not only financed a performance of Handel’s ‘Belshazzar’ at the Albert Hall, he also allowed the Handel Society to rehearse at his London home. After Arthur J Balfour’s death in 1930, the Handel collection remained intact at Whittinghame, the family seat in East Lothian, Scotland. The collection was purchased by the Library from the Trustees of the Balfour estate in 1938, having been sold on the advice of the Handel scholar William C Smith. Additions continue to be made to the collection.
‘A Handelian’s notebook’, WC Smith, London, 1965.
‘Handel: A Descriptive Catalogue of the Early Editions’, 2nd edition with supplement, WC Smith, Oxford, 1970.
‘Julian Marshall and the British Museum: music collecting in the later nineteenth-century,’
A Searle, British Library Journal, vol. 11, no. 1 (1985), 67-87.
‘The National Library of Scotland: music manuscripts and special collections of printed music’, TA Cherry, R Duce, M Simpson and I Maciver, Fontes Artis Musicae, Vol. 47, No. 1 (January-March 2000), 3-9.